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How to Lose Fans and Alienate Your Teammates


Kevin Love’s foibles and Minnesota’s predicament

@BreakTheHuddle

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“People, you know, have their blogs, and can sometimes hide behind their computer screen, but, you know, you have people that, that, you know, can type out things that are derogatory towards a person…” – Kevin Love[i]

“Well, Kevin, you know, I have no athletic ability or discernible life skills, and some free time, so, you know, what do you expect?” – Yours Truly

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 Kevin Love

A few years ago, at an old job, there were three of us of similar age and education levels, who were all hired at roughly the same time. It was an entry level position, but I loved the job and was interested in making a career of it. I felt my work was comparable to my peers, and was given good reviews reflecting this belief.

The first guy was promoted and given a decent raise. The second guy was promoted and given a modest raise. I was given a lateral transfer to a similar department and received no raise. What do you suppose happened?

I looked for another job, and took the first one which was suitable, even though it paid only a pittance more than what I had made at my original place of employment.

Why do you suppose I did that?

Clearly, my work wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was – I was young, and a little immature, with how I handled it – but the whole experience changed my perspective on athletes and their public discourses regarding salary disputes and “respect.” I felt as though I deserved something similar to what the other guys got, and I didn’t get it, so that was that. I was a poisoned apple. I let it bother me, and as soon as the opportunity arose, I bolted.

Kevin Love found himself in a similarly sticky predicament last summer[ii] – only in a far more exciting setting. Instead of a middle class job, he was yearning for the finest compensation an NBA franchise could offer him – a maximum (“max”) contract extension, roughly $80 million for 5 years. LaMarcus Aldridge, a similar player two years his senior, got a max deal from Portland. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, who were in Love’s draft class and were viewed similarly in the league (as franchise players), also got max (or near-max) contracts from their respective teams.

Due to a new wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement, franchises were only allowed to give one of these “max” deals at a time – and, citing this restriction as their reason, the Wolves withheld offering it to Love. His consolation prize was a four year, $62 million deal with an “opt out” clause after the 2014-15 season – meaning he could be on a new team three years from today, and the Wolves would be left with nothing to show for it.

Disgruntled about the way it was handled, the residual ill will between Love and the front office simmered, but remained largely hidden, until it finally boiled over in the form of a piece published Tuesday by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The story quotes Love as saying the following:

Kahn

GM David Kahn has blown two top-6 picks during his tenure (Wes Johnson, Jonny Flynn) and might have blown a third (Derrick Williams) so it’s fair to wonder if he’s fit to run the team.

-GM David Kahn is unprofessional

-Love is unsure if the organization has a “plan” for constructing a roster

-He’s miffed that owner Glen Taylor didn’t regard him as a “superstar”

-He was  hurt by the fact that some within the organization questioned whether he really injured his hand in the preseason by doing knuckle push-ups

-And most importantly, Love was upset that he didn’t receive the “max” offer when it was time to negotiate an extension, calling the Wolves’ possible strategy of saving the “max” deal for guard Ricky Rubio “a projection over a sure thing”

Naturally, Love downplayed the comments the day after they were made public – but didn’t back off of them. He did express frustration with the fact that positive tidbits he had offered about the Wolves hadn’t made it into the article, and concluded his remarks on the entire subject with the old “I want to retire a Timberwolf” platitude.

First of all, let’s set one thing straight – Adrian Wojnarowski hates David Kahn’s guts, and this fact is widely recognized by front offices and media members around the league.[iii] Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, who’s as about as non-confrontational  as it gets, called the piece “sensationalized” and “a bit irresponsible”, which coming out of his mouth was as shocking to these ears as Mr. Rogers dropping an ‘F’ bomb. The story drips with condescending potshots at the Timberwolves’ organization, and its fans, for treating Kevin Love so poorly – and goes way over the top in doing so. Love’s comments were bad enough, but pair them with Wojnarowski’s agenda, and it’s hardly surprising things blew up the way they did.

As far as Love questioning Kahn’s competence – well, that’s sort of like calling the sky “blue.” Only after coach Rick Adelman came aboard did the roster begin to reflect any sort of plan. The Timberwolves, loaded with smart players who fit Adelman’s system, have built more buzz around the franchise than they’ve had since their last playoff appearance in 2004-05.The timing of the piece was the biggest buzzkill, especially because of imminent return of the sensational Ricky Rubio.

Love’s comments beyond mere organizational gripes. One way to alienate a fan base, especially a blue collar one such as Minnesota’s, is to “complain” about money when you’re making $13,668,750 this year. Reading the full article by Wojnarowski, it’s clear that Love’s got the summer of 2015 on his mind, and that’s depressing. Instead of focusing on this season, when he’s surrounded by teammates with winning pedigrees (Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea, especially) he’s looking ahead to when and how he might finagle his way out of Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers

Players like Love are hard to find. Once you’ve got them, you’ve got to embrace them… warts and all.

I don’t believe Love’s festering issues are strictly about money, either. He’s an All-Star, and it’s a star-driven league. Finding one, and holding onto him, is very hard to do. Love knows he holds the cards, now, and it’s crystal clear that he feels as though he was disrespected in a big way by the Wolves’ organization. Fans might be looking at a three year window of possibility before he’s lost and gone forever, to the Lakers, or the Knicks, or the Mavericks.

For better or worse, it’s not always about how much money a player makes – it’s about “respect.” And while it seems silly, if you apply it to your own work situation, it makes sense in a strange way. The fact that Love is a millionaire adds a different element to it, but he’s still human – he feels slights, and maybe he’s a little insecure. It’s probably what’s motivated him to become the player he is – reshaping his game, and his body, to become an All-Star.

I know this – it’ll be way tougher for the Wolves to replace Kevin Love than it was for anyone who’s ever had to replace me… at anything. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit the same thing, swallow your pride, and hope that the Wolves can patch things up with Kevin Love and keep him in Minneapolis for a long, long time.

It’s a superstar league. If you want to win in the NBA, you have to play by their rules, as tricky and unsavory as that can be at times.

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below


[ii] This is the first and last time I’ll compare myself to a professional athlete. I know, I know, my life experience and his aren’t in the same stratosphere, really, but I have a point to make. I think.