With ice packs strapped to both knees and his feet soaking in a keg of ice water in the visitors’ locker room in FedExForum Tuesday night, Kevin Love told reporters he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward the Memphis Grizzlies.
After all, the Minnesota Timberwolves center realizes the NBA is a business and that team executives will occasionally implement transactions they feel would benefit their franchise.
So when the Grizzlies traded Love to Minnesota moments after selecting him with the fifth overall pick in 2008, Love admittedly took the news in stride. Such a move, nevertheless, has benefited the Grizzlies and Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies (27-21), who traded the 6-10 Love to Minnesota along with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins in exchange for the draft rights to O. J. Mayo, Greg Buckner, Marko Jaric, and Antoine Walker, are moving closer toward securing their second consecutive postseason berth, given they are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves (24-27), meanwhile, are still very much alive to earn a postseason berth for the first time in eight years. Minnesota, despite its 7-10 mark since the All-Star break, trails eighth-place Denver by three-and-a-half games with 15 regular season games remaining.
To get a clear indication as to why the Timberwolves are still in the playoff hunt, look no further than Love’s astounding numbers this season.
“Without him, I’m not sure where we’d be,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said of Love. “We lost (Ricky) Rubio, a real key to our team this year. But Kevin has been there.”
Love’s 26.3 points per game is fourth-best in the NBA and his 13.8 rebounds per contest makes him the league’s leader in double-doubles. It seems all the former UCLA star has done is emerge as one of the league’s elite players after a stellar third year in which he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player after posting career highs in points (20.2 PPG) and rebounding (NBA-best and franchise-record 15.2 RPG).
Unfortunately for the 23-year-old, his big numbers—coupled with his continuous progress in recent years—have theoretically been disregarded mainly because the Timberwolves have struggled in the wins-loss column.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case this year for Love who, despite being passed up by the Grizzlies four years ago, has convinced many to believe he is a legitimate candidate for league MVP.
Given Love’s success, that begs the obvious question: Did the Grizzlies, who were one shy of reaching the Western Conference finals last year, make a mistake by trading Love to the Timberwolves?
“I think it turned out well for them and for me,” Love said after registering his league-leading 43rd double-double (28 points, 11 rebounds) in Tuesday’s 93-86 loss at Memphis. I’d definitely be able to help them. But they have others bigs like Z-Bo (Zach Randolph), and Rudy (Gay), (Marc) Gasol, and (Marresse) Speights. I mean, it’s just wherever I could land, I wanted to have success. Luckily, I’ve been able to do that in Minneapolis. (The Grizzlies) had a nice playoff run last year.”
Love, to his credit, has become the catalyst of a Timberwolves team that went 17-65 last year. So far, Minnesota has eclipsed last year’s win total by seven games. Also, Love has consistently shown resilience and assertiveness on both ends of the floor this year, even drawing comparisons to former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird.
That his name is often uttered in the same sentence as Bird brought a seemingly banged-up Love to smiles as he sat in front of his locker, soaking his knees and feet.
“Larry Bird is one of the top five, six, seven players of all time for sure,” said Love, adding that he’s spoken with Bird, a Hall of Famer and three-time MVP, on several occasions since he entered the league. “It’s humbling to hear that.”
Which, after all, is probably among the reasons he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward the Grizzlies.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.