Posted Feb 12 2010 11:24AM
Kevin Love is about as glib and quick-witted as you'll find among the NBA's bright up-and-coming players. Jonny Flynn is a natural extrovert and a lover of fun. As teammates in Minnesota, that helps them bond. As rivals for a night at All-Star Weekend ... well, things can get snide, cold and downright nasty.
Flynn is a rookie point guard from Syracuse. Love is a second-year power forward from UCLA. Their bi-coastal connection in the Upper Midwest has been a solid one so far this season, Love finding Flynn with an outlet pass like Drew Brees hitting Marques Colston in stride or Flynn penetrating and dishing to his rolling big man.
But in the Rookie Challenge game Friday night at American Airlines Center, they will be on opposite sides, each trying to outdo the other while helping a team of rivals win. In the actual All-Star Game, East is East, West stays West and teammates stick together. But in the game pitting rookies against second-year guys, the slice is made horizontally, by chronology, rather than vertically. That turns buddies into foes, and there are three such instances this year: Love vs. Flynn, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden and Golden State's Anthony Morrow vs. Stephen Curry.
No one is suggesting that the competition dial is going to be cranked up to 11. But it's not going to be down at 1, either.
Any beatdowns are certain to stay verbal in a dynamic that the participants have navigated well since the format change in 2000 from an all-rookie event. It's pretty common, year to year, with two such standoffs in 2009 (the Clippers' Al Thornton vs. Eric Gordon and the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Jeff Green vs. Westbrook). This time, Durant -- who scored 46 points against Westbrook and his fellow rookies a year ago in Phoenix -- will gang up with Westbrook as the West's assistant coach, the two of them determined to beat Harden.
In 2008, there also were two sets of split teammates; in 2007, four. A few friendly wagers and some brash talk are all part of the mix, most often from the (slightly) more established fellows.
Flynn, for instance, didn't match Love's trash factor in Minny. "You know what? It didn't show me much either," Love said. "It's going to be all fun and games leading up to it. But come game time, we're still going to have fun but we're going to talk a little trash and blow that freshman class, that rookie class, out."
Said Flynn: "He has to know something that we don't know -- that the general public does not know -- for him to make bold statements like that."
The homework is easy enough: The sophomores have won the past eight meetings and nine of 10 overall. This year, the more experienced team is also the bigger team, with Marc Gasol (7-foot-1), Brook Lopez (7-0), Danilo Gallinari (6-10) and Love (6-10) as tall or taller than the rookie's biggest big man, Jonas Jerebko (6-foot-10).
Said Flynn: "The sophomore team is a lot bigger than us, so we're going to have to double them a lot, no matter who's checking us. That's just going to be our game plan: Double them and be in a scramble mode."
In a way, battling against a teammate is something that happens all the time in practice. Except that this is a very glorified practice. With global TV coverage. In front of a packed house. And with eight other guys on the court who are relative strangers and, the rest of the time, opponents. So don't expect Morrow to spill any scouting secrets on Curry, or vice versa, to players who could later use that wisdom against the Warriors.
As Love said regarding Flynn's game: "I'm going to let them figure it out for themselves. I don't want to give away too much information. Jonny can do so many things on the court, I don't think the guys will stop him. They're going to have to try to contain him, maybe play off him a little bit, make him shoot his three ball because he is so fast."
What Flynn isn't, though, is an aggressive trash-talker. Or at least, he wasn't when his teammate -- Love is a mere 121 days older than him -- dropped a few of those "we're gonna crush you" boasts on him.
Of course, all Flynn had to do to get Love off his back was remind him which Wolves player did not make it to the Rookie Challenge game last year.
Instead, Flynn resisted. Just like an 82-game teammate, rather than a 40-minute foe, should.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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