Posted Mar 2 2011 6:32AM
Double-double, toil and trouble ...
If we didn't know better, we might think Willie Shakespeare was writing that line about Kevin Love.
The games grind on, the points pile up, the rebounds get claimed and the losses mount. Some of the defeats are daggers, lethal from start to finish. (Minnesota has lost 21 times by margins of 10 points or more, and of the 40 times the Timberwolves have trailed heading into the fourth quarter, they have lost 37 of them.) Some of the defeats are gaggers. (Nine times, the Wolves have blown leads of 10 points or more to lose and they have gone belly-up eight times despite leading through three quarters.)
And some of the defeats are so commonplace and comfortable that they have gone down easily. Too easily. After the Wolves lost to the Bucks, 94-88, the other night in Milwaukee -- a game in which they had led by as many as nine points in the second half -- the noise coming out of the visitors' dressing room was unexpected enough to make you wonder if you were at the wrong end of the hall.
|Consecutive double-doubles, in modern era*|
|* since 1971-72|
A chorus -- of what, hoots? hollers? -- bellowed from within, so much that coach Kurt Rambis, standing outside, frowned and made sure the door was closed before entertaining questions from a cluster of reporters. Maybe it was a last hoorah for backup center Kosta Koufos, a throw-in that day in the big Carmelo Anthony, Denver-New York trade that -- with Minnesota acting as the bug-picking bird off the rhinoceroses' hides -- also would ship out Corey Brewer for project Anthony Randolph. Maybe it was somebody's birthday.
Regardless, it was bad form for a team that, fresh from the All-Star break, had just dropped to 13-44, on its way to its current 14-46. If the Wolves weren't embarrassed by the nonsense within, plenty of those who heard it were embarrassed for them.
Love didn't much like it, either.
"It comes to a point where some guys, they ... I don't know, you come in here, some of the guys are loose with it," the Wolves' All-Star forward said. "I hate it. I can't stand it when I hear guys upbeat and laughing after a game that we lost."
Losses have again come by the pound for the Wolves. One-hundred-seventy-one for Love in less than three full NBA seasons. Two-hundred-thirty-one since Kevin Garnett was traded in the summer of 2007. And 330 since the franchise's last playoff appearance six years ago.
If what NBA executives and coaches say is true -- that teams need to develop "cultures" of winning, of excellence -- then what Minnesota has in place is a culture of losing. A culture as viral as any grown in a Petri dish. Losing is contagious, same as winning, and 60 games into another disappointing slog through the league, several Wolves players appear to have come down with a serious case of don't-care.
"That has nothing to do with the coaching staff," Love said. "I mean, those guys hate losing more than anything. I hate losing more than anything as well. But sometimes it happens to me, too.
"We have to get back into the mindset that we hate losing every time. Even in my third year, I hate it every time we lose -- it sucks. Especially after being around all those guys at All-Star. Those guys, whether they're having winning seasons or not, their mentality is always winning. You can tell. I think that's why they are so great. That makes me thirsty. I'm thirsty to get better, I'm thirsty to win."
It also makes Love a hot commodity. The 6-foot-10 fundamentalist from UCLA (whose lone college season produced a 35-4 record) admitted that some of his fellow Western Conference All-Stars kidded him about his future whereabouts over the league's extravagant weekend in Los Angeles. That sort of stuff has always gone on, but in this age of shooting guards-as-GMs, the line between teasing and recruiting is a thin one.
"Oklahoma City was probably the biggest," Love said of the come-play-with-us campaigns he experienced. "But there were quite a few. It was funny. Quite a few. The Lakers [players] ..."
It is the greatest fear of nearly every Wolves fan (at least those who don't foolishly accuse Love of being some sort of personal stats-monger with his lengthy streak of double-double performances): That Love, as soon as he is able contractually, will vacate the premises of Target Center for a contender in, if not sunnier climes, at least a more successful, less dysfunctional ZIP code.
That could come as soon as 2013 if Love declines to sign a long-term extension with the Wolves. Sooner if management blinks over what it might come to view as inevitable and trades him. There's always the chance that the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will include a "franchise player" tag to keep guys such as Love right where they are or the possibility that any new deal will give current teams a bigger bump in what they can pay their free agents vs. outside suitors.
But it shouldn't come to that. Players should want to stay. They should be able to see seeds sprouting of something better, a moment here, a well-drawn play executed there, a game or two that pivots from defeat to triumph by a lesson learned last week or last month.
Rambis bemoans the absence of any veteran players who could stem the bleeding at critical times. What he has now is a lineup of young guys learning on the job, making mistakes. Backed up by a bench of young guys making mistakes. "We've gone over this ad nauseum, what's missing on this team," Rambis said. "We lose ... ballgames because we're missing that go-to guy, that leader that kind of settles everything down. We've got to resolve that issue."
Some observers question Rambis' abilities to fix things. They can't understand why late-game situations as drawn up seem to unravel in his players' hands. Or they wonder if his demeanor, after so many years in Lakersland, might work better with a team of more competent, more experienced players, compared to this brick-by-brick construction.
"I'm very frustrated with the losing," Rambis said. "But I do understand, having worked for years with young ballplayers, the process. Most people don't understand the process -- they don't know how long it takes. They oversimplify things by just saying, 'Well, tell them to do this.' And they think just because you tell them, they're going to do it. If it was that easy, it would be very easy to coach. But that's not the way it works. It's not even close to how it works."
Meanwhile, David Kahn, the Wolves' president of basketball operations, tells Wolves season-ticket holders that the pieces are in place, Rambis' job is secure and that this offseason is the franchise's really big summer to strike. Except that last summer was Minnesota's really big summer to strike, too. Ricky Rubio would come over in a year -- or was it two, or three? Salary-cap space matters most now, except for when it matters more later.
The goalposts appear to be in constant motion.
One of these days, the roof at Target Center is going to cave in like the Metrodome's. Rambis and Kahn, two years into four-year contracts, will run out of time. A franchise that never has attracted top free agents and cannot seem to draft smartly will run out of other people's failures to round up, such as Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley -- both of whom still have major warts on their games -- and Randolph.
Love is as legit as they get, rookie Wesley Johnson clearly has rotation-level talent and burly Nikola Pekovic is a banger worth exploring. But the roster drops off quickly, fans are choking these days on the phrase "long and athletic" and there are too many seat fillers and other teams' castoffs.
"It's a collective-unit thing," Love said as the Wolves' temporary quarters at Bradley Center cleared out. "We all like each other. We all get along. We all want to get better. But I guess we have to have a better grasp on how to get better. Because, I mean, the coaches, they bring it every single day. They know it's a job. They've been in this league for 30 or 40 years.
"I think with a lot of the young guys on our team, we're not at that point yet. Now with Anthony Randolph, he brings even more youth to the team. We're so damn young it's crazy. We just have to get that mentality."
And the happy ruckus, audible through concreate, after yet another loss?
"I dunno, Kurt will probably say something to us," Love said. "I'm sure he will."
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