Column: Love Taking Lead For Team USA
Love Taking Lead For Team USA
Kevin Love was part of a celebrated announcement at the end of July in Las Vegas as he and Kevin Durant, standing side-by-side with U.S. men’s basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, stated they would both be returning to Team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
The announcement came during a weekend of what really amounts to a bit of rebirth for Team USA, which is transitioning from back-to-back Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012 into potentially a new age in 2016—of the players on that last Gold Medal team in London, it was Love and Durant who came forward first to solidify their spots with Team USA moving forward.
The remainder of the team is a question mark, including headliners like LeBron James. That’s why Colangelo and Krzyzewski were both appreciative of both Durant and Love making the commitment at this juncture.
“We think it will certainly send a message to our other guys who have indicated they are interested,” Colangelo said.
That’s a pretty special thing if you’re a Wolves fans. As Team USA ended its summer training session in Las Vegas, the people at the top of the men’s hoops team that won in Beijing and London are celebrating the early commitment of Minnesota’s top player—a two-time NBA All-Star who is arguably the best power forward in the NBA and without question one of the most versatile. Love is a feared rebounder who can score in the paint, step outside and hit from 3 while also growing into a role as the Wolves go-to guy in crunch time during his last season with full health in 2011-12.
He’s the type of player who is celebrated by his peers as well as those who came before him. Seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry said last year over All-Star Weekend that he always argues Love is the best power forward in the game. Olympic teammate LeBron James said he loved the way Love plays—how he gives it his all every single night. Carmelo Anthony alluded to his toughness on the court and how he spreads the floor, and James Harden said he’s someone you want to have on your team.
Love displayed that in London en route to Gold, leading the team with 7.6 boards per game while scoring 11.6 points a night and earning more and more playing time with his ability to play the 4 or add versatility if the team went small with him at the 5.
As the Wolves head into the 2013-14 season with the deepest and most balanced roster it’s had in years, Love will be the key to its success. He played in just 18 games last year due to two hand injuries and a late-season knee surgery, but he’s bounced back with renewed health heading into this season. He said as early as mid-May that he was nearing 100 percent, and since then he’s helped host a team mini-camp in Los Angeles while getting himself physically prepared for a full season to come.
And now he has the distinction of being a part of the leadership of Team USA, according to Coach K.
That’s probably the last piece of the puzzle Love was working toward as a player. He’s always had the natural ability and the work ethic—if you don’t believe that, look at the regimen he’s put himself through to reshape his body over the past three offseasons. He’s incredibly driven to improve his game (see his 3-point shooting during his career, factoring in 2012-13 was hampered by injury) , and he’s always had the charisma to be a favorite in the locker room. Now, as he nears turning 25 and his sixth year in the NBA, Love is being asked to fulfill that leadership role that often comes with hitting this stage of his career. Taking the initiative to be first and to help make his teammates better. He did it with the Wolves this offseason as he led those summer workouts, and he’s doing it with Team USA through this early commitment to the team.
There’s no greater honor than to represent your country in anything. Being able to be a leader—someone who takes that first step—is a special task in itself.
Who will be joining Love and Durant is still to be determined. Some of their 2012 teammates will likely be back as well, while others will pass the torch to a collection of the new players who took part in July’s USA Basketball Showcase. Anthony Davis, who was on the 2012 team right out of the University of Kentucky, could see a more prominent role. Point guards like Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday, wings like Paul George and Harrison Barnes, and bigs like Kenneth Faried and DeAndre Jordan all took part in the mini-camp and scrimmage.
These announcements and this preparation begin the building process toward 2016. Love, the Timberwolves’ cornerstone, is right in the middle of that process. From my vantage point as a Minnesota native, that’s pretty cool to see.