On Tuesday, Timberwolves franchisee* Glen Taylor held court at the Minnesota State Fair as the newest hopes of the team were introduced. As he is wont to do, he openly discussed his feelings with the media. Kudos to him for that. Without franchisees, players, coaches and GMs spouting off, following the NBA would be a lot less interesting.
But this chatter about outgoing star Kevin Love is not a good look.
"I think he's around a couple guys are awful good. Now I'm not saying that Kevin's not good, but I think where maybe he got away with some stuff, not playing defense on our team, I'm not sure how that's going to work in Cleveland. So I would guess they're going to ask him to play more defense. And he's foul-prone," Taylor said.
Kevin Love has been busting his ass trying to win games in a hopeless situation for years and Taylor is out there accusing him of not playing defense. Love scored 2,000 points last season. Only one other Timberwolf scored even 1,000. And we're talking about Kevin Love not doing enough? He more than doubled the next Timberwolf in total rebounds. He was second in assists. Forgive me for thinking Love did enough for Minnesota to absolve himself of criticism about effort.
And foul-prone? He average 1.8 personal fouls per game and fouled out a whopping zero times. The only true big men who played 2,000 minutes last season and fouled less were Terrence Jones and Tim Duncan.
Kevin Love is not the reason the Timberwolves have the league's longest active playoff drought. (Ten straight lottery seasons and counting in Minneapolis. That's more than double Cleveland's streak.) In fact, the only common thread throughout Minnesota's long drought is ... Glen Taylor!
The GMs have changed, from Kevin McHale to David Kahn to Flip Saunders. The coaches have changed, from Saunders to McHale to Dwane Casey to Randy Wittman to McHale again to Kurt Rambis to Rick Adelman. The stars have changed, from Kevin Garnett to Al Jefferson to Love. The franchise has cycled through everything ... except leadership. Taylor is the thread that holds the whole disaster in place.
Taylor has paid the luxury tax once since 2004, and that was less than $1 million in 2007, the final KG season. That particular campaign is illustrative of Taylor's particular brand of ineptitude. McHale, after wasting most of Garnett's prime with bad trades and poor drafting, had built a team he and Taylor believed to be a contender. McHale had traded an aging Sam Cassell and a first-round pick for Marko Jaric, who would fall out of the league in two seasons. The team's other stars behind KG were Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and youngsters Rashad McCants and Randy Foye.
Coach Dwane Casey somehow got that collection to a 20-20 start, some kind of miracle. Yet it wasn't good enough for Taylor or an under-pressure McHale, so they canned him midseason. Wittman took over and the Wolves went 12-30 the rest of the way. Somehow Wittman and McHale kept their jobs, because Taylor is great at running an NBA franchise.
This is a franchisee who stuck with David Kahn for four years. And according to Kahn, Taylor was responsible for some of the Wolves' worst decisions in that span, including the decision that has resulted in Love forcing his way out of town. From Kahn's post-sacking tell-all:
We handled it the best way we can, and of course I handled it per instructions from the owner. Glen and I talked about it at length. I think it actually took me some time to tell Glen it was imperative he receive max money. The only issue, the only quibble came down to that last year [...]. It's an awfully long time to string a contract out with all the variables that can occur mostly due to injuries and oftentimes to big men. That was it. I think Kevin really had his heart set on a fifth year. I think his friendship with Russell Westbrook (who signed a five-year deal with OKC) made it difficult to accept, but that's why I also prevailed upon Glen that we should relent and give him a third-year option so he felt like he was winning something too. In every compromise it's important for both sides to walk away with something that was valuable to have.
Don't you just love revisiting this stuff, provided you are not a Wolves fan? Taylor refused to give the second-best player in franchise history a full five-year max and agreed when his overmatched GM wanted to give said player an early opt-out "so he felt like he was winning something too." Love won something alright: freedom to flee Taylor's franchise.
Before critiquing Love's game and questioning whether Love would regret joining two other stars in Cleveland due to the pressure, Taylor did admit that not granting Love a full five-year early extension in 2012 was a mistake.
Still, if he could do it all over again, Taylor said he would have signed Love to the five-year maximum contract in 2012. That way Love would have three seasons left on his contract and the team's outlook would be considerably different. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears safe to say the contract was a mistake.
But it doesn't take the benefit of hindsight to understand what a mistake refusing to lock up a young All-Star on an artificially capped salary for as long as legally possible was. It was immediately obvious that the Wolves were shooting themselves in the foot. And the Timberwolves have some really smart fans, most of whom properly caterwauled when Taylor and Kahn wouldn't give Love the full five-year contract. It was a horribly dumb mistake that everyone who pays attention to the NBA knew was a mistake the second it was done.
And now those suffering Wolves fans will pay the price as Kevin Love racks up 20-10 games in another city.
Don't get me wrong; the eventual Love trade was very good for Minnesota given the circumstances. But those circumstances were caused by a self-inflicted wound created by Taylor's complete ineptitude in running an NBA team. There's a serious argument to be made that post-Maloofs and post-Sterling, Taylor is the worst longtime franchisee in the league (James Dolan is the other contender. It's a toss-up).
Glen Taylor once blamed Kevin Garnett for not giving 100 percent down the stretch of his final season in Minnesota. Taylor blamed Kevin McHale for bad moves and various coaches for not squeezing enough juice from the roster of rotten fruit. He blamed Kahn despite employing Kahn longer than all but a few franchisees would have done.
And now he blames Love. It's a devastating little cycle of deflection that only serves to absolve the man who is the biggest reason for the persistent failure. But I suppose that is one of the perks of making it to the top of the org chart: it's never your fault.
The Timberwolves will excel only when Taylor gets out of the way and gives smart people the resources they need. The best thing Taylor could do for Saunders at this point is to stop talking, trust the process and cut the checks. Every time he speaks up, he reminds us -- and more importantly, Wolves fans -- why the franchise has been so bad.
* Post-Sterling, "franchisee" is a more accurate description of team bosses than "owners." For my part, I'll be shifting to that language. Calling anyone an "owner" of an entity that is also used to described a group of people -- like, say, "the Timberwolves" -- makes me increasingly uncomfortable.