Even without Love and Ricky Rubio, who have combined to play all of 10 games, the Timberwolves have done a remarkable job to stay above water (11-9) in the early season. If not for the shrewd addition of veteran Andrei Kirilenko last summer — take a bow, Mr. GM — who knows where this bunch would be right now.
Lately, the news on the health front has been positive for a change. Rubio is scheduled to return this weekend. J.J. Barea has showed signs of a comeback himself in recent games. Love and his busted hand figure to get better in time. My guess is that the Timberwolves will advance to the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed in the highly competitive Western Conference, by which time the Love-bait relationship will have cooled down a bit.
Yet the situation has the potential to turn ugly as well.
What happens if Love or Rubio or both are sidelined for an extended period again? And the Timberwolves fail to earn a playoff berth for the 10th time in the last 10 years? Will the locals begin to vent like they did the other night, when Love bricked 14-of-17 field goal tries? “It’s all good,” he was quoted to have said afterward. “I’ve heard worse. I have pretty thick skin. I can get through it . . .”
Still, I wonder if Love will sing a different song if he and his team fall short of expectations … quickly.
Enter Bulls general manager Gar Forman and operations chief John Paxson, presumably with their best offer.
The Timberwolves might have an interest in power forward Nikola Mirotic, widely considered to be the best player in Europe right now, as Nick Gibson reported on this site earlier this week. They also could have their pick of players whose contracts will expire after the season, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson among them. Other than Rose and Noah, perhaps anyone, and everyone, should be touchable here.
And remember, the Bulls have a future unprotected (in 2016) Bobcats’ No. 1 pick at their disposal, the result of the Tyrus Thomas trade. That is the kind of asset that can tip the table in trade talks.
Also, the Bulls have experience at this sort of thing. It wasn’t long ago that they were on the trail of another Timberwolves star forward by the name of Kevin Garnett. Who knows? If they had been able to seal the deal, there might be one more championship banner at the United Center these days.
Meanwhile, the front office has considered a deal for Pau Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers achy-breaky forward.
Here’s what the Bulls have to ask themselves: Is Gasol the final piece to the championship puzzle? Personally, I doubt it. Even if Rose is close to 100 percent come playoff time, which is highly optimistic if not downright unthinkable, this group doesn’t appear to be deep or talented enough to make a serious run at the big prize.
At 32, Gasol and his two bum knees would represent a small window of opportunity in the final two years of his contract. In the big picture, Love makes a far better option provided that the price is a reasonable one. Like Rose, Love is 24 years old.
If healthy, they have their prime years ahead of them. When the Garnett-Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan-Tony Parker and LeBron James-Dwyane Wade tandems fade into the sunset, Love and Rose would join Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the most prolific one-two combinations in the league.
I’d bet Forman and Paxson have thought about that a lot lately.
Paul Ladewski is a long-time Chicago-area sportswriter and columnist. He is an occasional contributor to SheridanHoops.com.
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