NBA: Will Timberwolves keep Jefferson, Love together?
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love leaped to catch the entry pass from the point with his back toward the basket, then turned and flicked the ball across the lane in one fluid motion.
Al Jefferson grabbed it and surged in for a powerful dunk, the play coming during Minnesota’s season-best, four-game winning streak that ended shortly before the All-Star break.
That sequence was an example of the precise, inclusive style coach Kurt Rambis is trying to install with his version of the famed triangle offense. It was a sign of the way these fledgling power forwards can complement each other on the court.
The Wolves must answer this question, though. Are Jefferson and Love truly suited to work together? The team’s two best players, alas, play same position.
“There is no doubt that if we just had those two, meaning Kevin and Al by themselves, and that’s who we were heavily relying on by themselves, we are just not long enough and athletic enough as we need to be to become an elite team in this league,” president of basketball operations David Kahn said.
He added: “It might be nice to have an embarrassment of riches at those positions.”
That doesn’t mean they’ll both be a part of the bounty.
Jefferson is 25 and in his sixth NBA season, coming off reconstructive surgery on his right knee and just recently re-establishing his pre-injury form. Love is 21 and in his second year, his progress delayed a bit by a broken left hand that kept him out of the first 18 games this season.
Both of them are listed at 6-foot-10, not quite tall, muscular or long-armed enough to be a legitimate center, particularly on the defensive end. Jefferson and Love are the team’s top two scorers and rebounders. Considering their age, their contract sizes and the team’s other needs in this slow rebuilding process, however, Kahn might use one of them as trade bait to bring in a star who plays a different position.
Kahn has adamantly ruled out a deal involving one of the core players before this week’s deadline, but the offseason will be a different story with an estimated $13 million to $14 million in salary cap space and up to three first-round draft picks.
Kahn has denied initiating any trade talks with other teams about Jefferson, though his name has been frequently mentioned as a candidate to be moved.
“I think any of us could be gone, to tell you the truth,” Love said.
Love and Jefferson play together a fair amount, though, as they did in the fourth quarter of the Feb. 6 win over Memphis that included the highlight-reel touch pass.
The two are not replicas of each other, either.
Love is an offensive rebounding machine and deft passer who can step out and hit a mid-range jump shot or even a 3-pointer while Jefferson’s old-fashioned low-post moves are among the best in the game. There’s clearly room on the court for both of them at the same time, should the Wolves decide to move forward with both of them.
“Very cerebral players,” 7-footer Ryan Hollins said. “They’re always thinking in the game about what they need to do.”
They’ve become friends, too, with Love calling Jefferson a brother and Jefferson referring to Love as a son.
When Love hurt his knee in that game against Memphis and left briefly for treatment, Jefferson spoke afterward of the need to “fight for him” in his absence. They were each picked as candidates for the U.S. national team, a pool of 27 NBA players that will have a chance to represent the country at the world championships this summer and possibly the Olympics in 2012.
They have the same agent, as well.
“Al and I could be a real good tandem for years to come,” Love said.
If they get the chance.