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Reusse's Reality: Love could learn from Wolves' 'true' Kevin

by Patrick Reusse, 1500ESPN.com Updated 29 months ago | 6336 reads

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was talking up Flip Saunders as the new boss of his basketball operations at Friday's press conference. Taylor suggested his biggest mistake in 18 years as owner might have been going along with the idea of firing Saunders as the Wolves' coach on Feb. 12, 2005.

Kevin McHale was the basketball boss and it was clear that several of the Wolves had quit playing for Saunders. This was a team that had reached the Western Conference finals the previous spring, and McHale was trying to rescue the season and muster another playoff run by naming himself as coach.

The Wolves were 25-26 for Saunders and 19-12 for McHale, and still missed the playoffs. This was followed by eight consecutive losing seasons, which cost McHale and David Kahn their jobs as basketball bosses, and Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman, Kurt Rambis and McHale II their jobs as coaches.

Taylor might be right when he says that signing off on Saunders' departure was a mistake, but giving that approval certainly was not the most-foolish thing to come out of his mouth in the past eight years as owner.

That came when the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood asked Taylor with a month left in the 2007-08 season if the Timberwolves would be "tanking,'' as they had in losing the final seven games a year earlier.

Taylor balked at the suggestion, saying: "I don't like that so much. It was more like, I'd say, 'KG tanked it.' ''

Garnett had missed the final five games in 2006-07 with a troublesome right quadriceps. He would get traded to Boston in the offseason.

A year earlier, the Wolves pulled Garnett from the lineup for the final six games. The motive of "tanking'' to avoid sending a draft pick to the L.A. Clippers was made most clear with the fiasco of Mark Madsen going 0 for 7 on three-pointers in the season finale.

Taylor's suggestion that it was Garnett - not the Wolves as an organization - "tanking'' at the end of lost seasons was beyond ridiculous.

"I'm in Boston,'' Garnett said in an interview on TNT. "I couldn't care less what Glen Taylor thinks of Kevin Garnett. That's nonsense. I don't even know why he's bringing that up, but it shows the taste of same people.''

That certainly would never be the taste of Saunders. Flip was the Wolves' coach for 784 games (47 in playoffs) in 10 seasons. Garnett was on the court for all but 13 of those games. That's a participation rate of 98.4 percent.

In Garnett's total of 12 seasons in Minnesota, the Wolves played 999 regular-season and playoff games, and Garnett was on the court for all but 25. That included 11 when the organization, not Garnett, was in full "tank'' mode to finish the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.

By contrast, the new Kevin who is supposed to lead the Wolves from the wilderness -- Mr. Love - has been here for five seasons. The Wolves have played 394 games and he has missed 107. That's a participation rate of 72.8 percent.

Love played 81 of the 82 as a rookie in 2008-09. Since then, he has missed 22 games in 2009-10, nine games in 2010-11, 11 games in 2011-12, and 64 games in 2012-13.

And what I keep hearing from media types and Wolves fans is that "durability'' is the main concern in giving a rich, long-term contract to Nikola Pekovic?

Garnett will turn 37 on May 19. He was fresh from another effort that belied his age on Friday, when Saunders' press conference was held at Target Center.

The Celtics, overmatched without superstar point guard Rajon Rondo, finally went away in the sixth game vs. the Knicks on Friday night, but not without a mighty try from Garnett. He averaged 35 minutes, 12.7 points. 13.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the series.

I asked Saunders about Garnett's latest stand against age and the Knicks.

"Would you expect anything different?'' Flip said. "Look up 'warrior' in a sports encyclopedia and there should be a picture of KG. I don't know if there's anybody who has ever played the game with more ferocity on an every-game basis than KG.

"I never had one problem with him. He never questioned how we should be playing. As a staff, we would say, 'This is how we want to play this team tonight,' and KG would try to play that way.

"I had people in the media say to me, 'You never get on KG.' My answer is still the same: 'Why would I? He shows up on time, he goes hard in every practice, he goes hard in every game at both ends of the court.'

"What reason would I have had to get on KG?''

Saunders said Friday that he plans to make a connection with Love - including, if Love is willing, to take in a playoff game together this spring to experience the atmosphere.

I have a better idea for Flip. Find a room with a big TV screen, sit down Love and spend two hours having him watch how the Wolves' true Kevin celebrated his 28th birthday on May 19, 2004.

Game 7, second round, Target Center: Timberwolves 83, Sacramento 80. Garnett: 32 points, 21 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals.

Let Kevin Love study that to see how a basketball warrior competes. Love might even notice that it includes giving it hell on both ends of the court.

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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