Jonny Flynn and Kevin Love: Timberwolves B-list All Stars
I desperately hope you'd agree that I've been a pretty dedicated follower of the NBA this season. But even I couldn't stomach much of this year's All-Star weekend. There was that barely lukewarm dunk contest; there was the celebrity game which featured Michael Rappaport and a fat Rick Fox missing lots of shots and looking tired (I swear I only caught that much through an accident of channel surfing). And then there was that stadium, a robotic oil-rig in space, sporting the world's largest TV and a cavernous, deadening impersonality that, in my bad dreams, I imagine as our corporate dominated, environmentally wasted future. And there was the game itself which, rightly, featured no Timberwolves and thus gave me a good excuse to go to bed early. But the Rookie-Sophomore game: the Wolves were all up in that.
There were two non-basketball moments from this game worth noting. First: guest-commentator Dwight Howard contributing exactly nothing to the conversation beyond bland agreement and the bestowal of nicknames. Play-by-play man Kevin Harlan seemed a little taken aback by the Biblical nature of Howard's handles (James Harden as Moses, Marc Gasol as Baby Jesus), leading me to believe that Harlan is unaware that Dwight is a fundamentalist.
Second: Pau Gasol, also playing guest-commentator, surveying the half-hearted, defensively bereft, supremely dunk-y scene and pronouncing it "weird". Kevins Harlan and McHale were doing their yeoman's best to provide the game with a sense of drama and significance, but the Grizzlies' O.J. Mayo seemed to grasp the spirit of the evening: chill out until you get the ball, then shoot immediately.
Nonetheless, we did learn a few things. We learned that we really want Russel Westbrook and Tyreke Evans on our team. I realize that this wasn't exactly a defensive struggle, but did you notice that Westbrook was significantly more athletic than everybody else? and that he can actually hit a shot when he's open? and that if he puts his mind to it, you literally cannot score when he's guarding you? Evans, on the other hand, is not the quickest, highest jumping guy on the floor. But his craftiness with the ball is preternatural: did you see Evans, with two guys whacking his arm, gently nestle in that swooping reverse layup without even using the glass? That mad me feel funny.
Wolves on Parade
As for our boys: Flynn was perfectly in his element. He was smiley and enthusiastic, relishing the glorified pick-up game atmosphere and ebulliently cheering just about everything that happened. He showed some pretty amazing Ali Shuffled/Skip-to-my-lou crossovers and threw some really dramatic no-look passes. What was interesting, though, was that even in this ridiculous game, and in contrast to Evans's and Westbrook's unflappable dominance, Flynn was just as flashily inconsistent as he has been all year. He dribbled himself out of his own shorts; he threw the ball away; he floundered at the rim: so much motion, such erratic results.
For his part, despite getting some boards and hitting his shots, Love seemed a little apathetic. Now, to be fair to Kevin, this game did not exactly play to his strengths, and his attitude was totally appropriate for the setting. But, strangely, he's been showing this same half-present demeanor for the last few regular season games too, which have been among the worst of his short career. After the Charlotte game, Wolves' coach Kurt Rambis was asked what was up with his usually ecstatically competitive big boy. He replied this way: "I don't know. He seemed very passive out there. He wasn't playing with a lot of energy."
This is not good. Outlet passes and open threes are nice and everything, but if Kevin Love isn't playing with that typical recklessness, he's not really much of a player. Speculation as to Love's malaise is rampant--fatigue, frustration with his coach, frustration at coming off the bench have all been offered--but whatever the reason, as Rambis bluntly went on to say, "if he's not playing hard, then things aren't gonna work out for him."
In other words, this weird game featured two players who are both deeply important to the Wolves' future but who have begun to be phased out of the most important moments of their team's games. And both players helpfully demonstrated the causes of their growing marginality. So what was the prevailing mood for those Wolves fans who actually bothered to watch? I'd say: creeping disquiet.
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