The Love-Saunders Friendship: How much does it matter?

“[Michael] Jordan was skilled at verbal blood sport; no one in the league was better at zinging other people. He seemed to know how much to bait [Bulls general manager Jerry] Krause and, when there were danger signals, just when to back off. Jordan might have his own raging emotions, but he was a master at controlling them. He was mature and very tough mentally, and he had a certain high, professional coldness that allowed him to turn on his emotions as he so chose and to use his rage as an instrument. If anything, no one in the league was more skilled at creating artificial rage when needed.

Pippen was different. His emotions were always more raw and closer to the surface, and he had far less control over them. When he got into a situation like this, especially when he had been drinking, he was not nearly as good as Jordan at knowing when to let go. As Jordan began the baiting on the bus, Pippen took it over, berating Krause–When are you going to stop taking credit for drafting me and for my career?–then loudly and angrily demanding that the Bulls either sign him to a new contact or trade him. None of it was being done lightly, and Pippen became louder and angrier on the ride. It was the voice of anger and alcohol. Finally, [Phil] Jackson held up a bottle of beer, as if to tell him that he had been drinking too much and to stop.”

–Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam

Just about everybody was happy when David Kahn was fired was not retained as Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. Kahn made a lot of mistakes. He blew draft choices. He prioritized potential ahead of realized talent (to an unusually high degree). He didn’t know when to shut up to the press (which was awesome for fans, but bad for his team’s reputation, particularly in light of its win/loss record and standing in the league).

But when Kahn was let go, his flaw that fans focused most on was his cancerous relationship with Timberwolves star, Kevin Love. The two got off on a rocky start when Kahn would tell people that Love was the third or fourth best player on a championship team. There are rumors that Kahn was considering trading Love. And most famously, the Timberwolves refused to offer Love a five-year maximum contract; the decision which affects the team now as it might be forced into trading Love at this coming deadline, if the playoffs don’t seem realistic and a message is sent — whether by Love, his agent, or someone else in the know — that he is not going to re-sign with the Timberwolves in 2015. Even though Glen Taylor was apparently the maker of that decision, Kahn was the basketball boss and it seems highly unlikely that his input was not a key factor. When Kahn handed Love a four-year contract — literally, handed it to him — Love crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

So with that background, Flip Saunders was to be a savior. Saunders is a good old boy in a state that treasures Good Old Boys. He might not value advanced stats — they are just “information confirmation,” after all — but the one thing we knew he would get right is Kevin Love.

And to his credit, Saunders seems to be having success in making friends with Love. In his interview with Britt Robson of MinnPost, he lauded Love’s commitment to the organization. He said that they have lunch all the time. He said that Love really does like it here.

I threw out a question on Twitter last night to gauge fan opinions on this issue:

I guess I’m more skeptical about Saunders’ importance in this decision. Partly because of the Jerry Krause story — the Bulls won 6 championships while their superstar players despised their general manager — and maybe partly because of LeBron’s Decision and how treating him like Cleveland Royalty was not enough to overcome Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and South Beach.

K-Love is not a member of the Minnesota Good Old Boys Club. His Gopher jersey does not hang at Campus Pizza. He doesn’t even have a Gopher jersey.

Love is a smart guy and he comes from a good family. There will certainly be a long list of important factors considered when he signs his next contract. My guess is that things like team success, team potential for more success, city, community, teammate quality, teammate relationships, coaching quality, coaching relationships, women, and probably a few more will come ahead of friendship with his almost-sixty-year-old boss.

But who knows?



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5 responses to “The Love-Saunders Friendship: How much does it matter?

  1. I agree with Tim, Bill, and others who say that getting along with your boss can’t hurt. But on Love’s specific situation, I lean toward your argument that the relationship is unlikely to sway Love one way or the other.

    I suspect Love knows right now whether he plans to stay or leave. If he plans to leave, he’s gone, Flip be damned. We know that Love has two important qualities that are likely to bear on his decision: (1) He’s extremely headstrong, and (2) he’s determined to do what he believes is best for him, in terms of helping him achieve *his* goals.

    In saying that Love will do what he believes is best for *him*, I’m not saying that his goals all pertain to individual accolades, recognition as one of the game’s best, and enhancing his fame (and income) through endorsements. I’m sure he wants to win a championship, just like any other top-shelf star does. But if he isn’t determined to do that in Minnesota, and he likes the allure of a bigger market where he believes he can achieve his other goals and have a roughly similar shot at a ring, I don’t expect loyalty of any sort, or personal relationships with the front office, to trump the priorities listed above.

    If this is true, then it follows that he’s only likely to re-sign with the Wolves if his preferred destination franchise doesn’t have the cap space to pay him whatever he considers a tolerable amount of money (i.e., a max deal). Yes, the Wolves could pay him more than other teams in a max deal, but I suspect he cares more about “getting the max” AND pursuing the other priorities listed above more than the extra millions he’d get from re-signing in Minnesota if he considers Minnesota a dead-end in terms of those other interests. Unfortunately for the Wolves, it’s unlikely that his preferred destination (whatever it ends up being, if not Minnesota) would not be able to offer him an acceptable contract.

    Given how headstrong Love is, and how calculating he is about how he pursues his goals, I just don’t see Flip’s courtship swaying Love’s decision. As other say, having that relationship in place can’t hurt – Kahn being around *would* hurt – but all else equal, I’ll be very surprised if the other stuff doesn’t matter more.

    • Agree completely, esp with your last paragraph. Kahn (dramatically) hurt MIN’s chances of a long-term deal with Love. Saunders simply makes it neutral. That’s a big step up from Kahn, but from here on it, it’s not a significant factor.

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