All of us are pretty sick of the story already. We lost a close one to Phoenix, Kevin Love got pissed at J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham, they made up, and they said it’s over with. In an ideal world, the Wolves would go on a winning binge over the next ten games and this whole thing would evaporate into oblivion. But what happens in the next close game? I don’t even mean the next close loss either. I mean when we are up 1 point with 7 seconds left and the opponent has the ball. Is the elephant still in the room? How can we get it to leave?
Enter Norman Dale, the head coach in the movie Hoosiers, played by Gene Hackman. Dale was not a fan favorite from the beginning — the parents of the players hated him, as he preached the fundamentals and was willing to sit his star players if they played hero ball. Over time, he won over his team and it’s fan base, and got each guy to rally around him. Finally, before the state championship game, he delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of sports movies:
If you think I’m trying to take a shot at Rick Adelman, stop right now. I love Rick Adelman, and I think he is a great coach. The reality is, he is not a rah-rah type of guy, and that is fine. He is a brilliant basketball mind, an exceptional teacher, and players seem to love him. Simply put, you can’t ask for much more in a coach.
With all of that being said, there must be someone who can be that rah-rah personality; the Wolves desperately need it. It doesn’t always have to be the head coach either – it can be an assistant coach, or it can be a player on the roster — but someone in that locker room must be able to take control of the moment, and get the team on the same page.
In a recent post on the excellent Wolves blog Punch Drunk Wolves, an interesting quote by Flip Saunders was cited:
When I came here, someone from the organization came to me and said, “You’re going to love our guys. It is the greatest group of guys and we have no problems with them. They are fun to be around and they don’t argue.” And I said, “That might be a problem.” Because sometimes you need to have at least that one guy who is kind of out there who has that tough personality and brings a little of that grit.
This is exactly what I’m talking about; the roster is full of lovable guys. We have Ronny Turiaf, Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, A.J. Price, and my personal favorite Nikola Pekovic. But unfortunately, none of them are the type of person – not yet at least — that can take command of a locker room. And for all the talk of how J.J. Barea gives this team playoff and championship experience, he is far too emotional to be the voice of the team.
There is one person that I left off this list, and it’s not hard to figure out who. But for those readers that are tired, it’s Kevin Love. Love has taken some flak for not being the absolute leader in the locker room, and many people think he should be. (Please note, I am NOT talking about Bill Simmons and his podcast devoted to the bashing of Kevin Love’s body language. For those who do not know how I feel about that, check my Twitter feed. That should clear up any confusion) In my opinion, Love not being the clear vocal leader is in fact a huge issue, but it doesn’t mean it’s his fault.
Kevin Love has set himself up to be “the guy” in Minnesota, as he should be, by setting the world on fire with his play. He’s the best player the Wolves have had in a decade, and I pray to the Basketball Gods that we get to see him here for another decade. But because of that, it is difficult for another player to enter the room and be the leader without it feeling like he’s taking over the spotlight.
Remember, Love is only 25 years old. It is not unreasonable for a 25 year old to not be ready, at least quite yet, to be a leader of fourteen other men. But the ultimate leader role is his for the taking and because of that nobody else wants to go grab it; nor should they. We need Love to step up and grab it.
The Wolves are willing to wait for Love to develop into the vocal leader this team desperately needs, and we should all be patient too, but until he gets there someone has to play the role of Norman Dale. We need somebody to step up.
Now, allow me to repeat this in all caps: IT IS PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE THAT LOVE HASN’T TAKEN THAT STEP YET. HE WILL GET THERE IN TIME. WE JUST NEED A STOPGAP. And the stopgap probably cannot be one person at this point, but rather a collective effort from the Wolves to play to their full potential on a nightly basis while Love develops his voice and leadership skills.
Every team needs a leader — it doesn’t matter who it is and it doesn’t matter for how long. It just someway, somehow, has to be there. The Wolves need someone to rally around, to keep this group together and strong, so we can pull through the tough times and make the playoffs. Ultimately, the development in all of this may prove to be the most critical aspect in getting over the hump once and for all.