Preview: Timberwolves Host Nuggets

Coming off of four days of rest, the Minnesota Timberwolves will host the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night and they may see a familiar face return to the lineup. Ricky Rubio, who was edging to return to game action for last Friday’s game against Cleveland, has practiced with no restrictions for the past two weeks and feels ready to give it a go.

Regardless of how Ricky feels, the decision to play the fan favorite will ultimately come down to the Timberwolves coaching staff and management, who may not want to risk aggravating Rubio’s recovering knee. When asked about when he thinks the Spaniard will be ready, head coach Rick Adelman responded:

“He could go out and play some right now, but is that the smart thing to do?” Adelman said. “I’d like to see him where he’s ready to go and right now I don’t think anybody can gauge that. He seems fine given the injury he had, but you don’t want him to get other injuries by going out too soon and pulling a muscle, doing something like that.”

It is hard to argue with that sort of reasoning. Although everyone, including myself, is anxious to see Rubio back on the floor, there is no shame in waiting until he is 90-95% in order to lessen the chances of further injury. While Minnesotans have witnessed possibly the greatest recovery from a torn ACL in sports history with what Adrian Peterson has done this season, it is difficult to imagine that lightening will strike twice.

The return of Rubio was supposed to – and should have been – the primary storyline for this next week for the team, but Kevin Love had to steal some of the attention. Seemingly out of nowhere, K-Love had some tough things to say about the Timberwolves organization and about his uncertain future with the team in a column by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

“I don’t know who labels people stars, but even [T’wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don’t think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn’t led us to the playoffs,” Love told Yahoo! Sports. “I mean, it’s not like I had much support out there.

“That’s a tough pill to swallow.”

“You walk into the locker room every year, and it’s completely turned over,” Love says. “There’s new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?”

“I haven’t been in the playoffs yet,” Love says. “I’m looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven’t been to the playoffs – or it’s been one playoff berth – well, it’s going to be tough to say, ‘Oh well, I’m going to stay here and continue to rebuild.’ “

Well, Love, you got the attention you wanted. One thing – if you are such a professional about everything, then why are you continuously whining to the media about how tough you have it in Minnesota? The last time I checked, you are making maximum contract money and you have a team sitting 8th seed even before the return of arguably the most important player to the team. The thing that bothers me the most about Love’s comments is that he takes little to no personal responsibility for his own faults. For one, this team did not start winning until Rubio got here – and when he got hurt, they went straight back to losing. I do not blame Timberwolves management for saving the 5-year max deal for Ricky, because he is the only player in the last decade who has brought Ws back to the record column.

It is no surprise that Love may very well leave the Wolves for a bigger market, most specifically Los Angeles. For one, the former UCLA star has family and friends there and is exactly the type of personality to be a good fit in that market. With that said, I believe that Love does appreciate living in Minnesota, but is hungering for a championship right now. The problem with that is that Minnesota lacks the ability that so many big market teams have of spending over the salary cap due to luxury tax provisions that can cost a team a lot of money when elevating over the hard cap. For example, the Lakers are spending a shed over $100 million this season pre-tax, while the Wolves sit comfortably at the soft cap of $68 million with so many other cash-strapped teams. That extra $32 million can end up being a Dwight Howard or Dwayne Wade to add to an already talented team, but Minnesota will never be able to experience that. Unless the core of Rubio-Shved-Kirilenko-Love-Pekovic can really grow and elevate itself to elite status, or we will likely watch Love leave via trade or free agency.

Which brings us to tonight. The Pups are set to tip-off around 7:05 at the Target Center, and face a Denver Nuggets squad who came back 18 points to defeat the Wolves the last time they faced off. With or without Ricky, the Wolves will have to lock down on the defensive end and not allow themselves to get dominated on the weakside rebounds like they did the last time they played the Nuggets. It should be a fun one to watch, as the Wolves and Denver seem to always be neck-in-neck.