With multiple rumors surfacing in the last few days about Kevin Love’s future with the Minnesota Timberwolves, point guard Ricky Rubio may already be bracing for life without Love.
According to Bleacher Report, Rubio told BasketAmericano.com’s Enrique Davis, sometime before May 10, he “could take a step forward and become the definitive leader of the Timberwolves.”
Rubio also was critical of Love’s leadership capabilities, saying Love was “a special player, the numbers he puts up are incredible, but we need a different leader.”
At first, the comments seem striking and catch you a little off-guard. Why is the point guard, essentially, calling out the team’s best player, one who could be gone within the next year? It raises questions, but everything Rubio said wasn’t necessarily wrong.
There is some weight in leadership. Having a solid leader to carry the team is necessary to be successful. Yet, just because someone isn’t a strong vocal leader, it doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.
Love has never been a vocal leader. He’s quiet, shy, and reserved at times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and a lot of good players don’t have that instinct to lead. It takes a lot of time to develop those traits. The younger a player has success, often times, the harder it is for the player to realize he must take a different role.
Think of LeBron James in his early years in Cleveland. There was no one in that locker room who had any leadership skills whatsoever. Although he was taking over games on the court, it was much harder for LeBron to take control off the court. It took several years before LeBron had control of the team. Even when LeBron went to Miami, in the first season, LeBron defaulted leadership to Dwyane Wade and Juwann Howard until he was basically forced to take control after losing the NBA Finals.
Leadership is learned. Who has Kevin Love ever had to help him become a leader? He’s never had the opportunity to play with someone who was better than him, or play for a coach who was smarter than him. It took three years before Minnesota even had a competent general manager in place to fill a team with actual players. Was Love supposed to learn leadership from David Khan?
Rubio makes a good point, though. The Timberwolves do need someone to step up and control the locker room and be the vocal leader on the court. I’m not so sure, however, Rubio intended to take a shot at Love with his comments.
First of all, there is no real context. We don’t know how much Rubio elaborated on his point. We only see the quote, “we need a different leader,” and jump to our own conclusions. Statements like that are so inflammatory these days in social media and on twitter, and there’s no way to sort through what’s true and what’s not true, which leads me to a more inherent problem with sports today.
Somewhere along the line, we, as fans, decided the best players have to be the best “leaders.” These leaders have to carry the team, be the face of the franchise, accept blame when the team loses, and are congratulated when the team wins. It’s much more prevalent in the NFL, but it happens in the NBA, too. We diminish team achievement and reward the players who are the best on their teams. Everyone knows Kobe and Shaq, Michael and Scottie, Magic and Kareem, but only a very small percentage of people can name any other player on their championship teams. We put the team leaders on a pedestal.
When a player like Rubio calls out the team’s best player for not being a leader, the fans love that. Before we know it, that’s going to be the knock on Love until he proves that he can lead a team, first to the playoffs and then when it’s become boring for us, then to a championship. There was already a little buzz forming because Love hasn’t made the playoffs in his first six seasons in the league. Now, that fact along with Rubio’s comments are the ammo to shoot Love down over and over again in the coming months as Minnesota struggles with trading their superstar, like Utah, Denver, and Orlando before them.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to criticize players because they aren’t vocal leaders, but that’s the NBA today.