MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves‘ promotional video “#TheReturn,” a spoof of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ visit being all about Mike Miller‘s return to the Target Center rather than Kevin Love‘s, was meant to be a joke, but Flip Saunders isn’t laughing.
“I was not aware of the video a lot of people are talking about,” said Saunders, the Wolves coach, president of basketball operations and part owner, before Minnesota hosted the Cavs on Saturday. “Didn’t know about it, didn’t approve of it. I think as an organization we should be above that.”
As Love expected, he was showered with boos in pregame introductions Saturday night.
Earlier this week, Love called the video “hilarious” and said it played to his “dry sense of humor,” but Miller, who ended up being the butt of the joke, wasn’t so impressed.
“It is what it is,” said Miller, who played just one season in Minnesota, averaging 9.9 points in 2008-09 for a Wolves team that went 24-58. “I’ll never (have an) answer for anything that happens between (the) marketing (side). Their job is to market and sell.”
Saunders seemed to think their job should also include running their videos by him before releasing them to the public.
“Would San Antonio do that? No. They wouldn’t do that,” Saunders said. “Our players didn’t like it. They have to play against (Love), too. They didn’t like it. It just doesn’t send the right message. … So, was it funny? Maybe people thought it was funny.
“For me it wasn’t great having to deal for three or four hours the last two days having people call me and talk about it as I’m trying to prepare for games. Maybe you think it’s OK. That’s up to you. But I don’t look at it that way — as someone who is running an organization and has to go out and has to recruit players and has to do those things to get those players.
“(Love) might have thought it was funny. But I know, deep down in his heart, no one would like that. It’s human nature.”
Love was the first player introduced in the starting lineup for the Cavs, and there was a hearty chorus of boos from the Minnesota crowd.
One fan held a sign that read, “For Love or Money?” Next to him, a fan held another sign with the inscription, “Where’s the Love?”
Former teammate Kevin Martin embraced Love at center court before the opening tipoff.
During a first-quarter timeout, the Wolves had a brief presentation on their video board to honor Love. The public address announcer mentioned Love’s ranking second in rebounds, third in scoring and second in 3-pointers made in Minnesota franchise history. Love’s charitable efforts, including collecting winter coats for the needy, were also mentioned. However, the graphic that displayed his accomplishments classified Love as a two-time All-Star, rather than the three-time All-Star that he was during his time in Minnesota.
“We have to acknowledge that Kevin, when he was here, he was a great player for us,” Saunders said before the game. “He was an All-Star. He won an Olympic gold medal, did a lot of positive things. And, last year, at this time, everyone was patting themselves on the back for getting him selected into the All-Star Game for us.
“To not acknowledge that, to go the other way, I would say would be hypocritical. So I have addressed some of the people, told them of my displeasure (about the spoof video). And that, as an organization, that’s not the direction we want to go.”
Love addressed reporters approximately 2 hours before tipoff and echoed his comments from earlier in the week about coming back to Minnesota for the first time to play the Wolves since being traded to the Cavs this summer.
“It’s going to be a little different, obviously,” Love said. “First walking in here to the visitor’s side, staying at a hotel, coming on a bus to the arena, going out there and getting shots up on the opposite side I’m not accustomed to. The visitor’s bench, it’s going to be different. So, I had a lot of fun in my six years, and now I’m in my first year in Cleveland and we’re trying to put together a pretty good win streak here.”
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and his wife, Becky, approached the Cavs’ bench shortly before tipoff, hugged Love and chatted for a short time. Love hadn’t spoken to Taylor since being traded.
Saunders said he and Love didn’t have any personal problems between them, even though the coach refused to answer questions about the three-time All-Star when the Wolves played in Cleveland earlier in the season.
“It’s like when you have kids,” Saunders said. “Your kids do something wrong, you might be mad at them, but it doesn’t change that you don’t like them or love them. It’s the same thing. That’s kind of how you approach it.”
One silver lining to Love’s return for the Wolves, who rank dead last in the league in attendance at 13,759 fans per game, is that they sold out Saturday’s game against the Cavs and then some, releasing 500 standing room only tickets on top of their regular capacity.
Saunders said his team is content with getting Andrew Wiggins out of the Love deal, although he knows that the two will be always linked to one another.
“When the deal was made, teams were going in different directions and both teams felt good about the deal and both teams (still) feel good about the deal,” Saunders said. “Will they be tied at the hip forever? Probably. That’s part of what always happens when you go through any type of trade from that perspective.”
Appropriately, considering the night, Wiggins scored Minnesota’s first basket on a 3-pointer, which was met with raucous cheers. Love scored the first bucket for Cleveland on a put-back and predictably was booed for it.
Minnesota fans continued to boo Love whenever he touched the ball throughout the early portion of the game.
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