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Kevin Love would be great with Celtics, but can he be best player on a title-winner?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 25, 2014 08:34 AM

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While we wait for those imaginative New York tabloids to suggest that a swap of Raymond Felton for Rajon Rondo is a distinct possibility, a quick thought I've been coming back to since the NBA trade deadline passed without a whole lot of action.

Well, two thoughts, actually. One, I'm surprised Brandon Bass didn't get traded -- or more accurately, that Danny Ainge didn't receive an enticing enough offer to move him. He'd have been a great fit with, say, the Warriors.

And, two, I'm glad Kevin Love-to-the-Celtics didn't gain momentum beyond wishful thinking and the initial "wait, is this actually possible? giddiness.

Actually, maybe glad isn't the right word. It isn't the right word. Like any basketball fan who appreciates distinctive talent, I love watching Love play. He's a naturally gifted player (his father is former Bull Stan Love; his uncle is the scourge of Brian Wilson) who, as you can tell by the photo above, has worked hard to get into prime shape during his six seasons in the NBA.

Just 25, he's utilized his versatile inside/outside game to average a career-high 25.6 points per game this season. He's shooting over 50 percent from two-point range for the first time in his career, and his 37.8 3-point percentage is in line to be the second-best of his career.

He's healthy, and the argument can be made that he's improving. He's certainly coming off one of the best stretches of his career, having started the All-Star game with four other incredibly appealing players (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Blake Griffin), then winning the Western Conference player of the week award by averaging 36.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in three games.

Love can score from a lot of different spots in a lot of different ways, and yet offense isn't the most appealing aspect of his game. No one has thrown a crisper outlet pass since ... well who? Bill Walton? Wes Unseld? He's a rebounding machine, having led the league with 15.2 per game in 2010-11 and averaging 12.3 rpg for his career, including 13.4 this season. There isn't a better gauge for a front-court player's desire than the effort he puts into rebounding. Love leads the NBA with 47 double-doubles this season.

He's also been on the receiving end of possibly my all-time favorite pass, non-Larry, non-Rajon division:

So, yeah, after roughly 300 admiring words about Love over those last couple of paragraphs, I suppose "glad the Celtics didn't get him" was pretty much the opposite way of putting it.

Here's what I really mean in regard to Love and the Celtics: I'm skeptical, as great as he is and as fun as he is to watch, that he's capable of being the centerpiece on a championship-winning team.

He has some flaws and on-court habits that don't exactly scream selfless leader. He's quick to express disgust with a teammate, but not to his face; it's a shrug or a head-shake running up the court after a bad shot or pass. That's not leadership.

He sometimes positions himself for rebounds before the defensive sequence is over, suggesting he's putting those rebounding numbers ahead of actually getting a stop on a given possession. And most damningly, he's a mediocre defender at best, and that's on the sporadic occasions when he's interested on the defensive end.

Love is a wonderful player, but he also has some major imperfections, and it does reflect back on him that the Timberwolves are a perennially underachieving team despite having one of the 10-12 best players in the league.

While I'm one of those convinced he's headed to the Lakers when he opts out, it is cool and encouraging that the Celtics are actually a realistic destination for a player of his caliber. He told my colleague Gary Washburn during All-Star Weekend that he's not that familiar with Boston, but has great respect for Brad Stevens and that he's keeping his options open. Maybe it's lip-service, or maybe it's something he would consider. We'll know in a year and a half.

What we do know now is that Danny Ainge has accumulated enough interesting pieces in a remarkably brief time to make a blockbuster should one present itself. If he does somehow acquire Kevin Love along the way, who wouldn't be excited? (Well, probably fans in Minnesota tired of watching their stars come here, I'd imagine.)

But we also need to know to temper it. Love is not Kevin Garnett, who was as unselfish and defense-oriented as any modern basketball superstar could possibly be.

Love is brilliant in his own right. But it's a different kind of brilliance, the kind that makes you wonder where winning ranks compared to rebounding titles on his priorities list.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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