MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Love returned from the London Olympics determined to do what every one of his U.S. teammates have already done — lead his team to the playoffs.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will likely have to begin the first month of that pursuit without him.
The two-time All-Star broke his right hand in a morning workout Wednesday and will miss six to eight weeks.
Love broke the third and fourth metacarpals on his shooting hand in a workout before practice. It’s a crushing blow to the Timberwolves, who already will be without star point guard Ricky Rubio for what is expected to be at least the first six weeks of the regular season while he recovers from a torn ACL in his left knee.
The Timberwolves open the regular season at home against Sacramento on Nov. 2.
Team owner Glen Taylor, speaking to reporters at halftime of the WNBA finals game, acknowledged his initial “why us?” feeling when he first heard the news in the morning. But he tried to keep a positive attitude about the situation, expressing hope that Love will only miss a month of the regular season and confidence that Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham will take advantage of the extra playing time to help the Wolves for the future.
“I think all of our fans anticipated this season with great enthusiasm. We knew we were going to have to wait for Ricky, and now we have two guys to wait for,” Taylor said, adding: “But again, I’m going to be positive about it and say we’ve got some young guys and let’s see them step up.”
All the work David Kahn and the rest of the front office did to add veteran depth this summer is about to be tested more than they ever could have imagined.
Love averaged 26 points and 13.3 rebounds last season, leading the team in both categories and emerging as the best power forward in the game. He signed a four-year contract in January worth more than $60 million, then played a key role in the United States’ march to the gold medal in London.
As the only member of the team who had yet to appear in the playoffs, Love came back brimming with confidence that this was the year the Wolves would break through for the first time since 2004. That already was going to be a challenge in the powerful Western Conference without Rubio, the dynamic point guard who quickly became the glue that held this young team together before injuring his knee in a game against the Lakers on March 9.
But with veteran additions Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Greg Stiemsma and Cunningham, Love was convinced they would be able to weather playing without Rubio better than last season, when they lost 20 of their last 25 games after he went down.
“We have a great training camp and we can get off to a good start and guys stay healthy, there’s really no telling what we can do,” Love said just before training camp opened. “I know a lot of teams in the Western Conference have loaded up, but I still feel we can knock those teams off and have a really good year.”
Two weeks before the season has even started, the wishes for good health are already out the window. Love, who scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a preseason win over Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday night, was scheduled to fly to New York for an examination by Dr. Andy Weiland on Thursday.
He had a similar injury to his left hand in mid-October of 2009 and wound up missing the first 18 games of the regular season.
The injury likely means more playing time for Williams, last year’s second overall pick. With Love at power forward, Williams worked diligently to lose some weight, reshape his body and work on his ball-handling to try to earn more minutes at small forward.
Williams has always been more comfortable at power forward, so this could be the opportunity for him to make a consistent impact that coach Rick Adelman has been waiting to see from him. Williams impressed coaches with his physical conditioning and aggressive approach to practice when training camp began, but the playing time has still been sporadic.
He played just seven minutes Tuesday night against Haifa while Adelman took longer looks at the starting unit and Cunningham off the bench at power forward. Cunningham and Lou Amundson have both impressed Adelman with their tenacity and aggressiveness both in games and during practice.
“I think he’s really an energy guy,” Adelman has said about Cunningham. “Very good defender. Does all the little things. Him and Lou are very similar. The things that maybe we didn’t do so well last year, running down loose balls, getting to the offensive boards, keeping the boards alive.”
Adelman also has the versatile Kirilenko, who can play both forward positions, to lean on. He could choose to slide Kirilenko to power forward and use Chase Budinger at the small forward in another starting lineup.
Love’s absence will also put more pressure on veteran shooting guard Brandon Roy’s knees to hold up. Roy was signed in the offseason after missing last year with chronic knee issues. He has held up very well so far in the preseason, and his scoring now becomes even more crucial to fill Love’s void.
Taylor said he didn’t know any more specifics about how Love was hurt. He said “all options are open” for adding another player to the roster to fill in for now.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)