Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/20/12
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MINNEAPOLIS The chants don't matter. MVP! MVP! MVP! They're flattering, but if every player on the receiving end of those cheers won an award, it would be reduced to something akin to an honor roll bumper sticker, an uncomplicated badge that, hey, you're pretty good, I guess. And really, being the NBA MVP is about a lot more than being good. It's not even a measure of being great or the best, and that's where things get messy. MVPs are among the league's most talented, sure, but they're also the highest-profile, leaders of winning teams, playoff contenders. Therein lies the problem for Kevin Love. The Timberwolves' forward is averaging 25.9 points per game, good for fourth in the league behind Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He's second in the league in rebounds per game, with 13.7, trailing only Dwight Howard. More impressive is his average of 41.5 points assists rebounds per game, which is fewer than just James. He's as complete of a player as there is, and his numbers make it hard to dispute that he's the league's best power forward. But there's another number that puts a damper on all that, a number that makes Love's chances at that MVP award in 2012 look dimmer, especially in recent days. It's the Timberwolves' 23-24 record, which keeps Love contained among the elite, unable to be called the best. On a mediocre team, Love's numbers lose some of their cache. He's not competing with another top scorer like Durant and James are. James plays alongside Dwayne Wade, whose 23.0 points per game put him at 15th in the league; Durant's Thunder also features the fifth-best scorer in the league, Russell Westbrook (24.0 points per game), and James Harden, who averages 17.1 points. The league's other top scorers' teams are winning, and their offense is carried by more than one star. "I think it's worthy of him, but usually that's going to come with success the team has," Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman said of Love's MVP chances. "But he certainly should be mentioned." The odds aren't in Love's favor, though, and they diminish with every loss. Look at who's won the award in the past five years: Derrick Rose, James (twice), Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. In their MVP seasons, those players all played on teams with 61 or more wins the equivalent of 49 or more wins in this shortened season and made the playoffs. Only two players in the history of the award Bob Pettit in 1955-56 and Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1975-76 have won it while playing on a losing team. And though the Timberwolves' fate as a sub-.500 team is far from sealed, it will be impossible for them to finish with more than 42 wins and that's if they finish the season 19-0. It's easy for Timberwolves fans and even less hardened NBA followers to jump on the Kevin Love bandwagon, though. Part of it is the relative measurement of success; even during their recent struggles, this year's Timberwolves look like the Chicago Bulls of the mid-1990s when compared to the Minnesota squads of recent years. Love has been the main catalyst behind that turnaround, which should warrant him some extra MVP points (if such things exist), but that doesn't change the fact that the Timberwolves aren't yet a contender. "There's no doubt that we're having success when you think of the history of this franchise in the last three to five years," Timberwolves assistant Terry Porter said. "We're definitely making progress. But I think in order for him to be legitimate speaking of MVP, the team's got to start making the playoffs and having good runs." MVPs are part of institutions, perennial playoff contenders. Or, like Rose last year, they transform a team from mediocre to great not just better. The Timberwolves are better, yes, but not quite good or even great. Love has made incredible individual progress since his NBA debut, but the harder part is still to come. He needs to take his team's growth and evolution as far as his personal improvement, and it's not going to be easy. But Love signed up for four more years of this, and he's just 23 years old. Not only does he believe that he's the best power forward in the league, but by signing on the Timberwolves' dotted line in January, he also affirmed that he thinks that this team can be something more than just better in the near future. He's imagining good, and knowing Love's competitive nature, he's aiming for great. Just look at the only MVP in the history of the Timberwolves, Kevin Garnett. It took him seven playoff appearances to win the award, hundreds of games deep into the franchise's first turnaround. Right now, Love is just in the early days of everything he hopes to accomplish, and really, he shouldn't be rewarded just yet. But don't stop the cheers, even if he's so locked into the game that he can't hear them. That belief that one day MVP might become a reality is just another facet of what the Timberwolves are building, and sometimes even unrealistic can be necessary. Right now, though, let Love build his resume. Let him rack up the points and stretch for the rebounds. Let him continue to develop into the kind of player who can have a positive effect on games even when he's not at his best. It's going to take many more baskets and thousands more minutes on the hardwood for Love to pay his dues and for the Timberwolves to become the kind of team that can field an MVP. But there's no reason to think that it won't happen. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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