Wolfson: Wolves will offer Kevin Love maximum, but will he take it?
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Before January is over, the Minnesota Vikings will have some new coaches, the Twins may add a reliever, the Wild will fight for realignment, an outdoor college hockey game at Target Field could become official, the Gophers football team will unveil their new uniforms and Gophers basketball coach Tubby Smith might deliver another tongue-lashing to his assistants like he did late Wednesday night.
But next to the Vikings possibly getting a stadium bill figured out, which we've heard before, no sports story locally is bigger than Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
TNT's Charles Barkley is right: Love is the best power-forward in the league. Love's agent, Jeff Schwartz, knows it, and more important, the Wolves' brain trust agrees.
One team source said he would be "shocked" if a maximum contract offer to Love isn't made by the 11 p.m. deadline on Jan. 25.
Whether Love signs remains a bit of a mystery, but he would be foolish not to.
Love won't get Derrick Rose money (five years, $94 million) because he hasn't won an MVP, been twice voted as an All-Star starter or been twice named to an All-NBA team. But Love can make approximately $80 million.
That's more than any other team can pay him, plus the option of choosing another team to play for wouldn't come until the summer of 2013.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the most opposing teams can offer is four years with 4.5% annual raises (including a sign-and-trade). The Wolves can go to a fifth year and give him 7.5% annual raises.
Without an agreement this month, Love would become a restricted free agent after this season, and make no mistake: if it gets to that point, the Wolves would match any offer sheet he signs.
If Love truly desires to play on the West Coast or for a stable winner, he could still do so as early as 27 years old. One plausible outcome with an extension would be to allow Love to have an early termination option after the fourth year.
I sat down with Love on Wednesday and, among many topics, touched on the contract extension:
You've played a lot of games in this building (Target Center) where you could hear conversations from the fith row. It's a different vibe now. This place now has energy.
It's very exciting. We've been around an electric group of fans since our first game, the 26th (against Oklahoma City). We're hoping to build the fan base as much as possible. The only way that happens is with wins and a good brand of basketball.
Do you feel like you guys can capture this town with the Twins and Vikings down? This marketplace is starving for a winner.
I think so. We have such a young, cohesive unit. If we come out and play well and electric and exciting like we've have been, and lockdown and play defense and win games, I think we can capture this town. At the end of the day, I believe this is a basketball town.
How close is this team away from the court? Heard there was a nice buzz when a few of you walked into Chino Latino the other night.
This is definitely a close-knit team. We're able to co-exist out on the floor, but also off the floor as well. We all get along. Luke (Ridnour) is a veteran. J.J. (Barea) is a veteran. Darko (Milicic) is 27 years old. After that we have a young group of guys that gets along very well. Then, we have that small group of veteran leaders that can step up and lead the path. So, we just want to keep growing. ... Really enjoy the present and enjoy the good times. Have a short-term memory with the bad times, and really just take it day-by-day.
Do you have a sense yet if this team can compete for the eighth playoff spot? It seems the West is a bit down.
It's tough to say at this point. In our three losses, we have a point differential of nine points. That was against good teams... We're just going to look at every day as a chance to get better. We have a young group of guys that is hungry. That wants to get better and strive to make the playoffs.
How much better of a player are you now compared to two years ago?
I'm a much better player. Not only what I do physically, but my mind as well. My mind has grown. My game is a lot further along than it was in the past. I do feel like I'm a lot better and more active on the court.
Is there anyone in particular that gets the bulk of the credit? Your trainer, Rob McClanaghan, in L.A.? Someone here?
It's an influx of people that get a lot of credit. I feel like I'm still the one that has to go out and do the work. But I give a lot of credit to the people working with me. Greatness surrounds itself with greatness. With Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, at times Joakim Noah and Al Horford, to be around those guys in the summer has really improved my game. I'm hoping I help improve them as well.
Who's the best '4' in the league: you or Blake Griffin?
I believe I'm the best '4' in the league. I think you have to believe that you're the best. I think Mohammad Ali even said, 'I was the greatest before I knew I was.' I think everybody needs to have that mindset. That's part of winning the mind game from the very start. You have to believe it. You have to hold yourself accountable.
When you wake up on the morning of Jan. 26, will you have a long-term contract in hand?
I don't know. I don't know the answer to that at this point. It's all in my agent's hands (Jeff Schwartz). People can speculate and say what they want, but I will just go out there, play basketball, and help this team win.
Do you talk to Jeff pretty regularly? Just about every day?
Sure. Lately, it has been about the holidays, the new year, what movies I've been going to see. It hasn't been about the contract at all. We really haven't even brought it up. I just want to go out and play basketball. Everything will take care of itself. I'm in it for the fans, for this organization, for my teammates, and for my coaches. For me, I just want to play and win.
If they present you with the maximum, do you sign it?
It's all in my agent's hands. I just don't know what I am going to do. I'm happy to be a Timberwolf at this point and happy we're winning games.
Have they surrounded you with enough pieces, or do you want a 2-guard, or some other piece?
I think we're still building. We are right there. We have a group of guys that is turning a corner. With the additions of Ricky, Derrick, and Malcolm, and the guys last year, Mike, A.R., and having Pek and Darko, just going right down the line, they are really helping this team. I could mention the whole team. We have a really good group of guys that is ready to grow together and take that next step.
How did you handle the situation after the Miami game with Wayne Ellington taking the shot and not kicking it to you for the open look? You and Wayne talk?
Wayne is built for that too. He can hit those shots. He had a good look, and just happened to miss it. He was the Final Four MVP. He's able to take those shots. Would I have liked the ball? Yes, but it doesn't always work out that way. I was confident in my teammate to make that shot, and he just missed it.
Is it weird to think that former coach Randy Wittman once didn't want you to shoot 3-pointers?
(Laughs) I think about that sometimes. I just had to keep improving myself. If it was "Witt", or coach (Kevin) McHale, Kurt Rambis, Rick Adelman, I was going to prove to them what I can do. I could always shoot. Kept the confidence and my mind right and did as much as I could to improve my game, and my shot has come along nicely.
At media day you alluded to something happening in your personal life that has you down. Are things better now?
Things are definitely better now. I've resolved all the issues that I had last summer and that were lingering. I faced them head on. That was definitely a big part of me growing and stepping into a leadership role here. I feel like anything that comes my way, I am able to face it. You let things linger, drawn out, going into different stages, and it'll only get worse. For me, I was able to grow from different situations in the summer that made me a better person.
Was it conflicts with individuals? A family situation?
It was a combination of things. I was thrown into many different things that kind of shook me the wrong way. The ability to face those head on and confront them when they arose was the biggest thing.
An observation: you are more vocal with the officials.
It's definitely a respect thing. You have to respect the officials and they have to respect you. Fourth year, so I am learning most of their names, so developing a relationship with them. Obviously, there's a disconnect, but you have to have a relationship with them when you see them on a daily basis. I want to pick their brain on certain calls. Some of the rules are adjusted from the past few years, so I want to learn those and help my teammates understand them.
I have talked with many athletes who cherish the chance to be an outright free agent. Is there a part of you that thinks about the summer of '13, and having teams wine-and-dine you?
Sure. Sure. It is one of the things the league presents itself with. You can't get around it. Some guys are thrown into free agency, some are locked up for 4, 5 years. Some people sign a 1-year deal and then go on to free agency. It's all a part of the game. At the end of the day, it's a business. It is very intriguing. I love the Twin Cities, I love Minnesota. They have treated me well since the first day I was here.
Any truth to the Peter Vecsey report (if an offer isn't extended by January 15, you will not sign)?
People can put a date on stuff and speculate and believe what they want to. It's all in my agent's hands. I just want to help my team get better and get this next home win.
Will your agent fly in soon?
He'll come see me when we play in New Jersey (Feb. 3). He might see a game or two here at some point. We'll be in contact.