LIVE › 8-9 p.m. ESPN Radio Tonight
NEXT › 9 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
9:05 p.m. Sports Center Tonight
10 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
11 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
Midnight ESPN SportsCenter
Updated: January 25th, 2012 7:04pm
Zulgad: Wolves' deal with Kevin Love could prove to be shortsighted

Zulgad: Wolves' deal with Kevin Love could prove to be shortsighted

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

One can just imagine Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and president of basketball operations David Kahn patting each other on the back Wednesday and celebrating the fact they had worn down Kevin Love.

They were prepared to offer Love a four-year, $60-plus million contract and weren't going to budge from that. Evidently, the fact an All-Star forward actually wanted to stay with this recently woebegone franchise and sign a five-year, $80 million contract mattered little.

So as Wednesday's 11 p.m. deadline approached to get the deal done, Love relented and agreed to what Taylor and Kahn wanted.

But he also got one important concession.

In return for accepting a contract that was one year and approximately $20 million less than what the Wolves could have paid him, Love received an opt-out clause that will make him an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. He will be 26.

The Wolves will tell you that the language in the contract states Love could be signed for two more years at that point, making it a six-year contract instead of five.

But anyone who listened to Love's tone during a conference call Wednesday afternoon likely did not come away with the impression that he will jump at the chance to do the Wolves' brain trust any favors in the coming years.

"Did I want the five years? Of course," Love said. "But at the end of the day, the four-year deal was still great, and I'm going to keep excelling and keep improving myself. I've always played with a chip on my shoulder and that's not going to change."

What will change is that Taylor and Kahn will now make up part of the chip on Love's shoulder. Short term that could be great for coach Rick Adelman. Long term it's another story.

The smart money says Love will spend three more seasons in Minnesota after this one and then explore the open market. The smart money also says Taylor and Kahn got too cute in dealing with their star player.

An owner and executive who have overseen a team that hasn't made the playoffs in seven years and has won 32 games the past two seasons suddenly believe they are the second coming of Jerry Buss and Jerry West?

It seems curious.

It's no secret that the Wolves had their reasons for drawing a line in the sand when it came to Love's contract.

One theory floated during negotiations was that the Wolves did not want to give Love five years because under the new collective bargaining agreement a team can only have one "designated player" on its books. That being a player who receives a five-year maximum extension on his rookie contract.

Taylor and Kahn wanted to save that for either Ricky Rubio or Derrick Williams or perhaps a big-time scorer that will be acquired at a later date.

This would be sound logic -- if the Wolves were based in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago or perhaps Dallas.

In Minnesota, it's called taking huge risk. And that would be true even if the Wolves hadn't been one of the NBA's doormats for the past several years.

Strip away the ridiculous money Love will get during this contract, and realize this. Love is the Wolves' best player and almost certainly felt he deserved the "designated player" tag, as much for his ego as for his financial gain.

Love tried to downplay the question when asked about the fact that fellow 2008 draft picks Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have signed "designated player" contracts with Chicago and Oklahoma City, respectively. But Love works out with both those players during the offseason and to think this won't be a blow to his pride would be naïve.

It was during that answer that Love made it clear he wanted the maximum deal the Wolves could have given.

The ideal situation now for Taylor and Kahn, assuming he is here for the long term (and that might be a risky assumption), goes like this.

Rubio develops into one of the NBA's top point guards. Williams becomes a dominant forward or is traded for a big-time scorer because Love also is a power forward.

Either way, the Wolves now have a tough decision to make on who gets the five-year deal and Love, seeing all of this, decides he likes the direction of the franchise and wants to stick around to play in what by that point either would be a remodeled Target Center or a new downtown arena that is the happening place to be on most winter nights.

Now let's remove the rose-colored glasses to examine the flip side of this story.

And, sadly for the Wolves, this might be the more likely scenario.

Love continues to play with a chip on his shoulder and after the 2014-15 season the UCLA product returns to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers or Clippers, or goes to another team that during its recruiting pitch gently reminds him the Wolves clearly didn't think he was a franchise player.

This leaves Rubio, Williams and/or a let's say a very-good shooting guard with a decision to make about his future in Minnesota, playing in one of the oldest buildings in the league and with an atmosphere that in no way resembles Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center.

And that's not even getting into the potential marketing opportunities that might exist in a big market that would make the short-term hit of having to take less money from a team not all that painful.

Rubio, Williams or anyone else who ends up deserving the "designated player" contract, takes this all into account and realizes their best play is to force their way out of Minnesota and suddenly the Wolves are left with little or nothing. Except maybe the memory of having to trade Stephon Marbury.

Perhaps at that point, the Wolves will realize that getting cute with Love wasn't only unnecessary, it was downright dumb. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
3960