HANG TIME MIDWEST BUREAU — Sometimes, less really is more. That motto of minimalists and Hoarders Anonymous resonated Wednesday morning with the news of forward Kevin Love’s decision to sign a contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves for less than the maximum deal he could have received.
Rather than a “max-max” offer that never came — a maximum salary for the full five years, worth about $80 million — Love agreed to a four-year deal that includes an early-termination option after three seasons. So besides getting a guarantee of approximately $61 million should he decide to stay all four seasons, Love and his agent Jeff Schwartz got the double-doubling power forward a free look after the 2014-15 season.
I asked Love about that flexibility in a conference hook-up set up by the Wolves Wednesday from Dallas:
“Yeah, early-termination option after the third year is definitely keeping my options open,” Love said. “I want to see where this team is gonna head. I want to continue for us to keep getting better. I feel that we are and that we will get better. But at the same time, [with] the early-termination, I can still extend as well. So I can be a part of this team for a long time. I’m not really thinking about that too much. I’m looking at it as a four-year deal and we’ll go from there.”
Is that as good as the five-year deal his pal from UCLA, Russell Westbrook, got from the Oklahoma City Thunder? Or draftmate Derrick Rose inked in Chicago? In sheer dollars, no. But in this particular case, Love might be better off. Remember, the tricky part about locking in for five years is that he’d be committing to the Timberwolves for as long as they’d be committing to him. And right now, Love is more of a sure thing at 24 points and 13 rebounds nightly than the intriguing-but-hardly proven basketball team in Minnesota and the civilians that operate it.
Re-upping cornerstone guys is one thing; Minnesota has done it before with Kevin Garnett and Al Jefferson. But finding the right help to put around them, and saying no to the wrong pieces, is something the franchise has struggled with. Whether drafting, trading or assessing free agents, past and present regimes at Target Center have whiffed in both directions. The Wolves have churned under both Kevin McHale and David Kahn as chief basketball execs, with and without Garnett and Jefferson on board. That has resulted in too-frequent coaching changes and seven straight lottery finishes.
If this were Boston, Chicago, the Lakers or even the Thunder — teams with track records of postseason ambitions and front offices nimble enough to achieve them — locking in for five might be OK. But the Timberwolves need to have their paws held to the fire to make sure they stay on task and this is one way to do it. While Love is giving up some long-term financial security, he’s gaining more control over his competitive future.
He had to forsake millions of dollars to do it — not that Minnesota was talking five years, anyway, which he admitted he wanted badly — but the ETO beats the alternative of finding himself someday as the Wolves’ only valuable piece, alone on a shelf, his season ending in April every year. Besides, barring severe injury, Love will still be only 26 years old on July 1, 2015, by which time a whole series of Timberwolves decisions will determine whether the team faces its own version of The Decision.
In the course of painting a rosy, Ricky Rubio-Rick Adelman-Derrick Williams picture of the Wolves’ future — it really was a happy day overall for Love and the Wolves — the All-Star forward said: “I”ve always played with a chip on shoulder and that’s not going to change.”
He just has more say now as to how big it is, and when and where he wears it.