Give Kevin Love credit for this much: he didn’t say that he didn’t say what he supposedly and, as it turns out, most definitely said.
Yeah, those comments offered up to Yahoo! Sports were all his, the Minnesota All-Star power forward acknowledged to reporters after the team’s practice Wednesday. His critical, grumpy, even petulant-sounding remarks about the Timberwolves, his bosses and his less-than-desired contract experience were accurate. But he also said he did not like the tone of the story and that he talked about other, more upbeat topics about the Wolves that apparently got left on the cutting-room floor. Like his tendency to use perceived slights for motivation.
Here is some of the offending quotage as told to Yahoo! NBA guy Adrian Wojnarowski in a piece largely focused on the decision by Wolves management to offer and sign Love to an extension for four years rather than five:
“I don’t know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don’t think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn’t led us to the playoffs,” Love told Yahoo! Sports. “I mean, it’s not like I had much support out there.
“That’s a tough pill to swallow.”
No, Kevin Love isn’t over Taylor and GM David Kahn refusing him what he had earned. He isn’t over Kahn marching into the trainer’s room after a loss and thrusting a contract offer sheet into his hands. Where else does it work that way in the NBA? “I’m not the one to always follow professional protocol – but I do know what it is, even at 24 years old,” Love says.
Love also is quoted talking about the broken hand he suffered in training camp and speculation within the franchise that maybe he had hurt it in some way besides the “knuckle push-ups” he claimed. He questions Kahn’s performance and vision, and Wojnarowski provides context (Minnesota had the sixth, fourth and second overall draft picks from 2009 to 2011 and came away with disappointments Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson and Derrick Williams). That has led to a crazy-quilt of roster building. “You walk into the locker room every year, and it’s completely turned over,” Love said. “You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?”
But most of the piece dwells on Love’s disenchantment with the franchise and the prospect that he could leave via an opt-out clause in 2015.
Love will never get over how badly he wanted the designation as the Wolves’ franchise player, how deeply he believed it had been deserved and how Kahn was so smugly defiant in refusing to recognize it. When the Wolves should’ve been throwing a parade that Love wanted a five-year maximum contract designation a year ago, the franchise could forever regret the consequences of telling a superstar player he wasn’t worth that commitment.
For as foolish as it was to tell a first-team All-NBA forward, an Olympian, that that the Wolves would be saving the super max deal for someone else, Taylor and Kahn somehow gave into Love’s insistence of an opt-out after the third year of the four-year deal. Privately, Kahn has told people that he isn’t worried, that the Wolves can pay Love the most money on the market and that he doesn’t believe he’ll leave for less.
It’s a terrible miscalculation.
The story, obviously, went viral in Minnesota, dividing the Twin Cities like Moses’ staff, only not along traditional Minneapolis vs. St. Paul allegiances. No, this split is between those who blame the Wolves for messing with the team’s first superstar since Kevin Garnett in a star-dependent league and those irritated by what sounds like ego and lack of appreciation from a 24-year-old grumbling that he had to settle for $62 million rather than $80 million.
It’s not that simple, of course. Love know he is set financially for life, not just off his current deal but whatever he lands after that, whenever and wherever. But it was the statement Kahn and Taylor made by holding back that fifth year compared to, say, the way Chicago embraced Derrick Rose, not just with five years but without even offering or being asked for an out clause.
Are the Wolves holding that five-year deal (the CBA permits a club to extend only one player that long) for Ricky Rubio? Does it have anything to do with Rubio being a Kahn draft pick – he fell into the Wolves’ laps at No. 5 in 2009, right before Kahn grabbed the point guard he liked – and Love being a leftover from Kevin McHale‘s regime?
As for the team’s prospects as a perennial contender, coach Rick Adelman – a longtime Love pal from their days in the Portland area, where the Wolves star hooped with an Adelman son – has organized the basketball operation on and off the court. He even has increased his personnel input. But Adelman is 66, Andrei Kirilenko and Luke Ridnour will both turn 32 this season and, well, Kahn’s track record remains as spotty as ever.
From the Wolves’ side, there was the issue of Taylor, a central figure in the 2011 lockout as chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, almost immediately handing out a contract of maximum length and cost so soon after a claimed fiscal crisis. And the truth is, Love – two-time All-Star, U.S. gold medal-winner, rare inside-outside threat as a top rebounder and 3-point – hadn’t put Minnesota on his back to a playoff berth the way, oh, Rose (with way more help) had.
Missing the start of the season with the broken hand surely didn’t help Love’s mood. His push-back from basketball after the London Olympics had him returning in less than his stellar shape last season. He resumed life as a double-double machine, but his accuracy has been way off – 38.2 FG percent, 21.6 from the arc and 67.4 from the line thanks to the bum hand – and the Wolves are only 4-5 since he’s been back. Team insiders have caught him arguing calls with refs rather than getting back on defense, or holding his 3-point form rather than crashing the boards when he misses.
Soon, maybe even this week, there’s the prospect of Rubio coming back and igniting the 9-9 team again the way he did as a rookie. If that happens, maybe the charismatic point guard would be more deserving of the five-year deal.
He’d have to want to stay in Minnesota, mind you, despite the prospect of Love leaving.