Helicopters presumably are hovering over Kevin Love at this moment, “Goodfellas”-style, anticipating some sort of cut-and-run, Bronco-chase reaction to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ re-signing Wednesday of center Nikola Pekovic.
Pekovic, you should know, reportedly received a deal worth $60 million over five years. Which, rather famously, is one more year than the extension to which the Wolves signed Love in January 2012. Since-fired exec David Kahn was adamant in not using the designated-player mechanism available to a player coming off his rookie deal to bump Love’s deal (four years, $61 million) to five years. The All-Star power forward took that as a slight, on top of a pure business setback.
Instantly, the opt-out that Love did get built into the extension after the 2014-15 season was seen throughout the NBA as his escape hatch from an unhappy work situation. It’s a perception that continued right through the spring after Love made some comments in a Yahoo! story suggesting he was less than a happy Wolves camper.
So when Flip Saunders, Kahn’s replacement, talked with reporters Wednesday about the Pekovic signing, he was asked about the potential that Love might feel neglected anew, what with the big man next to him – who trails Love in All-Star selections, 2-0, and in Olympic gold, 1-0 – getting a guarantee until the summer of 2018.
“We talked about a lot of things,” Saunders said of his recent conversations with Love. “What I’ve been impressed about Kevin Love, more than anything, Kevin wants to win. As we talked about Pek, he just said, ‘You have to do what you have to do.’
“I think he really understands and he believes that I don’t have a certain way I’m going to do things. I don’t know what’s been done in the past – I really don’t care. So as he said, we’re just moving forward, both on the basketball court and every other thing.”
The Wolves do have that to explain any inconsistency in negotiating tactics. Kahn was Kahn, with whom Love did not click for a variety of reasons, and he’s gone now. As a restricted free agent, Pekovic didn’t have much leverage but then, coming off his rookie deal, neither did Love.
Also, there’s nothing to prevent Love and the Wolves locking the double-double machine in for five seasons with his next extension. Nothing either now, frankly, from the Wolves — with owner Glen Taylor’s needed blessing, of course — using the designated-player slot on Ricky Rubio so that all their main guys are together for the long term.
It might also help sell Love that his agent, Jeff Schwartz, happens to be Pekovic’s guy too. It wouldn’t be cool if Schwartz, in a couple of years, were to turn around and point to the Pekovic deal as a reason for Love’s opt-out exit.
“This signing of Pek,” Saunders said, “will in no way hinder anything having to do with Ricky down the road or with Kevin Love. … This league has proven you have to have, quote-unquote, three star-type players. Three players at their respective positions who are going to be considered probably in the top five in the league.”
As for Love, who is expected to return with a vengeance this fall to delete bad mojo of his 2012-13 lost to a twice-broken hand, Saunders said his inside-outside threat is hitting the offseason hard.
“He’s looking to come in at about the same weight as he did when he had his big breakout year,” Saunders said, saying Love is at 242 now. “He’s doing a lot of cross training. Yoga every day. Some other training, weights. … Shooting. I don’t think he’s over-wearing one part of his body out. He’s got a great attitude, he’s been very involved with both me in conversation and with our organization. I feel extremely confident that he’s showing some leadership.”
If he’s not, there’s always the helicopters. Or easier yet, Twitter.