MINNEAPOLIS – The top of Kevin Love‘s head has been in fine shape so far in this 2013-14 NBA season. His affability, at least as far as a lot of Twin Cities media folks are concerned, has been less so, because they mostly have been getting, well, the top of the Minnesota Timberwolves forward’s head.
Love’s postgame session after a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was said to be typical: A ring of reporters standing, Love sitting in the middle, looking mostly straight ahead. He fielded questions as they came – if they really were questions – and answered each one. But he did so almost in monotone, with little emotion or animation and even less eye contact.
For one of the league’s great conversationalists, it seemed forced, a little stand-offish. But it turns out, it might just be a handy coping mechanism. Love wants to keep things almost entirely in the present. He’s not willing to rehash the trials and tribulations of a forgetting 2012-13, when a twice-broken hand, inconsistent play in the 18 games he did make, Minnesota’s injury epidemic and sagging record, and alleged rancor between him and former Wolves president David Kahn led to some of the hardest criticism Love ever has heard. Nothing productive there, though, for the here-and-now.
Nor, for that matter, is Love much interested in jawing about the future, since invariably questions hone in on the summer of 2015, when he can opt out of his four-year, $60.8 million extension with a year left and hit free agency. And who can blame him: The Wolves’ future – at least ending a nine-year playoff drought – is now. Love’s individual accolades and achievements, from his 30-15 games to his Olympic gold medal, all would snap into sharper focus if things started to sizzle in his day job.
So that was the context for what wound up being his in-the-moment post-game media session. It was like stepping outdoors, eyes closed, letting the rain splash down or smelling the flowers, all the what-was and what-will-be giving way to what-is.
What is, lately, is pretty good for Love – he went into Monday’s game at Indiana No. 4 in scoring (24.9) and No. 2 rebounding (13.6), an early-season MVP fave. So after an off-day workout last week, the five-year veteran and two-time All-Star talked at length with NBA.com:
NBA.com: Everyone is asking and we have to, too. How do you do what you do so well in spite of your limited natural ability? [Love was the No. 1 pick of NBA general managers for making the most of allegedly meager athletic ability.]
Kevin Love: I don’t feel like I have “limited natural ability.” I guess I can’t jump to the top of the square every time. But I have soft hands, I have great footwork. I can shoot the ball, I can rebound, I can pass.
NBA.com: So where does that impression come from, do you think?
Love: Gee, If I had to guess, it would be that I’m white. I mean, what do you think?
NBA.com: I do remember how Christian Laettner, heading toward the 1992 draft, used to sneer when reporters would mention Larry Bird in straining to make comparisons. He felt it was done only because he was white. So now you hear it, where instead of people comparing your outlet passing to Wes Unseld…
Love: They compare it to Bill Walton instead. Right. People compare “like” to “like,” I guess. I don’t know what it is.
NBA.com: What explains your fast start?
Love: I’m just at peace on the court. Feel great. Off the court, feel great. I’m loving playing with this team. Locker room’s gotten better. Coaching staff. I feel like we all know exactly what they want out of us, so that’s great as well. And yeah, getting into a good rhythm right off the bat is always nice.
NBA.com: I saw the “all present, no past or future” outlook on display last night. How did that come about?
Love: I’ve always wanted to think like that and focus on carpe diem and seize the day and living in the present. I finally spoke it into existence. I don’t want to dwell [on] or be happy about – whether last year or years before – how things went for me, on the court or off the court. But don’t want to focus on the future either. Just want to focus really day-by-day and the [next opponent] at this point.
NBA.com: Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders told me in October about have a very “Zen-ful” summer, then some early frustrations led to an embarrassing nightclub incident and an injury. nner peace isn’t always easy to come by.
Love: Off the court, with my family and close friends, everything’s really going great. So that allowed me to focus on playing basketball. Had a great summer working out – didn’t talk to you guys at all [laughs]. The only time I really did media was at USA Basketball.
A big part about it was, I changed a lot of my contacts up. People weren’t able to reach me. I kind of like that – I was able to work hard, focus. Every night I’d go home, just rest, chill, read a book, watch TV. I like to live a little bit as a recluse and a shut-in so I get to focus on what I love most, and that’s my family and friends and my basketball.
NBA.com: The speculation has begun about your eventual whereabouts, so what do you do when media start tugging at your sleeves about it? Certain markets seem to believe that the other 25 or 26 teams exist only to sustain them with their best players.
Love: Anytime – I’m not going to do it to you – but anytime someone brings it up, I’m just like, “That’s so far away.” I know in the grand scheme of careers and life, it’s not that far away. But we’re focusing on [the next game] right now. I’m not focusing on what’s happening two years from now.
NBA.com: There are shadow fan bases, those folks who follow recruiting but not college hoops. Or NBA free agency but not the season or the playoffs.
Love: I feel like there’s no happy medium. Either it goes to extreme of people [perhaps] getting traded, or it’s a day-by-day scenario, like “What have you done for me lately?” Micro-managing. Like you have the greatest game ever and you’re the greatest player, and then you have one [lousy] game and it’s like, “Aw, our season’s down the garbage now.”
NBA.com: “Two years away” is a long time. But you’re six seasons into your career. Going fast?
Love: It’s gone by very fast. … Even before this year, just thinking about all the different players I’ve played with, the different coaches. I remember saying, “I’m headed back to Minneapolis for my sixth year” – I think I Tweeted that out – and I was like, Man. Sixth year. Already?
I think that’s helped me, also, to never – I don’t know if “wish away” is the right way to say it – but just to always stay in the present. What, the average life span of [an NBA player] is four-and-something-odd years? So I’m getting to play a game that I love and getting paid for it, and loving every minute of it.
NBA.com: What is the potential for this Timberwolves team?
Love: I keep saying this team’s only going to get better because we haven’t spent much time out there on the floor together. I mean, between [center Nikola] Pekovic, [point guard] Ricky [Rubio] and myself, we had 13 minutes together last year. And Ricky and I only played 26 games together his first year out of the 66.
Now having Kevin [Martin] here, it’s an easy gel. Guys in the locker room are great. We all get along. We all have different personalities, but none of them really clash.
NBA.com: You and Corey Brewer have developed a “Montana-to-Rice” connection with your outlet passes and his breakouts. He’s a big part of your jump in assists (4.5 apg).
Love: I like to call it “Stafford-to-Megatron.” But I’ll take “Montana-to-Rice” because that’s what I grew up on. But it’s fun – I love playing with Corey again. He was around my first couple years, but now the connection’s happening much more and I’m able to find him. It makes it that much more gratifying to be able to assist my teammates.
NBA.com: Did you come in with a definite goal this season?
Love: I think it’s obvious where our eyes are set. But I think the team has been pretty good about staying in the present. But definitely that “P” word – that’s what everybody wants to talk about. I think the only way to get [to the postseason] is to take it month to month, week to week, day to day.
NBA.com: Doc Rivers said both his team, the Clippers, and yours are going to be good over the arc of this season. But the pitfall in that is assuming that it’s just going to happen with familiarity.
Love: For their team, they haven’t all played together but as far as DeAndre [Jordan], Blake [Griffin] and Chris [Paul], they have played together so they have a little bit of cohesiveness and continuity right now. Getting time out there on the floor is [more] important for us. That’s why I think we’ll get better. With K-Mart in there and figuring each other out. And our second unit – I feel like I’ve been saying this for two years now, but Ronny [Turiaf] is going to get healthy in a matter of time Chase [Budinger] is too, knock on wood, and we’ll stay that way and have more depth. And more firepower in that second unit.
But assuming we’re going to be good, we don’t have that luxury. We have to fight every night because, as coach [Rick Adelman] has said, “We haven’t done anything yet.”
NBA.com: Adelman is 67 and, after his wife Mary Kay‘s health issue last season, there was concern about how much longer he’d want to do this. Do you think your team’s life cycle and his are in sync?
Love: If we win, anything can happen. I really hope that because of who Rick is and what he stands for and what he expects out of us and the type of coach he is, we’ve got to do all we can to keep him around.
NBA.com: Flip Saunders is in, David Kahn is out. What has Flip been like in that job?
Love: It’s been a lot of fun. I’m going to meet him for lunch after this. He’s been a guy who, I pick his brain, he picks mine, asks me what I think about a lot of stuff. He’s been very pro-active in helping this team in every way that he can. If micro-managing can have a positive connotation, he’s done that. But even on a grander scale, too, as far as the [new planned] practice facility … he’s done a great job.
NBA.com: Can you achieve what you want to achieve in Minnesota?
Love: I think so. But we have to be lucky. … Guys worked very hard this offseason. Guys got better. If we keep doing that, if we keep adding guys, get our new practice facility, $100 million into [Target Center renovations], there’s no telling what we could do. It could be fun.
That last question was intended for Love as an individual, in his career. See how deftly he slipped it? No past, no future, all present.