Posts Tagged ‘David Kahn’

Love’s knuckle pushups, twist of fate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: News on Kevin Love

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA – on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade – which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.

Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?

While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”

The omission of “we’re and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.

And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.

Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.

Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.

History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.

The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.

The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.

He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.

Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.

We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.

And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.

Love more likely to go, not less, with Flip’s return to Wolves bench


VIDEO: The Starters discuss possible future destinations for Kevin Love

SAN ANTONIO – Been there, done that.

No, that’s not shorthand for the decision by Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to add head coaching duties to his fancy executive position, a move that had been anticipated for months (including here), was reported by multiple outlets Thursday and will be made official at a news conference Friday. Saunders, 59, has been there, done that; he is the winningest coach in Wolves history (411), leading the team to its only eight playoff appearances in a 10-plus season stint on the sidelines.

But the been there, done that in play now is the sentiment among some that Saunders will be dedicating 2014-15 to a season-long smoochfest aimed at convincing All-NBA forward Kevin Love to stay with the Wolves long-term. Love is expected to opt out of his contract next summer, with speculation already rampant as to his future whereabouts: Golden State, Chicago, Houston, Boston, the L.A. Lakers or some destination still to emerge. Notice that Minnesota is not on that list.

That’s the mistake in interpreting Saunders’ grab at the coaching reins. He and the organization already spent most of 2013-14 catering and currying favor with Love. To no apparent avail.

With Love’s favorite Rick Adelman around for his final season, the Wolves featured the 6-foot-10 power forward him prominently on the court and off. Love was his usual double-double self, a possible MVP candidate if only Minnesota had managed to a) finish .500 and b) qualify for the postseason. Saunders talked up Love’s game, value and leadership all season and consulted the player on all sorts of team issues, including suggestions for its new downtown practice facility across from Target Center.

Only it didn’t work. In fact, near the end of the regular season, as the Wolves were eliminated practically first and mathematically second from the playoffs, Love withdrew and unplugged. Saunders and others within the team, several sources have said, were disappointed. Over the past two months, they became convinced that Love intended to leave – the free look Love has next summer was a booby prize from former Wolves president David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor when they declined to give him a fifth year in his contract extension.

So now Saunders is stepping in as coach, Wolves insiders say, to manage the return and impact of whatever package of players and draft picks Saunders the executive can get from an NBA trading partner.

The time for winning over Love, in other words, has passed. It’s time now to cash him in, however reluctantly, and move on.

Some in the team’s increasingly cynical fan base – impatient over a playoff drought that dates back to 2004 – see Saunders’ move as driven by ego and emboldened by Detroit’s hire of Stan Van Gundy in a double role and Clippers coach Doc Rivers adding executive powers to his sideline work. After all, the former University of Minnesota point guard was a career coach for most of four decades, with NBA stints most recently in Detroit and Washington, before being hired back by Taylor last spring in his front-office capacity.

But Saunders did conduct a proper search for Adelman’s replacement since the regular season ended and even settled on Memphis’ Dave Joerger as his choice – until Joerger got reeled back in by Grizzlies owner Robert Pera despite apparent internal strife within that organization.

Saunders was said not to favor veteran NBA possibilities such as George Karl or Lionel Hollins, partly because he was wary of butting heads with a strong coaching personality. College prospects Tom Izzo of Michigan State (a close Saunders friend), Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State and Billy Donovan of Florida had reservations of their own, the coaches uncertain of the Wolves’ direction (Love? No Love?).

As candidates came and went, it became increasingly clear that the Wolves needed a transitory coach for their transitory situation. Reports online Thursday had Saunders assembling a staff that could include his eventual replacement, with Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, a coaching star on the international scene, and former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell (another back-to-the-future former Wolf) mentioned prominently. There was also talk, however, of Saunders’ son Ryan, now on Randy Wittman‘s staff in Washington, reuniting with his pop in the Twin Cities.

It’s possible that Saunders the coach might find it too tempting to lose a player of Love’s caliber – there aren’t many like him in the first place – and will shift back into selling the scoring-and-rebounding star on a future in Minnesota. More likely, though, Saunders the executive will focus his salesmanship on the suitors for Love, and get the best package possible sooner rather than later.

McHale, Saunders Face Off In Role Reversal

A hot Houston Rockets team will play the banged up-and-sputtering Timberwolves on a cold Monday night in Minnesota (8 ET, NBA TV). Three of the Western Conference’s 12 All-Stars will be on hand – Dwight Howard and James Harden for the Rockets, Kevin Love for the Wolves if he’s able to play through the thigh bruise that sidelined him Saturday. And the visitors who have won five in a row will challenge the hosts who have lost five of their last six.

Pretty straightforward stuff – except there will be a subplot in play, too, one that seems bounced off a funhouse mirror to those familiar with the history:

Kevin McHale, NBA coach vs. Flip Saunders, CBO (chief basketball officer).

“I don’t think anyone anticipated, 37 years out of college, that’s how it would be,” Saunders said.

Clear early path for duo

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ex-Wolves GM Kevin McHale (left) and ex-coach Flip Saunders led Minnesota to new heights of success in the 2000s.

For a decade – from 1995 to 2005 – the two were partners in the best stretch in Wolves franchise history, stringing together eight playoff appearances and advancing to the Western Conference finals in 2004. They traveled together to Kevin Garnett‘s first audition/workout in Chicago and walked out of the gym mapping their draft strategy.

McHale and Saunders pulled long hours on Draft nights, at least when they had their full set of picks – the Joe Smith salary-cap scandal in 2000 happened on their watch, costing the team three first-rounders as part of the penalties. And the pair, despite some differences in temperament and style, generally presented a unified front.

Always, though, it was McHale sitting upstairs, Saunders working the sideline.

McHale never had wanted to coach. Saunders never seemed to want to do anything but. The former, upon retiring in 1993 after his 13-season Hall of Fame career in Boston, served as color man on Wolves broadcasts until new owner Glen Taylor hired him as VP of basketball operations in 1995. McHale had done the day-to-day grind of NBA life. He had a family to raise, a lake home in Minnesota and an NBA team to run but at something less than a frenetic pace.

Saunders aspired to be a coach from the start, taking the job at Golden Valley Lutheran College right out of school – he was McHale’s point guard for a year (1976-77) at the University of Minnesota – rather than hold a clipboard on some other coach’s staff. He did spend a chunk of the 1980s as an assistant at Minnesota and the University of Tulsa but was in the CBA from 1988-95 in Rapid City (S.D.), La Crosse (Wis.) and Sioux Falls (S.D.). Saunders won two championships, two Coach of the Year awards and 253 games in seven seasons.

His hiring by McHale in 1995 was a foregone conclusion and the realization of a dream that flickered on about the time Minnesota got its expansion franchise. You get the VP job, I’ll come in as coach. Or I’ll hire you to coach when I take get my shot in the front office.

Either way, it was the the natural, logical order of things.

Until the Wolves slipped badly from their 2003-04 peak. On Feb. 12, 2005, at 25-26 after a lifeless loss at Utah the night before, McHale fired Saunders and took over as interim coach.

The move was a stunner but triggered a 19-12 finish and a narrow miss of the playoffs that Minnesota hasn’t had since. McHale went back upstairs for four years before doing the interim thing again in December 2008. This time – with less talent provided by architect McHale but an intriguing rookie named Love – the Wolves went 20-43.

When Taylor turned to David Kahn in spring 2009 to run the basketball operation – an odd hire that got worse from there – McHale was out.

Duo enjoys new life in new roles


VIDEO: Flip Saunders is introduced as the Wolves new GM

Saunders during all this time had kept landing on his feet, his thick offensive playbook accompanying him to Detroit and Washington. The Pistons won 176 games in three seasons for him, reaching the East finals each time before president Joe Dumars canned him. The Washington gig changed beneath him when Gilbert Arenas went outlaw in the locker room, and the Wizards’ plan of contending got turned by a swift purge of knuckleads into a rebuild.

That led to two more stunning moves: McHale returning to coaching and Saunders returning to the Wolves.

Both had strong elements of righting wrongs.

McHale’s wit and personality were serving him well as an analyst for TNT and NBA TV, but all the jokes and chatter felt like riding the team bus without any real games. Larry Bird came back this season with a competitive itch and that’s what his old Celtics teammate is scratching these days too.

“I think the years out of it, he missed the fight,” said Rockets assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who also was on McHale’s Minnesota staff in 2008-09. “He missed the competition. I think that pushed him. You sit in meetings with him, you hear the stories about what it was like competing for championships. And you can see it in him every day.”

Howard appreciates the Top 50 big man who tutored Love and Al Jefferson. “He’s been through the battles,” Howard said. “He understands the grind of an NBA season. So when we have those games where we’re not making shots, he doesn’t come in and off on us. He says what we need to do.”


VIDEO: Kevin McHale talks with GameTime about the challenges of coaching

Said McHale: “It’s more taxing but it’s more fun. You live and die it when you’re a GM, too, really. Now you’ve got more control. I really enjoy it. We’re having a great time in Texas. I really enjoy the guys.”

In Minnesota, Saunders’ return in essentially McHale’s old job – with a sliver of minority ownership – came through his skill in never burning bridges and, frankly, Taylor’s desperation to bring in someone he knew after the Kahn debacle. The Wolves owner was on the brink of selling before Saunders convinced him they should recommit together.

This job isn’t what he loves most about basketball – Saunders often has said of coaching, “There are no highs that are as high and no lows that are as low” – but it’s one that suits him now. And it has way better job security, as Dumars continues to demonstrate in Detroit.

“What makes this more frustrating is that you really don’t have control,” Saunders said, offering the, er, flip side of McHale’s comment. “The coach is the one who watches the film and decides, ‘What do we have to do to get better?’ People ask if I miss it. What’s happened is, we’ve had so many things since I took over to change our vision.”

Friendship frays over the years

Saunders inherited a Hall of Fame-worthy coach, Rick Adelman, with his own proven system and a team still relying on three McHale acquisitions: Love, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer, the 2007 draft pick back for a second stint. Saunders’ own first draft went sideways when the players he eyed at No. 9 were off the board; in an audible, he picked and shipped Trey Burke to Utah for what became Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, neither of whom have shown much in limited roles.

Injuries (Love, Pekovic, key free-agent addition Kevin Martin) are a problem lately, and at 24-27 in the West, the goal of a postseason berth looks lofty, even as Love’s 2015 opt-out makes it urgent.

Saunders’ and McHale’s paths crossed a few times when they were in their previous positions – McHale upstairs, Saunders in Detroit or Washington – and once with both on the sidelines. The Rockets beat the Wizards at the Verizon Center, 114-106, a week before Saunders’ got fired and turned to an ESPN TV job for a spell.

At Target Center Monday, besides the role reversals, there will be another big change: the loss of their friendship. Maybe it’s as simple as what can happen when one pal becomes another pal’s boss, but little or no niceties pass between them anymore.

“We talk,” Saunder said earlier this season. “When I got the job, he reached out and congratulated me. [The friendship] is not the same, more than anything else, because of where we’re both at. It’s an awkward istuation for someone in my position to be calling and talking to another team’s coach. Even though I talk a lot to Doc [Rivers].”

Asked about it over the weekend in Milwaukee, McHale shrugged.

Two friends who came a long way together have grown quite a ways apart, doing what they love in the other man’s role.

Q&A: Timberwolves’ Love Clears Mind, Timeline To Focus On ‘P’ Word


VIDEO: Mike Fratello breaks down Kevin Love’s shot selection

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.

(more…)

Pek Gets Five, Love Got Four, So Do The Timberwolves Get Some Angst?

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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.

Free Agency: Still No Deal For Pekovic?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Minnesota Timberwolves have made their position clear. They want restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic wearing “Wolves” across his chest for years to come. And they are willing to pay handsomely to make that happen.

It’s that price, however, that is holding up the process.

While the Timberwolves have reportedly slotted Pekovic for a deal in the four-year, $48 million range, the 7-footer’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is reportedly looking for something in the $15 million a year range, according to 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

That’s a significant gap and one that will require some adept maneuvering from Timberwolves’ boss Flip Saunders, who not only has to work with Schwartz on a deal for Pekovic but also has to keep in mind that they’ll do this dance again when Kevin Love is in the midst of free-agent negotiations before the 2015-16 season. Love can opt out of his current deal then and become a free agent.

It’s a delicate balance for Saunders, crafting a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot now while also maintaining flexibility and fiscal responsibility for the future. It’s a balance that wasn’t managed well by his predecessor, David Kahn. In fact, these sorts of offseason hiccups were supposed to be history in Minneapolis, along with Kahn.

And make no mistake, this is a management issue. Pekovic’s camp has every right to push for the max. In a league where a talented big man always has value even if there is little production to warrant it (Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden come to mind), Schwartz knows that he’s working from high ground with a player like Pekovic.

He averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds and was a consistent inside force for the team while Love was out of the mix for all but 18 games with an injury.

What the Timberwolves have to guard against is allowing this situation with Pekovic to put them in any sort of compromising position down the road with Love, who will indeed command max money of his own if and when he does opt out of his current deal. Love and Ricky Rubio are the current and future cornerstones of the playoff outfit Saunders is trying to build, and that has to be on the minds of everyone within the franchise as they move forward.

Outbidding themselves for Pekovic wouldn’t make a ton of sense at this juncture. But any damage done to the relationship with Schwartz right now could have lasting ramifications down the road, potentially producing consequences the Timberwolves absolutely cannot afford if they are serious about turning their playoff fortunes around.

Kirilenko Opt-Out Leaves Void For Wolves

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Andrei Kirilenko
reportedly informed the Timberwolves of his decision to opt-out of next year’s contract while vacationing in the south of France.

This is not to be confused with South France Ave., a main north-south thoroughfare in the western Minneapolis suburbs where, the locals will tell you, the nation’s first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall (Southdale, 1956) is situated.

There is a reason for the fully enclosed and climate-controlled stuff, which dovetails nicely into the Kirilenko decision.

Having the veteran Russian forward say nyet to the $10.2 million he had guaranteed for 2013-14 technically frees up some salary-cap space for new Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders as the NBA free agent market opens at 11:01 p.m. Twin Cities time. It fuels visions of this-or-that flashy signing, whether it’s O.J. Mayo to address the team’s ongoing hole at shooting guard or some other targeted player.

But there’s a careful-what-you-wish-for aspect to this, too.

After all, this is Minnesota we’re talking about, hardly a magnet market for NBA free agents. Most visiting players who come to town quickly focus on the fully enclosed, climate-controlled skyway system that allows them, if they dare venture off the fully enclosed, climate-controlled team bus, to navigate a few blocks in any direction from their road hotel.

Many players drafted by or traded to Minnesota learn about the reasons behind all that enclosing and climate-controlling and opt to play their basketball elsewhere.

It’s a terrific place to live and raise a family – I lived there for 24 years – but for one reason or another (legacy of mediocrity, coaching changes, Kevin Garnett‘s storm-cloud scowl upon departure), it’s a tough sell to players who can select their destination. Most of the Wolves’ free agent “successes” have come from overpaying (for instance, giving Mike James four years instead of three and $25 million) or doing some other favor for the player. Like paying Brandon Roy to get hurt again.

The idea of having money freed up beyond the league’s mid-level salary exception is intriguing. For Saunders, it’s a chance to wheel-and-deal and perhaps make up a little for a muddied draft night.

But the odds are against the Wolves signing a player for 2013-14 who’ll be more productive than Kirilenko was for them in 2012-13.

A year removed from the NBA after spending 2011-12 in Russia, the former Utah Jazz forward put up numbers remarkably similar to his career stats: 14.0 points on 50.7 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks pro-rated to 36 minutes per game. He ranked second on the team in minutes, was third in scoring average (12.4), blocked more shots than starting center Nikola Pekovic and had more steals than J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour. The Wolves were 26-38 in the games Kirilenko played, 5-13 when he was out.

His abilities to cut and to see cutters were vital to coach Rick Adelman’s system, especially with teammates such as Kevin Love and Chase Budinger missing significant time. Kirilenko, who turned 32 in February, was a steady influence, too, on Russian rookie Alexey Shved and in general a grown-up voice in the locker room. Kirilenko and Shved, frankly, may have been former boss David Kahn’s two shrewdest moves.

It’s possible but not likely he would re-sign with the Wolves, based on Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda‘s update Saturday:

Kirilenko is seeking a three- or four-year extension because he believes this might be the last chance to negotiate the last big contract of his career.

You can bet Flip Saunders won’t offer anything more than two years, and at a salary considerably less than $10 million.

Still, the Wolves might wind up missing Kirilenko’s versatility and production at both ends of the floor. They could do a lot worse because, well, they have.

The Stephen Curry Draft Dominoes

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OAKLAND –
Stephen Curry just became the first Warrior with consecutive playoff games of at least 20 points and 10 assists since Tim Hardaway in 1991. The Suns just had another lottery season. David Kahn is out as director of basketball operations in Minnesota. And this isn’t exactly a good time for Geoff Petrie to be house hunting in Sacramento.

The Curry draft fallout from June 2009 are everywhere in April 2013. In Oakland and Denver, obviously, because the shooting star of a point guard has led the Warriors to a 2-1 lead over the Nuggets as the teams take today off before meeting back at Oracle Arena on Sunday night.

They have to be watching and wondering in Phoenix. The Suns and Warriors had serious discussions about a draft-night blockbuster headlined by free agent-in-waiting Amar’e Stoudemire to Golden State for the pick that would become Curry or, after the selection had been made, actually Curry. He was the clear target of personnel boss Steve Kerr.

Talks got interesting, but were never on the verge of being completed. The Warriors were not going to do the deal without a commitment by Stoudemire to re-sign a year later, and they did not so much as get to the stage of asking for permission to talk. Besides, he was not going to give anything close to that commitment, so the deal would have fallen apart anyway.

In the end, the Warriors kept Curry, the Suns took Earl Clark at No. 14 in that draft and kept Stoudemire for one more season before he left for the Knicks as a free agent.

Petrie and the Kings passed on Curry to draft Tyreke Evans fifth. It wasn’t a disastrous choice – Evans won Rookie of the Year and remains a starter – but Curry has lapped Evans for impact, and at the same position. The decision by Kahn and the Timberwolves, that was a disaster worthy of guys in yellow plastic outfits and masks.

With picks five and six, Minnesota went point guard-point guard. That was curious enough. But when one of the point guards was Jonny Flynn and his career went nowhere fast, while Curry and Brandon Jennings (10 to the Bucks) and Jrue Holiday (17th to the 76ers) developed, it became one of the Kahn undoings.

A lot of teams had Flynn in that No. 6 range, meaning it was no reach by Kahn. But when the Timberwolves passed on Curry twice, the Warriors were thrilled. They took Curry without serious consideration of anyone else on the board, kept Curry without getting to the brink of a decision on a Stoudemire deal, and then, nearly four years later, rode him to a series lead in the playoffs.

Saunders Likely Back In Minny, Kahn Out

Flip Saunders is expected to take over for David Kahn in Minnesota. (by Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Flip Saunders is expected to take over for David Kahn in Minnesota. (by Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Former NBA head coach Flip Saunders is expected to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves as the team’s next president of basketball operations, NBA.com has learned.

Saunders, 58, has been negotiating a contract that, with option years, could run through the 2017-18 season and could be worth more than $9 million over the full five years, according to league sources who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the hiring.

The move, which could become official as soon as next week, would end David Kahn‘s controversial tenure after four seasons and an 89-223 record during which the Timberwolves’ failure to reach the playoffs stretched to nine consecutive seasons. Kahn’s contract includes a team option for 2013-14 that will not be exercised.

Minnesota owner Glen Taylor and Saunders had been meeting in recent weeks, with Taylor confirming a report in March that Saunders was representing a group of prospective buyers interested in purchasing the franchise. Taylor, who turned 72 last week, has been seeking a minority investor or investors who eventually could take over majority control of the club.

Saunders, contacted Thursday evening in Bristol, Conn., where he was working as an NBA studio analyst for ESPN, neither confirmed nor denied his return to the Wolves.

“That’s the same speculation that was out there last month,” he said.

Taylor did not return phone messages seeking comment. He has told associates he would not discuss the matter with the media.

Saunders is the most successful coach in Minnesota franchise history, posting a 411-326 record in 9 1/2 seasons and steering the team to eight consecutive playoff berths. His time with the Wolves coincided with forward Kevin Garnett‘s ascendancy from high school draftee to perennial All-Star, NBA Most Valuable Player in 2004 and shoo-in Hall of Famer.

The 2003-04 team reached the Western Conference finals before falling to the Lakers’ last Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant team. But the expectations that success fueled led to Saunders’ firing in February 2005 after stumbling to a 25-26 mark.

He later coached the Detroit Pistons, going 176-70 from 2005-2008 near the end of the Pistons’ dominant Eastern Conference run, and the Washington Wizards, where the Gilbert Arenas gun situation blew up a potential playoff team. The Wizards went 51-130 with Saunders before he was fired in January 2012. Last spring, Saunders served as a consultant to the Boston Celtics at the invitation of coach Doc Rivers. He joined ESPN’s NBA coverage crew this season.

A native of Cleveland and a point guard at the University of Minnesota, Saunders coached in college and then for seven seasons in the Continental Basketball Association. He was brought to the Wolves in May 1995 by former Gophers teammate Kevin McHale as Minnesota’s general manager, then added head coaching duties when Bill Blair was fired seven months later, in December of Garnett’s rookie season.

Saunders shed the GM title in the wake of Minnesota’s salary-cap violations uncovered in 2000 in its signing forward Joe Smith. A series of illegal contracts, including future seasons after Smith played for what was considered to be less than market value for two years, ultimately cost the franchise three No. 1 draft picks and a $3.5 million fine, still the largest in NBA history. Taylor was suspended for one year and McHale, the Wolves’ VP of basketball operations at the time, agreed to take a leave of absence for the 2000-01 season.

Sources close to Saunders say that, since exiting the Wizards job, he is comfortable with the prospect of a front-office job rather than a future coaching position. Despite his firing in Minnesota in 2005, Saunders and Taylor have maintained a good relationship.

David Kahn (by David Sherman/NBAE)

David Kahn (by David Sherman/NBAE)

Kahn, hired in May 2009, took over a team that had missed the playoffs for five seasons and had posted losing records in the most recent four. He began an aggressive overhaul of the roster – more than one, eventually – and drew immediate criticism for drafting point guards with both the Nos. 5 and 6 picks that spring. Ricky Rubio, a heavily scouted prospect who fell to Minnesota after a poor workout with Sacramento, spent two more years in Spain before coming to the NBA and becoming one of the league’s bright young stars. Syracuse product Jonny Flynn, however, was a disappointment from the start and most recently played in an Australian pro league.

Wesley Johnson, the No. 4 pick in 2010, and Derrick Williams, the highest pick in Wolves history at No. 2 in 2011, also have been underwhelming in their young NBA careers. Other trades have helped rival clubs more than they have Minnesota (Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer). And after four years under Kahn, two of the Wolves’ three best players – All-Star power forward Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic – were scouted and drafted by McHale.

Kahn — a former sportswriter who got a law degree, worked in the Indiana Pacers’ front office and served as an executive in the NBA Development League — also made a pair of dubious, expensive signings. In July 2010, he signed failed big man-turned-NBA punchline Darko Milicic to a four-year, $20 million contract (though not fully guaranteed). The Timberwolves used the amnesty clause to rid themselves of Milicic in July 2012.

Also last summer, the Wolves lured Portland guard Brandon Roy out of injury-driven retirement with a two-year, $10 million deal; Roy lasted only five games this season before knee problems shelved him again. Kahn did sign Andrei Kirilenko back into the NBA after the former Utah forward’s one-year hiatus in Europe and added backcourt help via Alexey Shved of the Russian national team.

Kahn’s first hire as head coach, Kurt Rambis, went 32-132 in two seasons before being fired. His replacement, Rick Adelman, got the Wolves to 26-40 in the post-lockout 2011-12 season, then provided roster input that led to the acquisition of players such as Chase Budinger and Dante Cunningham and the departures of Milicic, Johnson and Michael Beasley, among others.

A rash of injuries this season – from Rubio’s remaining rehab of his March 2012 knee surgery to Love’s twice-broken hand, with significant games also lost by Budinger, Roy, Kirilenko and more – thwarted what Taylor, Kahn, Adelman and Minnesota fans felt would be the pursuit of a playoff berth. Taylor said in March that the injuries made it difficult to fully assess the team’s or Kahn’s performance. But sources said Taylor also planned to evaluate Kahn’s rapport with people inside the organization and in the NBA.

Adelman’s status for 2013-14 remains uncertain while his wife Mary Kay‘s health issues continue to be addressed. The veteran coach missed 11 games while doctors in Minnesota worked to determine the cause of her seizures.

Adelman, who will turn 67 in June, returned to pick up the 1,000th victory of his coaching career and has talked optimistically about the current roster’s potential. He and Saunders reportedly have a good relationship after years of competing on NBA sidelines, and the Wolves are hopeful that Adelman decides to return.

Wolves’ Love Shut Down By Knee, Not Hand

HANG TIME HOSPITAL – There is no other suitable dateline, not for the latest casualty report by a team suffering injuries literally upon injuries.

As if the Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t waylaid enough by ailments and maladies to just about every key rotation player, Kevin Love‘s season-long ordeal with a broken shooting hand took an unexpected turn Monday when he was shut down until 2013-14 by a balky left knee.

That’s right. His knee, not his hand.

The Wolves announced that their All-Star power forward would have arthroscopic surgery later this week to remove scar tissue in his left knee. He is expected to undergo the procedure when he consults with Dr. David Altchek in New York, which also is the site of his next check-up on the right hand he has broken twice this season.

Just when Love was getting close to a possible return from his hand injury – he has appeared in only 18 games, none since Jan. 3 – his increased activity in workouts caused the nagging discomfort in his knee to worsen.

“Kevin tried very hard these last few weeks to get back in time to finish the season, and frankly the issue wasn’t his hand,” Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn told reporters in a conference call Monday evening. “He’s been shooting it very well in his workout. The issue has been his knee. It isn’t a big one, it’s something that is easily addressed, but it caused enough concern that the decision we made collectively was to do this procedure now so he can have a better offseason in terms of a return to the court.”

Love, who averaged 22.7 points in 2010-11 and 2011-12 while shooting 45.9 percent from the floor and 39.1 percent from the arc, obviously was bothered by his hand, which he said he initially injured doing “knuckle push-ups.” He re-injured it in a game against Denver. In his 18 games this season, he shot just 35.2 and 21.7 percent, respectively, while averaging 18.3 points.

In search of a silver lining to what has been a very dark injury cloud over his whole roster, Kahn said Love, 24, could essentially have a normal offseason starting in June. Considering how abnormal their season has been – with notable layoffs to Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko, Malcolm Lee, Nikola Pekovic and more – a summer without setback for Love is a start, anyway.