Add Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love to the litany of big-market players that are choosing to stay with their small-market teams, not unlike LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook*. We'll get to that strange list later.
First, everyone applaud Love and the Timberwolves for signing what could turn into a four-year, $62 million contract extension. Then, everyone freak out as we realize that Love has an opt-out clause after the third year of the deal, should the next three seasons of Love's career resemble anything like his first three seasons with the Timberwolves. Even though the Wolves have made significant progress in Love's fourth season, winning seven of their first 17 games, the team is three games out of the Western playoff bracket and still has quite a lot to do in order to put together the sort of roster that can be counted on for multiple postseason appearances.
And before we slam Love for possibly hedging his bets with the Timberwolves, understand that it appears as if the Timberwolves are strangely doing a bit of hedging of their own with their STAR PLAYER THAT WANTS TO STAY IN MINNESOTA. From the Associated Press:
"I like the direction the team is headed," Love said. "I like the youth. I like the pieces, like we're knocking at the door and we're close in a lot of games."
He did say he wondered if the deal would get gone.
"I was willing to make a commitment for five years. They thought otherwise."
"They" is oft-criticized Wolves GM David Kahn (who didn't draft Love) and "they" shouldn't think otherwise. Because when you're gifted a 23-year-old power forward who averages 24 points and 14 rebounds per game and wants to stay on your team for five seasons following his first four seasons spent working with a lottery roster, you sign that guy for however long he wants to stick around for.
All this does is benefit Love, because he can sign an even longer extension in 2015 after opting out to make even more money under the new collective bargaining agreement. Or he could dash in 2015 to a better team, should the Wolves continue to make strange decisions like declining to lock up their best player in a move that could eventually cost them more money.
Love has been a polarizing player since entering the NBA in 2008. Though his per-minute stats were fantastic and he showed no ill effects when given superstar burn, Minnesota never saw fit to hand him extended minutes until 2010-11, when he (shockingly) performed exactly as his numbers suggested he would, making the All-Star team as a result. And even though he gives Minnesota every chance he can to win games by scoring efficiently and securing them defensive stops with his rebounds and second chances with his work on the offensive glass, as recently as last week ESPN's Ric Bucher referred to Love as a "third guy," not worth a maximum contract.
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Well, Love can be a third guy, if he's on a team set to win 75 games. But beyond that he remains a franchise-level player that Minnesota was smart to lock up for as much money as it could offer, even if it wasn't for as long as it should have offered it. And just because Love can't dribble the ball in isolation situations for 20 seconds before firing a 20-footer at the buzzer, it doesn't mean you can't win night after night with this guy picking and popping or scoring off the offensive glass.
And it doesn't mean he can't hit shots at the buzzer to win games.
In all, another strange move from the NBA's strangest, and alluring, franchise. It still won't stop us from tuning in to those goofball Timberwolves games.
*If you'll recall, James, Howard, Paul and Anthony all signed contract extensions with their small or mid-market teams when it came time to pen their second NBA contracts. They did so because the teams were good, and not because the buildings weren't big enough. When their teams weren't any good, they left or asked to be traded. It's the winning, friends. It's the winning that keeps them home.
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