The thing with climbing a ladder is, you might run out of rungs.
Kevin Love is nearing the top of his profession. In four NBA seasons he's progressed, improbably, from chubby project to franchise player. In the last calendar year, he's whittled his body to sinew and bone, produced a staggering statistical season and played a key role on a gold medal-winning Olympic team.
He's a star now, his popularity increased and broadened by his play in London. So what's next, when you're already rich and famous and lean and skilled, when you've hung out with LeBron and hung gold around your neck?
"Team success," he said. "That's definitely it. If I took away anything off the court from this Olympics, or my time playing with USA Basketball, it's that when everybody brought up the playoffs, I didn't have anything to talk about.
"If I'm going to be the player I want to be, and be remembered in this league, I want to be remembered as a winner, and that hasn't shown up in our team record my first four years. It's a good thing I'm relatively young."
After practice on Tuesday, Love tossed a massive medicine ball with a trainer, then put himself through a series of painful-looking exercises. Then he returned to the court and, with Luke Ridnour, took what seemed like hundreds of shots.
The Olympics exposed Love to great players. They also interrupted a summer that could have otherwise been devoted to developing a specific skill. The great ones showed up each fall with a new trick -- Magic's baby hook, or Jordan's baseline fadeaway. Love was busy planting his feet in the paint in London.
Did playing in the Olympics allow Love to improve? Is there much room for improvement at this point in his career?
"I'm continuing to work on my body, working on the defensive end, being more of a leader, and then going out there and playing my butt off every night like I do is the way for me to continue to improve," he said. "I don't think I'm close to the peak. This year, people might look at my stats and say, 'Oh, his points per game have kind of dropped off,' or 'he's averaging a rebound less a game.' But you might see a spike in assists -- which I'm hoping to do.
"You might see more evenly distributed points and rebounds and assists throughout the whole team. I mean, look at Brandon Roy, who's going to be a knock-down shooter for us. And Andrei Kirilenko, who's going to add points, rebounds and assists. And Pek [Nikola Pekovic], who's primed to have a breakout year.
"I don't know if my numbers will drop off. But if they do, it won't be a big dropoff."
In London, Love complained about the attitude of some of his teammates from last year's Wolves, and about the front office failing to surround him with winning players. Now Anthony Randolph, Darko Mlicic and Michael Beasley, three losing players, are gone. In camp are new teammates Roy, Kirilenko and Chase Budinger, players hand-picked by coach Rick Adelman.
"This year I definitely want to be consistent and be a pro, like I've been in the past," Love said. "But also, as a team, seeing the guys we have around here, I want to get everybody on the same page and step up and have a winning record.
"A lot of that lies on my shoulders, but it's also up to the coaching staff and the players we have on this team."
He's learned that one player's excellence is not enough.
"Everybody wants to say the 'P' word -- playoffs," he said. "It's very rewarding, having gone through everything the last year and winning a gold medal and playing a big role with that team. But it's also tantalizing, because my eyes light up, thinking about what could happen this season and the season after that and the season after that.
"We're laying the groundwork for that right now."
It would seem Love would have little chance to improve on what happened in the last year. But he's fooled us before.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org