Jerry Zgoda's Sunday Insider: Love is priceless

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2012 - 12:31 AM

The Wolves must sign Kevin Love to a contract extension by Jan. 25, even if that means giving him a max contract.

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Kevin Love will get the maximum contract no matter where he ends up playing.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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There's good news for the Timberwolves this time around: Ozzy Osbourne isn't scheduled to play Target Center on Jan. 25.

The last time the Wolves faced the same kind of franchise-defining decision they do now, Osbourne performed on a 2007 Halloween Night made stranger by the sight of Wolves star Al Jefferson rushing into the arena while Ozzy's deliriously odd fans streamed out past him into the spooky night.

Jefferson reached the team's offices just moments before an 11 p.m. deadline and signed a five-year, $65 million deal that his agent advised him to refuse.

This time, the Wolves better not need those final minutes before signing Kevin Love by this season's Jan. 25 deadline to a contract extension that could earn him $84 million over five seasons.

There are just two common denominators between then and now: Wolves owner Glen Taylor and agent Jeff Schwartz, who represented Jefferson the last time an agent pushed the Wolves for a maximum contract and who represents Love now.

Yes, Love can't create his own shot and win the game for you -- at least not yet -- like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and others can. Long, bouncy defenders still expose his athletic limitations, and maybe he never can be that No. 1 guy on a championship team.

But you can chisel this down right now:

If Love and Schwartz insist on a max contract, they will get it, either now or from another team next summer.

The Wolves can ask Love -- and they probably will as negotiations progress -- to accept less in the name of using that saved money to assemble better players around him (see: Kevin Garnett).

But there are undeniable reasons why the Wolves must sign Love at any price ... and why he will choose to stay in Minnesota while everything about him loves California.

For whatever his flaws, he is a uniquely gifted player -- "the best power forward in the world," says Charles Barkley, who once was a pretty fine one himself -- and clearly the identity of a franchise still struggling to rebuild after trading Garnett in 2007.

He's the main reason Rick Adelman chose to coach this team. By losing 25 pounds last summer, Love has proven he's serious about becoming an elite player, and he's just 23 entering a big-man market where Marc Gasol got paid $14 million a year and DeAndre Jordan a little more than $10 million a year.

After three long, losing seasons, Love's team finally has a proven coach whom he has known since he was a teenager, a promising young point guard and the ability to pay him more than anybody else.

The Wolves can offer a five-year extension with 7.5 percent raises annually IF they offer him a max contract (a quarter of their salary cap, about $14.5 million a year) and new "designated player" status. Other teams can offer four years and 4.5 percent raises -- about $65 million total -- if he doesn't sign now and becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Even then, the Wolves can match any offer. If he really wants to choose his future, he accepts a $6.1 million qualifying offer next summer and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013, an option he calls interesting.

But that's nearly two seasons away and the risk of injury always looms. Name the last young star who chose that risky path? Ben Gordon? David Lee?

Not the same players, not the same situation, not by a long shot.

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