Source: Wolves ready to offer Love maximum salary

Six days before the league deadline, the Timberwolves are prepared to pay All-Star forward Kevin Love a maximum-salary contract, a league source said Wednesday.

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Kevin Love

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Six days before the league deadline, the Timberwolves are prepared to pay All-Star forward Kevin Love a maximum-salary contract, a league source said Wednesday.

Unresolved is whether it will be a four-year contract approaching $61 million or a maximum five-year "designated player" deal surpassing $78 million.

The NBA's new labor agreement allows every team one designated player -- a player ending his rookie contract who receives a five-year maximum-salary contract extension -- on their roster.

The Wolves prefer to save that designated-player slot for the future -- to re-sign Ricky Rubio in three years, perhaps -- but their negotiations with agent Jeff Schwartz might depend on what deals Oklahoma City reaches with Russell Westbrook and New Orleans reaches with Eric Gordon.

The Thunder drafted Westbrook fourth overall in 2008. Memphis selected Love fifth and then traded him to the Wolves, and the Los Angeles Clippers selected Gordon seventh.

All three players from that draft are eligible for contract extensions. Each team can sign its player to a five-year extension -- one year longer than any other team could offer next summer -- by Jan. 25.

The Wolves also could extend Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph -- two more players drafted in 2008 -- but likely will allow both to become restricted free agents next summer.

Love also would become a restricted free agent then, but even that four-year contract the Wolves can offer will be more money than other teams can offer. His other option: Accept a $6.1 million qualifying offer next summer for the 2012-13 season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

A physical presence

With Darko Milicic struggling because of a sore toe, Nikola Pekovic showed again how valuable he is against teams that are physical inside. He came off the bench to score 11 points -- five in the fourth quarter -- and play some good defense against Pistons big man Greg Monroe.

After Pekovic played so well off the bench in the second quarter, coach Rick Adelman started the third with Pekovic in the lineup.

"He's a presence," Adelman said. "And we needed a physical presence. I felt, after the way he played in the first half, I'd go with him."

Stop worrying?

In his nonstop search for his missing jump shot, Wes Johnson has tried a lot of things. Right now he's trying to stop thinking about it. Johnson -- who credited coaches for remaining patient with him -- said he has tried to concentrate more on defense and rebounding. Johnson has also been trying to drive to the basket more.

"They told me to find my niche on defense," said Johnson, who entered Wednesday's game 12-for-42 from the field (1-for-18 on three-pointers) in his past five games. "So I'm doing that, with rebounding and the defense. I hope that [translates] to the offense. It is frustrating. The shots just aren't falling. The jump shot, that's my bread and butter, and it's not going down."

Johnson had a career-high eight rebounds at New Orleans and has 15 in his past four games.

Wednesday Johnson kept attacking the basket. He scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting and managed to knock down one of three three-pointers. He also had three rebounds and got to the free-throw line four times.

"It felt good to see one go in," Johnson said of the three-pointer, which came during a Wolves rally in the third quarter.

Etc.

• Rubio was featured Wednesday in USA Today and is the subject of a feature in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.

• Guard J.J. Barea (hamstring, ankle) returned after missing three games, scoring eight points in 14 minutes, 12 seconds of playing time.

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