Zgoda: Love deal produces some hope and anger

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2012 - 12:35 PM

The All-Star didn't get all he wanted with this contract, but if the move makes the Wolves competitive long-term, it's worth it.

The four-year contract extension Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love signed in the locker room before Wednesday's victory at Dallas will bring him the option to become an unrestricted free agent three summers from now. The deal guarantees him $61 million, riches enough to buy his parents all they want and save a little something for himself, too.

But the first day of the rest of his career was notable as much for what it seemed to lack than all that it brought.

It lacked joy.

Love had just received the rich payday for which he has worked his entire life, and his expressions and words suggested he begrudgingly accepted Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor's money.

He wanted a five-year, $78 million-plus extension -- and perhaps the chosen "designated player" status that goes with it -- the franchise can award to a young player only once under a new labor agreement that will run for at least these next six seasons.

The team held steadfast in saving an extra $17 million-plus and that privileged designation for somebody sometime in the future by offering a four-year deal to a player who TNT analyst Charles Barkley calls "the greatest power forward in the world," who earned an All-Star Game invitation before his 23rd birthday and should get another before his 24th.

It's a strategy intended to give the Wolves flexibility to add -- or keep -- talented players around Love, even at the risk of alienating their best player, whom teammate J.J. Barea calls "everything for this franchise."

To be sure, it's obscene in this economy to suggest $61 million is demeaning.

But professional sports has absolutely nothing to do with the real world, and those who know Love well insist the Wolves' stance angered him, although not enough to keep him from accepting an offer that will set him and his family up for life far beyond the multi-million dollar rookie contract he signed in 2008.

When asked if he can put the emotions of such a negotiation easily behind him, Love said, "I have to, I have to. You have to put it all behind you and just look forward from here on out because what's happened in the past is in the past and I live in the present."

Wolves coach Rick Adelman -- who has known Love since he was in high school -- talked with him after he agreed to the deal, which Love said he thought might never happen from "the day training camp started until 8 a.m." Wednesday morning.

Adelman was asked if Love was upset about not receiving that fifth year.

"I don't see it," he said. "I was hoping for 10 years and didn't get it."

Ten years for himself? Or for Love?

"For me," he said. "I think he understands. You don't want to be someone who signs a contract and immediately starts complaining. I think he sees this opportunity is flexible for him. I talked to him, and he seems good. I'm hoping he relaxes a little bit, and he doesn't have to worry about this now. He has some security."

Love's brother tweeted after Wednesday's deal that it was nice of the Timberwolves to "rent" his younger sibling for three years ending in 2015. And already, certain factions of Timberwolves Nation -- yes, you heard that right -- are fretting that Love is as good as gone to the Lakers or elsewhere as soon as those next three seasons beyond this one are gone.

But as Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn reminds us, three more seasons is "a long time" ... and six seasons from now [this one plus five more)]is even longer still.

This arrangement not only holds the Wolves responsible for assembling enough pieces around Love and Ricky Rubio so both will stay when each of their contracts can expire together in July 2015.

It also can help ensure it.

By keeping free that "designated player" tag, the Wolves can offer Rubio a maximum five-year extension to stay in cold, snowy Minnesota.

By reaching the contract they did Wednesday, the Wolves now can either extend Love two more seasons on Jan. 25, 2015 -- six months before he has to make a decision on that out option -- and essentially make this a six-year contract.

Or Love can opt out after three seasons, become an unrestricted free agent and still sign a five-year maximum contract -- one year longer than any other team can offer, and basically giving the Wolves' two "designated players" -- thanks to his earned "Bird rights" that will pay him even more than if he had signed that five-year contract now.

And just remember: Whatever happened yesterday or happens today or tomorrow will be long, long forgotten by the time those decisions approach.

It's simple: If the Wolves are positioned to contend every season in 2015, he stays and becomes all the richer.

If not, he opts out and leaves.

"I was willing to make a commitment for five years, they thought otherwise," Love said. "I think it's a good situation for me to be here four years, and I'm excited. I can always be here longer."

Jerry Zgoda • jzgoda@startribune.com

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