One of these years, the Timberwolves are bound to have a relatively quiet, abbreviated summer.
This summer, which begins early once again after Wednesday’s regular-season finale, will not be one of them.
Ten years after they last made the playoffs, they will be looking for a new coach after either Rick Adelman retires or the team itself exercises an opt-out clause for next season in the four-year contract the future Hall of Fame coach signed in fall 2011.
They also will hear the clock ticking on star Kevin Love’s approaching free agency, which is still 15 months away but getting closer with each passing day and each personnel transaction intended to convince him to stay.
The first issue is connected to the second, in that every move the Wolves make — including their choice of a new coach — will be made with Love in mind.
“I think a lot will depend upon if Kevin can see we make significant improvements next year,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said.
For those who think the Wolves must trade Love sooner rather than later — as soon as the June draft — to get fair value for him rather than let him walk eventually for nothing, Taylor said he believes the team has another season to convince Love. Taylor said he still believes Love will re-sign with the team after he opts out of his current contract in July 2015 because he believes in the team’s future and because the Wolves can pay him $26.5 million more on a contract extension than any other team.
Taylor clearly was taken aback when asked if there’s a chance Love won’t be on the team next training camp.
“Oh, I don’t even see that as something we would even consider,” Taylor said.
Taylor used the word “disappointed” to describe a season which started with playoff expectations and then delivered 12 victories by 20 or more points as well as victories over Oklahoma City and Miami but also brought 12 losses by four points or fewer.
Rookie center Gorgui Dieng’s emergence — he’s just the kind of shot-blocking presence the Wolves need beside Love — could become a game-changer in keeping their All-Star encouraged. Taylor said he still believes in a team built around Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic and said he was both encouraged by Rubio’s last-season improvement and frustrated by Pekovic’s continuing injury issues.
“I think we made some steps this year, not as much as I would like,” Taylor said. “We have to show improvement next year.”
Love has repeatedly declined to talk about his future, saying only that he’s focused on the present and wants to play for a winner, in Minnesota or elsewhere.
“He’s not unusual, he wants to be on teams that are competitive,” Taylor said. “I think that’s how he’ll make his decision. If we play well and we show him we’re moving ahead, I don’t think he’ll leave us just to leave us. A lot of players look at teams and, if they don’t see a future there, they’d prefer to play on one of the best teams. That’s the challenge we have before us and it’s consistent with what I want to do anyway.”
Taylor and David Kahn, then president of basketball operations, decided in January 2012 to offer Love a four-year contract extension rather than the five-year maximum “designated player” deal that Love wanted. To convince him to sign, they offered the option of becoming an unrestricted free agent after three years.
Taylor was asked if he now considers that decision a big mistake. He paused before answering.
“Let’s wait one more year to answer that question,” Taylor said. “I think it’s a good question to ask at this point because Kevin has played as well as we hoped, and maybe even better. To have him tied up long probably would be better than not, but we still have one more year and we’ll see. My hope is it doesn’t make any difference, that Kevin can get the money one way or another and we’re in position to do that.”