Players start drifting to the Target Center court a couple of hours before tipoff to fire a few dozen shots. Autograph seekers gather near the north entrance in the hope that a couple of Timberwolves will stop to sign as they commute to or from this pregame ritual.

Colleen Ryan arrived at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday and found a prime position behind the rope that creates the avenue for the players. She is an Iowan and now a junior at the University of St. Thomas.

Ryan was asked the question of the day for all Wolves fan: "Do you support Kevin Love and his anti-management stance that surfaced on Tuesday?''

The collegian contemplated this and said: "I think Love has the right to speak out, if that's what he wants to do. Some of his comments about Ricky Rubio did bother me. Maybe it came out different than he intended.''

The whole flap is based on Love's indignation over receiving a four-year, $62 million deal -- rather than the maximum of five years, $80 million -- from owner Glen Taylor and basketball operations president David Kahn last January.

Love's comments in the Yahoo! Sports piece could be interpreted as being dismissive of Rubio's importance to the team. Of the idea the Wolves might be saving the maximum deal for Rubio, Love said: "It was a projection [Rubio] over a sure thing [Love]. There's no question there was an agenda here.''

Love talked to reporters after Wednesday's shootaround. He disavowed none of his blasts at management, while adding that he would not begrudge Rubio whatever money he is able to get in his next NBA contract.

"The timing for this wasn't good,'' Colleen Ryan said. "When this is the week that Ricky's supposed to return, as a fan, you don't like all of this negative attention.''

The assumption on Wednesday was that Rubio will make his return from knee surgery in Saturday's home game vs. Dallas. This will be the highlight of the season for a 39-year-old fan identifying himself as "Min.'' He was wearing his special-ordered No. 9 jersey with "Ricky'' on the back and eating a burger in Hubert's before the game.

"I own a restaurant, so maybe that gives me a different view of this than most fans,'' Min said. "As far as I'm concerned, management is entitled to make decisions on its key employees, and I agree with Taylor and Kahn that Kevin Love hasn't proved he's a franchise player.

"A franchise player is someone like KG [Kevin Garnett], who didn't have the greatest support a lot of years, but he took his team to the playoffs seven straight years. They didn't get through the first round until the Wolves got him, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell in 2003, but KG did get us to the playoffs.

"We haven't seen anything like that from Love. Look what happened last season. Once Rubio was hurt, the team went completely in the tank -- and Love still was out there.''

The season-ticket holder added this: "If the Timberwolves are saving the max contract for Ricky, I think that's the right decision.''

Willie Nelson from Big Lake had this contrasting view: "I woke up this morning mad at Kevin. The more I heard and read about it today, I changed my mind. I agree with most of what he had to say.

"Basically, I'm not a David Kahn fan. Kevin probably shouldn't have opened his mouth, but what he feels about the organization is correct.''

Another view is mine: that Love is taking the Timberwolves back to the future with his immature rant over a contract that he signed 11 months earlier.

His Yahoo! comments on Rubio were remindful of March 1999 -- except that time it was the point guard, Stephon Marbury, pouting his way off the Timberwolves because the contract situation favored the forward, Garnett.

And the whole episode is remindful of October 2004, when Sprewell sneered at a three-year, $21 million offer by saying, "I have a family to feed.''

That was the start of a run of non-playoff seasons that continues today.

Love has done his sneering at a $62 million contract that he signed, and all that's missing is an honest comment that says, "I have an ego to feed.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. •