Kevin Love came back to Target Center on Friday for the second time since he was traded to Cleveland two summers ago, revisiting a place that's missing a familiar face.
It was his first time back since Timberwolves basketball boss and friend Flip Saunders died in October at age 60.
"Flip will always be a part of my basketball career, always be a part of my life," Love said. "I'm sure he will be for those guys across in the other locker room as well."
Saunders determinedly tried to keep Love in Minnesota long term. Failing that, he traded Love to Cleveland two summers ago in a three-team trade that brought No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
"Every Thursday we'd go to Keys Café and just talk about anything, didn't have to be even basketball," said Love, who said he considered Saunders his Minnesota dad. "Those are my fondest memories. We always had a set date and we'd just talk. He was a guy who could open up about anything, talk about anything … He was a guy who never held any grudges, always happy, who always found the best in everything."
Love called Friday's return "a lot more calmed down" than the first time he came back to Minnesota, a year ago this month.
"It'll always be fun to play here," Love said. "A lot of years spent here, a lot of memories, a lot of great relationships. … I'll see a couple people here after the game. I told them I miss it. I want to come back and hang with them in the summer. It's a place that will always be one of my homes and a place I hope I'll always come back to."
Is that a win-win?
Seventeen months later, Cavaliers superstar LeBron James was asked Friday about that August 2014 trade.
"I think both sides are happy with what happened," he said. "We're happy having Kevin and I know they're happy having Wiggins. That's all that matters."
Their own Christmas
Wolves rookie Nemanja Bjelica's family went to teammate Nikola Pekovic's home Thursday for dinner to celebrate Christmas. Both players are Orthodox Christians, who celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 rather than Dec. 25.
"We all enjoyed it," Bjelica said. "We don't have so much free time, so now we are all here for Christmas. It is good."
•Los Angeles private-equity investor Steve Kaplan sat beside Wolves owner Glen Taylor courtside Friday. Kaplan and his ownership group are in the process of buying 30 percent of the franchise with the intent to buy controlling interest when Taylor decides to sell the team outright.
•Pekovic was host for Christmas dinner Thursday, but did he cook it? "Do I look like I cook?" he asked.
• James and the Cavaliers played the Wolves for the first time since Kevin Garnett came back to Minnesota. "He's someone who obviously we always looked up to, being a high school kid with aspirations of going straight to the NBA," James said.
• Damjan Rudez and rookie Tyus Jones were the team's inactive players for the second consecutive game.