NBA AM: T’Wolves Will Regret Stiffing Love
The Minnesota Timberwolves continue to emerge as one of the league’s top young teams and are undoubtedly poised to break their seven season playoff drought this year.
The future is indeed bright for the franchise after enduring a stretch of brutal rebuilding seasons in the post Kevin Garnett era.
But it may the club’s failure to lock up their current franchise player to a long term deal which ultimately derails this positive momentum in a few years.
Minnesota signed All-Star power forward Kevin Love to a four-year contract extension in the neighborhood of $62 million back in January.
Love originally pushed hard for a five year deal with the club similar to the extension Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook received (five-year, $80 million), but finally backed off his demand under one condition – that the new deal include an opt out clause which would give Love the opportunity to become a free agent after the third season.
Essentially this means Love can hit free agency in the summer of 2015, instead of being locked up through 2017.
The move, at the time, was heavily thought to be favorable to both sides.
Love would be more in control of his future while still being rewarded handsomely financially and the team would be flexible in regards to future cap space.
“I was willing to make a commitment for five years,” Love told the press after signing the extension back in January. “They thought otherwise. Did I want the five years? Of course. It was something I felt strongly about, but at the end of the day, a four-year deal is still great. The early termination keeps my options open and I want to see where this team is going to head.”
Under the new collective bargaining agreement every team in the league is allowed to have one “designated player” who receives a five-year maximum extension while on their rookie contract.
From the T’Wolves’ vantage point Love’s four-year deal gave the team more financial flexibility and kept the maximum provision on the table for guard Ricky Rubio and forward Derrick Williams or quite possibly another player down the road.
Rubio and Williams may continue their upward trajectory and keep developing into fine players or they may fizzle. The NBA historical landscape is littered with guys who put together excellent rookie campaigns who flamed out in following years.
But with Love we may be seeing a player who is starting to etch his name into the category of elite right before our eyes.
The fourth year forward is averaging 25.4 points and 13.7 rebounds per game on the season.
Only two other players in the last twenty years have managed to average those numbers for a full season – centers Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon – two of the game’s all-time best big men.
Love has been putting up gaudy numbers since last season so his box score breakthroughs are nothing new, but it may be his last two performances which start to get him the recognition he deserves.
On the road versus Portland on March 3, Love pounded fellow All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge to the tune of 42 points and 10 rebounds in a winning effort.
Love followed up that performance on March 5 by dropping 39 points and 17 rebounds on All-Star Blake Griffin as the T’Wolves gutted out a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
That’s an average of 40.5 points and 13.5 rebounds against All-Star caliber competition – his direct peers at power forward.
“This is my time right now,” Love rejoiced after the Clippers win.
The sentiment Love expressed is tough to argue.
When it comes to power forwards, Chris Bosh gets the headlines as part of Miami’s big three, Griffin dominates the highlights and Aldridge’s game in the post may be prettier, but Love is arguably the best power forward in the game today.
And if he is the best power forward in the game today, maybe, just maybe the decision to not add a fifth year to his extension might be the biggest mistake Minnesota could have made – especially when you consider the dramas which have engulfed Chris Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and now Dwight Howard in recent years.
Paul, James and Anthony are all no longer with their original teams.
Howard in all likelihood is out of Orlando at season’s end – if not sooner.
If the prior precedents play out, Love could also bolt Minnesota for greener pastures in 2015, instead of being locked up safely until 2017.
Zach Randolph On Comeback Trail: The Memphis Grizzlies received a dose of good news on Monday as power forward Zach Randolph participated in a “contact” practice for the first time since tearing his right medial collateral ligament on January 1.
While there still is no timetable set for his return to game action, the Grizzlies medical staff insists the knee is medically sound.
Randolph’s return now seems to hinge on his physical conditioning and state of his mental confidence.
“It all depends on how I feel. Hopefully, it’ll be soon,” Randolph said to Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal. “It’s just the mental part of it for me. You want to go out there and do what you know you can do. I just want to know that it’s stable, know that I’m not going to come down and tweak anything. I felt all right. I got out there and got some contact. It’s progress. But I’ve got a long way to go with my conditioning and timing. I know my knee is stronger.”
The Grizzlies are 21-12 without Randolph in the lineup this season and currently hold the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs were to begin today.
With the team playing well there is no rush to insert him into the lineup at less than 100 percent and risk re-injury.
“Whenever he comes back, he’s got to work himself back in and get up to speed with the rest of the guys,” Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said. “We’re going to give him as much time as he needs to come back. Don’t get me wrong. We miss his leadership, and we miss his productivity. I just think we’ve got to be patient.”
Kyrie Irving Won’t Play For Team Australia In Olympics: Cleveland Cavaliers rookie point guard Kyrie Irving has dual United States and Australian citizenship.
This dual citizenship, under FIBA rules, makes him eligible to play for either country as it relates to Olympic competition.
Naturally, the question arose on whether the favorite to win this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award would play for Team Australia in the London games this summer.
Irving decided to continue on his path with Team USA and is shooting for a spot on the 2016 roster, while getting another opportunity to play under his college coach at Duke Mike Krzyzewski.
It was the right decision,” Irving said on Monday night after Cleveland’s loss to Utah. “I found out Coach K would be coaching in 2016. It made my decision so much easier to play for my coach again. That was the deciding factor.”
Irving, the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft, has represented the United States in junior competition in year’s past.
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats scheduled for today starting with senior NBA writer Eric Pincus who will hold down his weekly NBA chat at 4pm EST. Eric covers the Western Conference from LA with the Lakers and the Clippers. Closing the show is Stephen Litel who covers the emerging Minnesota Timberwolves and Western Conference. Stephen gets started at 8pm EST.