Kevin Love Gets Paid, David Kahn Still StupidPosted: January 27, 2012
It somehow didn’t dawn on me that it’s contract extension time for 2008 draft guys, a draft class that I would argue is the second-most talented since the lottery era behind 2003 (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Melo, Hinrich, David West, Kendrick Perkins, Maciej Lampe). So far, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Danilo Gallinari have gotten contract extensions. Now, in the second part of a series on contract extensions and small-market team-building, let’s ask this:
Is Kevin Love a max contract guy?
I’m still not completely sure Russell Westbrook is, but I understand why the Thunder gave him one, and I support it. The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t quite have the same 1-2 punch as the Thunder, though perhaps a more traditional one in Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love.
Love is a legit power forward/center, whereas Kevin Durant is a position-defying small forward/power forward who plays like a guard. Rubio is a point in the mold of Pete Maravich, John Stockton, or Jason Kidd, a guy who can completely dominate a game without shooting. Westbrook is a score-first point guard, the kind of asset that is pretty valuable in today’s NBA, but has never really produced a championship team.
There was all kinds of mess flying around with Love’s contract. He was initially offered a 4-year, $60 million deal, considerably lower than Westbrook’s 5-year, $80 million. Then it was reported that he was offered the max deal. Then he signed a 4-year, $62 million deal was an opt-out after his third year. He was pissed it wasn’t a 5-year deal, but said he was excited to stay in Minnesota (I know, right?).
It begs the question: is Love (25-14, 44% FG, 41% 3P this year, 5th pick in 2008 draft) worth more or less than Westbrook (20-5-6, 45% FG, 4th pick in 2008 draft)? To me, Westbrook is a classic volume scorer on a bad team (put him on the Warriors and he throws up 35 PPG on 40% shooting), but a great #2 on a contender. Westbrook’s only going to get better, and in the right situation, with the right coach, he soars. Love is probably at his potential, or at least doesn’t seem to have too much growing left. Last season, he threw up the first 30-30 game since 1982, established himself as the best rebounder in the game statistically and fundamentally, and he has three-point range. This past summer, he dropped weight at a more impressive but less-heralded rate than Charles Barkley and kept improving.
The main issue with Love being your centerpiece is that he needs a good guard. The Timberwolves seem to realize this, and the thinking is that you need to keep your options open to see if Love or Rubio is The Man in Minny. I understand this reasoning, but why wouldn’t you just give him the max and figure it out later? Lock Kevin Love down for 5 years, because if you don’t have a contender by 2014, he’s gone faster than a Minnesota summer. You want to play in this?
Of course, the answer could be that Timberwolves GM David Kahn is just an idiot. An All-Star wants to play in Minnesota, even though you sat him way too much in his first two years, and he’s statistically as dominant and mentally tougher than the guy everyone agrees is the best center in the League, we just had a lockout because small-market teams were bitching about not being able to keep their stars, so you…don’t offer him a max contract? Love made it known he wanted the 5th year, and you give him 4 years with an opt-out after 3, which is exactly what Wade, Bosh, and LeBron had before signing with the Heat?
Another thing to talk about with Kahn is how he’s built this team. Whereas Thunder GM Sam Presti has constructed a championship contender with precision, careful use of money, and safe moves, Kahn picked Rubio 5th, then another PG 6th with Jonny Flynn. Then he picked Ty Lawson 18th (immediately shipped to Denver for a draft pick). If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three point guards in the same draft, but he didn’t pick Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, or Darren Collison. He kept Lawson over Flynn, and then dumped Flynn for a washed up Brad Miller and a couple of late round draft picks. At one point last season, the Timberwolves employed Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry, and Darko Milicic at the same time, allowing them to briefly supplant the Wizards as the biggest collection of head cases and burnouts in the League. When coach Rick Adleman was hired, he publicly expressed his disdain for Kahn and promised not to listen to him.
So Kahn has built his team pretty much by accident. The current nucleus of Love-Rubio-Derrick Williams-Luke Ridnour-Wes Johnson-JJ Barea is solid, but they haven’t seemed to settle on a rotation yet. All 12 players are averaging at least 12 minutes a game. Not a bad thing given roster uncertainty and the compacted season, but it means guys don’t know their roles and playing time is hardly earned or a guarantee. Williams, Beasley, and Randolph are pretty much duplicates of each other, and I don’t see a center on that roster (Darko doesn’t count, and Tolliver’s only 6’8”). Even Rubio has been a surprise: he barely played for the Spanish national team or for his Barcelona team before coming to Minny. Many had written him off as a bust. So make no mistake: the Wolves seem to be on the rise, and they can go 10-deep with a lot of exciting players, but none of that is Kahn’s doing.
As to who “won” these contract negotiations, hands-down it’s Kevin Love. He has a team on the rise now, but the stupidest GM since Chris Wallace, and an opt-out after three years. Then he can sign with the Bulls, return to hometown Blazers, college hometown Lakers, basically do whatever he wants to play for a contender in a city not built around underground tunnels due to hellish weather.
P.S. While researching this column, I discovered that Beach Boys’ singer Mike Love is Kevin’s uncle. I am of the opinion that the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is among the top 5 albums of all time. Pet Sounds was mostly written and recorded by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, and the other Beach Boys were initially hesitant about the album. Mike Love was particularly critical, upset with Brian for “fucking with the formula” of girls, cars, and surfing. Brian eventually left the band to produce some decent solo work despite horrific mental problems. Mike and the rest of the Beach (rest of the Boys?) went on to do this. To be fair, anytime you can replace one of the great songwriters ever with Uncle Jesse, you gotta do it. Adjust your perception of Kevin Love accordingly.