After six straight losing seasons, the last four of which have featured less than 20 wins per campaign, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and the T-Wolves have become one of the most exciting teams in the league. Rubio has already ascended to rock-star status in the Twin Cities, a perfect storm of charisma, flair and productivity. Love, already one of the game's most productive players, has gotten even better and has cemented his status as one of the NBA's 10 best players. The fans have noticed, too. Attendance at the Target Center is up nearly 2,000 fans per game over last season and at an average of around 17,100, is at a level not seen since the Garnett-led teams were in the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
Sadly, there may be a wolf of a different sort lurking in the shadows of this fairytale. Peter Vecsey of the New York Post recently reported that Love has not yet been offered the contract extension for which he will soon be eligible.
Let's leave aside the question of whether or not that report is true and instead put on our general manager's cap to look at whether or not Love is worthy of a max contract.
The GM's cap we're stealing in this case is that of the Wolves' David Kahn, who has earned a reputation for erratic behavior (most notably, his bizarre penchant for collecting point guards, which began in 2009 when he took three of them in the first round of the same draft). This reputation is at the root of whatever anxiety Wolves fans may be feeling about the team's resurgence. But we have to remember that whatever path Kahn has taken to get here, the bottom line is that he has the Timberwolves in a very good place.
The question Kahn faces about whether or not to offer Love a max extension is not as clear-cut as it may seem. One of the lesser-publicized aspects of the league's new collective bargaining agreement is that it limits the length of a max extension to a player coming off his rookie contract to four years, with one exception. That exception is that the team can offer a fifth year to one player. They are not allowed to have more than one player on the roster who has received this extension.
The one-max-player clause is a complicating factor for Taylor and Kahn, who will also have to extend Rubio and fellow rookie Derrick Williams during the period in which a Love extension would still be in effect. Williams looks like he's going to be an excellent NBA player, but you'd have to think that Love's proven production would trump any worries about stepping on his toes. Rubio is a different case. He required plenty of wooing just to get him over from Spain in the first place, and the team's bump in attendance can be largely attributed to his arrival. Wolves fans love Love, but they go bananas whenever Rubio comes into the game. Then again, how would it look to Rubio if Minnesota botches Love's situation? It ain't easy running an NBA team.
Here's what's been missed: We don't know if the extra year is even going to be a factor in the Wolves' ability to retain Love. Only Kahn, Love and Love's agent, Jeff Schwartz, can answer that question. If Minnesota were to allow Love to hit the restricted free-agent market next summer, one of two things would happen. One, Love would receive a max contract offer from several teams -- the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, New Jersey Nets and Love's homestate Portland Trail Blazers are just a few of the teams that could probably swing such a contract, which would likely be for five years at around $82 million. Minnesota would surely match and the question of the fifth year would be moot. The other thing that could happen is that Love could sign Minnesota's qualifying offer and play out next season as a lame-duck All-Star, then become an unrestricted free agent after the 2012-13 season.
The simplest and most direct route for Kahn and Taylor would be simply to offer Love every dollar and year that the CBA allows post-haste. Assuming Love would sign such an offer, the Timberwolves would have a legitimate franchise player in place for a half decade. There are a lot of other teams in the NBA that can't make the same claim. However, there is also a possibility that Love doesn't even want the extra year. He's deftly sidestepped questions about whether or not he's seeking a max extension at all. It may well be that Love is willing to hang around a couple of seasons to see how things pan out with his exciting new teammates, but doesn't yet want to commit to a full half-decade in the upper Midwest.
Things have changed since the days when Minnesota gave Garnett his landmark six-year, $126 million deal in the late 1990s. That was two lockouts ago, and players coming off rookie contracts can't choke a team's salary cap to the point which teams can't surround the player with an adequate supporting cast. Strictly in terms of productivity, Garnett was worth the money, but the market for that level of talent has been capped. With players like Love, you don't have to ask how much they are worth. You simply have to ask whether or not they are worth the maximum you are allowed to give them.
The clearest part of this murky picture is that Love is unequivocally worth a maximum contract. The stat that's been going around this week is that Love is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to have at least 20 points and 12 rebounds in each of the first six games of a season. That's the most superficial way to look at his production, but it underscores what a uniquely talented player Love is.
Our ratings had Love at 16.3 WARP (Wins Above Replacement) last season. As it works out, an easy shorthand for the monetary value of one win by this method is about $2 million. That places the value of Love's production in a truly open market at more than $32 million. This isn't unusual -- all of the league's upper crust are worth far more than what teams can actually pay. However, there are just a few players in that class -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, etc.
It's more than just the raw points and rebounds that puts Love in this class. He also emerged last season as one of the game's most efficient players. He increased his range and accuracy from 3-point range, making him a nightmarish matchup for opposing coaches. He's been even better this season working the pick-and-pop with Rubio and Luke Ridnour. Love seems to be a legitimate 40 percent 3-point shooter who also posts elite foul-drawing rates in the lane, makes his free throws and is one of the better passers at his position in the league. This is in addition to being the game's best rebounder -- he's averaging 17 boards per 40 minutes so far this season. It's a package that no current player can match.
The knocks against Love are two-fold. One of them is that he's not an elite defensive player, which is almost certainly true. However, that's also true of Dirk Nowitzki and no one would argue his status as a championship-level foundation player. Regardless, Love isn't a liability on the defensive end. He's above average in the post and against the pick-and-roll, and does a solid job of contesting spot-up jumpers. He isn't a shot blocker, which will be an issue if the Timberwolves ever try to make him a full-time center, but there is a lot of value in his defensive rebounding rate. Finishing possessions is a crucial part of a team's defense, and Love does it better than anyone.
The other issue people bring up with Love is his middling usage rate, or the number of possessions he finishes, which is a result of not being able to create his own shot. This may no longer be an issue. Love's usage rate so far this season is up by nearly five percent and it hasn't affected his efficiency by one iota. He's dropped 25 pounds from last season, making him more agile on the offensive end, and has improved his back-to-the-basket game to add variety to his arsenal. Love is never going to be a guy that's going to blaze through a defense with a crossover dribble and lightning dash to the basket, but that doesn't mean he's not an offensive creator. Besides, playing alongside Rubio diminishes his need to be one in the first place.
Sometimes, it's important to focus on what a player can do, not what he can't. The full range of skills that Love offers is unique and, yes, it's a championship-level package. He may not be quite at the level of a James or Rose, but he's on the tier a half-step below it. Like Garnett, perhaps the best part of Love's game is his remarkable consistency. As evidenced by last season's streak of 53 straight double-doubles, Love puts up numbers night after night after night.
There is no question he is deserving of a max contract, and probably little question that the Timberwolves will make such an offer. The only thing we don't know is whether Love will sign it.
Bradford Doolittle is an author for Basketball Prospectus.
Damn... This is tough. I don't think Love is a max player because he's not a go-to player and he's a poor defender. He's a second or third option on a championship caliber team... You're not supposed to give those sort of players the max, but it's been done in the past AND been given to worse players than Love.
Based on the numbers Love has put up, you can argue that he's deserving of the money. And then the committment he's shown to getting in better shape goes a long way. I mean, I know he's putting up these numbers on a losing team, but damn... It ain't easy to do what he's doing. And this is the second year in a row he's doing it... It's not like teams don't know about him.
I know BothTeamsPlayedHard will rip this post to shreds, but I think Minny should probably give him the max.
I just asked this on the alridge vs bargnani thread haha I said no because his team has been losing horribly over the last four years, defense not good, but his numbers are insane but still on a losing team. I just don't see him as number 1 option as indianabasketball said but then like he said worse have gotten it(ie Joe Johnson on the decline)
what it means the max, when kwame brown get 7M for 1 year, nene 67M for 5 years and chandler 58M for 4 years....
love is puting great numbers, already improves his game and even if he has some other areas to work on he has a good work ethic. He makes his team better and be the face of this team with rubio in the futur.
Please KHAN give the max to love (he deserves it, and he surely will sign it), trade beasley and build around the young roster with adelman.
Is he deserving of one? I don't think so. I only think a handful of players are deserving and I don't believe he is one of them. Should the Timberwolves offer him it? Absolutely, he is there best player and can't afford to lose him, even though I believe he isn't a true #1.
I'm not for sure, but couldn't Kevin Love be eligible for the Derrick Rose rule?
"One of the new rules has come to be known as the Derrick Rose Rule. It allows franchise-level players to receive a higher maximum salary starting in their fifth year in the league. These players now can receive the same maximum salary as a player with seven years in the league. In order to qualify, the player must meet specific eligibility requirements -- he must have been the Most Valuable Player at least once, been named to an All-NBA (first, second or third) team twice, or been voted in as an All-Star starter twice."
I don't think he has been an All NBA team guy (not postive on that) and he didn't start the All Star game so I don't think so.
Who is a real FP in this league : Bryant, James, Wade, Howard, Durant, Rose, Nowitski are without any question I think.
But there is a second group of player who raise question (age, production, mental toughness, "winning titles" ability...) Melo ? Paul ? Williams ? Rondo ? Ellis ? Griffin ? Aldridge? Evans ? Parker or Ginobili ? Westbrook ? Wall ? Gay ? (not an exhaustiv list)
I think love is on this second group of player and shows every night he wants to be on the "first class". Love is a FP for minny cause he has been there since the beginning (his draft night) and constantly improves his game. He is a reason why rubio went there and a reason he'll stay there.... or won't.
In my opinion the only ones from the second group are Paul and Griffin. Paul is arguably the best at his position and the most efficient pg I've ever seen. Griffin is going to be a superstar if he isn't one already.
Talent hardly comes around to Minnesota so they need to hold onto some as much as possible.
With Love blowing up last season, the Wolves won 2 more games than they did in 09-10. I vote no.
Wow, Al Horford made the All-NBA team over Love, lol.
But the way he's been playing sioomeone will DEFINATLY give it to. Put it in stone, cause 26 and 15 is absolutely ridiculous. I don't care how terrrible you are at defense, if you can be top 5 in the league in scoring and rebounding at the same time, you are worth a max. The T-Wolves will hover around .500 this season, so barring any major incident Love will get the max, hopefully from the T-Wolves.
And call me crazy, but what if the T-Wolves breakout, win 37 games,and Love finishes the season with 27 and 14. Don't you think he would be in conversation for MVP?
No. Why would he be? He averaged the same amount of rebounds last year. It's not because of a couple ppg that they are a better team. It's because the added Rubio and Derrick Williams along with getting a capable coach (other reasons too). He was a couple points short of that last year and they had the worst record in the NBA.
He's not elite, but he's a step below. Given the trouble the Wolves have in attracting marquee talent to come play for them, yes, he's a max guy. And he's a better defender away from being worth it/truly elite. Damn that pick and pop with Rubio is pretty.
Speaking of trouble with marquee free agents, do you think any marqee players would want to come to MN to play with Rubio? I have heard that players definetly want to play with Rubio, but will any elite players want to come to MN to do that?
IMO Love is a great player, probably not a max contract type player, but the Wolves cannot afford to lose him. There have been worse players than Love to get the max, the Twolves need to give it to him!
Cough Joe Johnson Rashard Lewis cough
Thats some cough. You need to take some meds and get some rest
Even Meatloaf would do anything for Love, but he wont do that
Statswise he deserves it, resultswise perhaps not but as said above how many players can give what K-Love does and those that can are tied down to long contracts or over 30 years old. The T-Wolves cannot afford to lose him so pay him what he wants, if that happens to be max then so be it.
If the Wolves don't give/show Love the max another team will. The fact is Love is a "go to" player as well as a leader. Love makes very few mistakes on the foor, works his tail off in the offseason, hits over 40% of his three point attemps and rebounds at a hall of fame rate and has been doing this with lesser players around him. Love isn't just a good player, he's an excellent player looking to become great and I hope he does it with the Wolves.
I actually had an awesome idea about this I'm about to give it's own post.
its a yes. he trully deserves it. imagine wolves team w/o him is like wtf. and he's good marketing player, with that name and stats lol. so bottomline is if there aint enough top tier players for a max, other teams will push and offer second tier players a max too and he's it.
Most NBA contracts are about the market,you know supply and demands etc
Is Kevin Love worth to get paid the same contract Rose will get?No
But teams will offer him such amount of money,Is Love worth letting go b/c you don't want to pay him Max?The answer is still NO
So he will be paid the Max,and we won't be able to blame the Wolves for that tbh
I know I'm going to get negs for this but every team in this league can afford at least 2 max players at a time. Love is wihtout a doubt a top 30 player in this league and he's just 23 so I think that he does in fact deserve a max contract.
It's a weird contradiction because I know that many people think that only "elite" players deserve max contracts but the reality is that most teams are willing to spend max contracts on guys that are in the top 30 or 40 players in the league, look at Carlos Boozer and Tyson Chandler...
They have no choice. Of course they will give him the max, what else will they use the money on? Let me guess they are going to sign the next big time Free Agents...Dwight Howard, or even Russell Westbrook. I dont think so.
Minnesota has Kevin love playing at an extremely high level and a nice team around him. He not only produces well but also has a huge marketing cieling alongside Rubio. They cant do much better then they have, now its in the coaches hands and the players hands.