It was less than three years ago that Kevin Love was a Hollywood hero. In his only year at UCLA, the 6-foot-10 center led the Bruins to the Final Four with a season average of 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, earning the praise of NBA execs along the way. In the 2008 draft, Love was selected fifth overall by the Grizzlies but was traded to the Timberwolves, a team that has won a combined 39 games over the past two seasons and hasn't finished over .500 since 2004-05. Now, after some questionable summer moves by the Wolves, Love has the unenviable task leading them back to relevance, or at least, out of their perpetual rebuilding phase. To help him prepare for the season ahead, Love has spent the summer playing for Team USA's FIBA World Championship team, where SI.com caught up with him to discuss the Timberwolves' future, free agency and the league's ongoing labor talks.
SI.com: What's the Timberwolves' plan for improvement?
Love: I hope we have a plan. I don't know what it is at this point. We obviously made a lot of moves, but I'm out there playing and thinking between the lines, not making decisions. I'm just trying to hope for the best and that we keep getting better as a team.
SI.com: Fair enough. How about their floor plan with all the new players?
Love: A lot of the guys are going to have to figure out different positions, different reads in the triangle offense, which I think coach [Kurt Rambis] is going to try to implement again because that's what he came from with Phil [Jackson]. He may also implement some new offensive schemes. It's going to be tough because we kind of blew up the team again, so we're going to have to rebuild that chemistry.
SI.com: Is it frustrating to still be in the midst of rebuilding two years into your NBA career?
Love: Not necessarily. Some guys deal with this for years. Obviously, I'd like to start winning sooner rather than later. It's all a process. And right now it's going to be tough for us to win. We're going to have to grind it out because we are so young. But we have so much cap space, you hope we're going to really develop as a team, take a step forward, keep some veteran guys but also spend that money.
SI.com: That didn't happen this summer, with Al Jefferson being traded to the Jazz. What are your thoughts on his departure?
Love: It's bittersweet. He was one of my closest friends on the team and also somewhat of a mentor. At the same time, it's a good thing for my career because it opens up time for me and allows me to develop at a young age, heading into my third year. It's going to be a very big step for me and I'm going to have to become a leader and take a lot of the reins that Al took the last couple of years.
SI.com: Speaking of your development, what have you been working on this summer?
Love: Coach Rambis and I talked about trying to get more consistent from distance, especially on three-point shots. He wants me to be able to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 85 percent from the free-throw line. That's a realistic goal after last year. And on the defensive end, he wants me to take a lot more charges and be a lot more team-defense-oriented.
SI.com: Offense can improve with shooting drills. How do you improve defensively, especially in a team-oriented way?
Love: It's all a mind-set. You also can play three-on-three, two-on-two, one-on-one -- those type of situations always make you better. And being with Team USA has really helped me on the defensive end as well.
SI.com: Your father, Stan Love, played in the NBA for five years, and while I'm sure he offered some advice, when did you realize that his tips couldn't cover everything you're experiencing?
Love: This year. We had Reggie Theus, Dave Wohl, Bill Laimbeer and Kurt as our coaches. Those guys come from the old school. And the things they yelled about and the things they harped on were kind of from the old-school game. But they'd have to come in the next day and the next couple weeks and tweak things to adjust to the new game. It's a lot more up-tempo [now], a lot more fast-paced, a lot more based on athleticism. I just try to find my niche in rebounding and playing the high post or the low post and be a unique player that can get it done.
SI.com: Something your father never dealt with was the way free agency played out this summer. What did you think of all the moves?
Love: Some of it was what I expected and some of it was crazy. But those guys had a good opportunity to make some money, they came up in free agency at the right time and I'm happy for those guys. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and those guys worked hard and got their money.
SI.com: Many felt LeBron James and Chris Bosh were disloyal in choosing to play for a new team. In your perspective, how much does team loyalty factor into players' decisions?
Love: For most guys, it's a money issue, but obviously in LeBron's case I don't think money really matters; he's set for 10 lifetimes. He wanted to win and win now. It's a make-it-or-break-it league. So it's tough to say where the loyalty comes from. Did LeBron make the right choice? We'll see.
SI.com: Will the summer of 2010 affect the way you approach free agency in 2012?
Love: Absolutely. But the only thing I can take care of is playing my butt off, going out there and being a double-double guy and trying to help this team win. We are so young -- I'm not going to say we're short-handed -- but wins aren't going to come easily next year, so I'm going to have to step up and be a leader.
SI.com: You may not have much time if the players' association and the league don't agree on a new CBA. What is the outlook on that as you understand it now?
Love: I've heard that the owners are going to try to negotiate the contracts down of the guys who signed this year, which I don't see happening. But they'll probably try to get into fewer years with contracts, and obviously the cap will go down a little bit. But I don't think it will be as dramatic as people think. At least, I hope not. The owners want to make their money, the players want to make their money, but in the end, this is a players' game, and we bring the fans out.
The [players' union] has been trying to tell us to save our money. Every e-mail ends with a reminder that "If you haven't started saving your money, start saving now." People are being smart, and if they're not smart, they're going to find out real quick. If [a work stoppage] comes, whether it's half a year or a year, hopefully it won't be too tough on any of us, especially the players.