By Ben Golliver
Kevin Love's public campaign against Timberwolves ownership and management continues nearly a year after he was forced to settle for a four-year contract extension after the five-year version that he had clearly earned and preferred was not offered.
Yahoo! Sports reports Love's version of events, which includes bitterness toward owner Glen Taylor for not perceiving him as a "star" and questions for GM David Kahn regarding his professionalism and ability to build a contender.
"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [Wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs," Love told Yahoo! Sports. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there. That's a tough pill to swallow."
No, Kevin Love isn't over Taylor and GM David Kahn refusing him what he had earned. He isn't over Kahn marching into the trainer's room after a loss and thrusting a contract offer sheet into his hands. Where else does it work that way in the NBA? "I'm not the one to always follow professional protocol -- but I do know what it is, even at 24 years old," Love says.
"You walk into the locker room every year, and it's completely turned over," Love says. "There's new guys everywhere. And then it happens again and again. You start to wonder: Is there really a plan here? Is there really any kind of a … plan?"
Love expressed frustrations immediately after signing a four-year deal that includes an opt-out following the 2014-15 season. It was hard to blame him. He was among the highest achievers on a rookie deal in recent years and he was the clear franchise guy for the Timberwolves. No-brainer five-year extensions were given out to both Bulls guard Derrick Rose and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Love was entitled to perceive Minnesota's offer to him as an insult, a miscalculation and a red flag. The Timberwolves need him far more than he needs the Timberwolves and they conducted business as if the opposite was true. That should stick in his craw.
That was then and the initial sting has passed. The Timberwolves are currently 9-9 despite loads of injuries, including a broken hand for Love, and should remain in contention for a playoff spot. That's good news for Minnesota, who hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004, but it's understandable that Love, who is averaging 21.2 points and 14.2 rebounds since his return from injury, might already be eyeing greener pastures around the league. He surely understands that it's highly unlikely the Timberwolves will advance out of the first round, and he's also fully aware that he's expressed frustration with the roster around him for years (here in 2010, here in 2011) and yet the Timberwolves are still light years away from being true postseason players.
Everything Love says is understandable and justifiable. The only question: Why is he expressing these frustrations now, so long after he signed his contract and so soon before Ricky Rubio is set to return? Hell, even Kobe Bryant stands by Jim Buss in public. Certainly, hard feelings like this exist around the league, but they are rarely voiced this clearly and at this length. Taylor and Kahn wouldn't be wrong to take offense at reading these statements in public. What is there to gain by publicly questioning management and ownership right now?
The most obvious answer, aside from simply letting off steam, is that Love is laying the groundwork for what could be a messy exit via trade or free agency. Players are often maligned when they move from a franchise that drafted them to another stop in a bigger market or with a better cast of talent. By getting his message out, consistently and repeatedly over the years, he removes any element of surprise from the equation. Anyone who gets angry if things turn ugly in 2014 or 2015 will only have himself to blame for not paying attention; Love will be able to point to years worth of interviews and, unlike Dwight Howard, be able to say that he had stuck to his guns throughout and that it's time to pursue a different situation. It's hard to begrudge a player, even one making tens of millions of dollars, with his list of concerns.
Venting so far in advance of impending free agency could alienate fans. But Love is so committed to the sport that his dedication to his craft and work ethic on the court can never be questioned. As long as he's going hard and doing his job, he will be shielded from a majority of the criticism heaped on disgruntled athletes. He's got his talking points down pat: no commitment to winning, unprofessional conduct and an unfair contract offer. That's a case compelling enough to convince a good chunk of observers that he's not an egotistical diva. The clock is definitely ticking on this one, but it's still too early to get worked up about it. This is a problem for another day -- another two years, really -- but it's one that seems borne of irreconcilable differences that only an unexpected rush of big winning, or perhaps a change in management, could resolve.