Inside The NBA has had some interesting debates in the early part of the season. Aside from Shaquille O'Neal's audacious declaration that Andrew Bynum is a better center than Dwight Howard, the gang has started debating who is the best power forward in the league between Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
No doubt, those two are the future of the position -- Griffin being the super athletic highlight machine and Love the more understated grinder -- and will be battling for All-Star spots for a long time. They are both extremely young too and due for their first extensions.
Love, who is once again putting in an incredible year averaging 25.6 points per game and 14.3 rebounds per game, is coming due for a contract extension as is normal for players on their rookie contracts at the end of their fourth years. Love will become a restricted free agent at the end of the year and, according to HoopsHypewould receive a $6.1 million qualifying offer to start with. Love, though, will be getting a lot more money in restricted free agency if he is indeed one of the top two power forwards in the league.
And so Kevin Love is playing the waiting game for his first big extension. His first real payday.
The Timberwolves appear ready to make their first offer before the January 25 deadline for Love to sign his extension or head into restricted free agency this summer. The surprising thing? It is not a max contract. So much for being one of the top two players at your position and a potential two-time All Star this year.
Charley Walters of the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press reports the Timberwolves will offer Love a four-year, $60 million extension in the coming days. That equates out to about $15 million per year. That is a healthy pay raise from his rookie contract, but not the maximum money Love could make on the open market.
Still, Love's hesitancy to sign any extension the Wolves offered shows he believes he is a max player. The Timberwolves appear willing to play some hard ball and are banking that some other team does not believe he is a max player when he hits restricted free agency.
Love, for his part, is not using it as a distraction and is saying the right things to the media. Paul Allen of KFAN radio in Minneapolis asked Love about the contract situation (h/t DeadSpin):
The elephant in the room on January 25th is the Wolves can match you out. Will you be a Timberwolve for many years around that day?
"I don't know the answer to that. I wish I did. I wish I did, but I am going to try to continue to help this team get better night in and night out and hey we have a chance to do that tonight against Sacramento. I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't."
Is there a hang up between you and the Minnesota Timberwolves? Everybody loves you here. Do we have a problem?
"It's all in my agents hands. It's all in the front office's hands. I can't really speculate too much on that, just whatever happens in the process, but the fans know I love them and I just want to keep it that way." [Paul Allen: Having Ricky Rubio here doesn't hurt does it?] It doesn't. How we started off the season, I know wins and loses doesn't always show how we are playing, but we are playing a good brand of basketball. We are getting better and we are right there, so it definitely helps."
It seems like, a week before the deadline, the two sides have not really come to the table to even discuss the issue yet. And that is not a good sign if Love believes he is a max player. Usually those guys you can tell right away who they are. I think most would say Love is very close to being a max-type of player. Whether he is or not might be David Kahn's sole decision.
Of course, if the two sides let the January 25 deadline lapse and Love declines the qualifying offer the Timberwolves can offer him as a restricted free agent, then another team might get to set the market. That might be what the seemingly always penny-pinching Timberwolves are doing, hoping that no one else will offer Love the max so they can begrudgingly accept it.
Either way, Love is going to get his money in his first big contract and his first foray into free agency. It certainly seems like Love's preference though would be to do it in the place where he has established a strong connection with his fans in Minnesota. That question might simply come down to dollars and cents.
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