On January 25, 2012, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed PF/C Kevin Love to a four-year contract extension. Working under the pressure of a looming midnight deadline, upon completion of the contract extension, both parties expressed their happiness that the deal was finalized.
However, in the long run, Love has a lot more to celebrate than the Timberwolves.
Entering the NBA in 2008, Love is currently coming off of his rookie scale contract. As such, Love was eligible to become the Timberwolves’ designated player. The designated player provision is a new rule system in place as of the collective bargaining agreement reached between the NBA and players in 2011. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, players, like Love, whose rookie scale contracts were ending, were given the chance to extend their contract with their current team for five more seasons, or seek free agency at the end of their rookie scale contract. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, most players coming off of their rookie scale contracts can only extend their contracts for four seasons. That is with the exception of the team’s designated player. Each NBA team can designate one player whose contract it will extend for five years coming off of a rookie scale contract. This rule was said to benefit teams, as it in a sense is a cost-saving tool, since they are able to offer shorter contracts to the majority of players coming off of their rookie scale contracts.
Love clearly would have been a solid choice for the Timberwolves to tap as their designated player. A versatile PF/C, as of the date of his contract extension, Love was both an NBA offensive and defensive leader. He was fourth in points, averaging 24.9 per game and second in rebounds, averaging 13.9 per game. In his three seasons with the Timberwolves, Love has amassed impressive career numbers. Last season, for instance, Love had a 53 game double-double streak. This streak was the longest double-double streak obtained in consecutive games since the merger between the ABA and NBA.
Love previously indicated that he desired to sign a five-year contract with the team, signaling his interest in remaining in Minnesota and commitment to the Timberwolves organization. One thing that the NBA is not short of, is young players willing to jump ship after the end of a contract to sail to bigger-market teams. The extension which the Timberwolves signed Love to, allows Love to opt-out of the fourth year of the contract. This means, that at the end of three seasons, Love has the option to become an unrestricted free agent and seek the opportunity to play elsewhere. Given that the Timberwolves did not send Love a message that they are committed to him in the long-term, Love will absolutely take that option, if at the end of three seasons, the Timberwolves are not performing as he sees fit or offering him the money he wants.
Perhaps it’s because the NBA does not consider the double-double an official statistic, that the Timberwolves passed on this excellent opportunity to make Love the team’s designated player. Yet, one thing is clear: in not choosing Love as its designated player, the Timberwolves signaled their belief that the long-term future of the club does not rest in Love’s hands. Most speculate that the Timberwolves will make Spanish basketball sensation Ricky Rubio the team’s designated player. While the rookie has performed well this year in his role of point guard, it is to be seen if this level of play will remain consistent in upcoming seasons.
If there is one winner in this contract extension, it is Love. He has the opportunity to become $60-62 million richer playing with a team he is happy to be playing for. He will be playing there for at least three seasons, and possibly, four. However, quite possibly the greatest benefit given to him in this contract, is the option to take his talents elsewhere, should the Timberwolves’ performance not match the level of play for a team he wishes to play on.
Needless to say, in three years, we will see whether the Timberwolves offered Love enough “love” in this contract, or whether the team let a tremendous talent slip away, without anything to compensate it for that loss.