As it stands, sources have the Timberwolves ready to offer Kevin Love a 4 year contract extension for a total of $60 million. In the new, post-lockout world of NBA contract negotiations, this basically means they’re offering him what any other team could offer him in free agency, but less than what the Timberwolves, as the team he’s currently under contract to, could. They can offer him 5 years at around $80 million—the offer that the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook just accepted.
Amazingly enough, the numbers are actually kind of beside the point here. Much more important than the dollars and cents is the idea of the “max contract” and whether or not Love is a “max” guy. People who think he’s not argue that he can’t create his own shot, can’t be the go-to guy on a championship team. People who think he is point to his historic numbers, the work ethic that led to him dropping 25 pounds in the offseason and developing his stepback jumper, the fact that he was the flashpoint for reinvigorating this franchise last year, even though Ricky Rubio has unquestionably brought the excitement.
And there’s the rub. Giving Love the max (that 5 year deal) means giving him the “designated player” tag, a new wrinkle in the CBA akin to the NFL’s franchise tag. It allows a team to pick one player they give that extra year and more money to and it was part of trying to make smaller market teams like the Timberwolves more competitive. But a team can only give that designation to one guy, so what happens when it’s Rubio’s turn to get that big contract?
There are about a dozen ways to look at this. People who’ve followed the Timberwolves will remember how they gave a huge contract to Kevin Garnett (6 years at $126 million), a deal that by most accounts led to the lockout of 1998 and also hamstrung the Wolves as they searched for help to put around Garnett. Nobody wants that again.
But the Wolves also can’t let Love walk away. They can’t worry about what will happen with Rubio in three and a half years when it’s his turn. Giving Love that max deal sends a signal that they support his hard work. You make the deal you can make today and worry about the deals down the road when they come up. If they support Love with this deal and things continue to get better and better in Minnesota, it will draw in veterans who will play for less and maybe even convince Rubio to stick around without that designated player tag.
Love’s in need of love today. The Timberwolves should offer him the max and do it now.