After an entire summer of negotiating, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally locked up their talented center Nikola Pekovic. While everyone knew Pek would get at least four years and $10 million per year, it was pretty surprising to hear that the sides had agreed to terms on a five year, $60 million deal. Pekovic, 27, could easily recoup the value of this deal, but that’s not where the confusion came from.
Back in January 2012, Kevin Love was dominating the league, averaging 24 PPG and 14 RPG–a certifiable stud. Love, the best player on his team, rightfully sought the five year “designated player” extension. Under the most recent CBA, teams can designate one player to receive a five year extension instead of the traditional four years. However, the Wolves were drunk on the first few months of Ricky Rubio’s NBA career, and knew deep down that all along he was their five year guy. So, instead of giving an available maximum five year extension to one of the ten best players in the league, the Wolves appeased Love with the option of leaving after THREE years!
Let’s run that back for a second. Kevin Love made it clear that he wanted to play in Minnesota, a market that consistently struggles with attracting free agents, as long as possible. The Wolves decided they’d rather gamble on a rookie who they could control for at least three more seasons without extending. Then, instead of making sure they locked Love in for the standard four year extension, they granted him the option of ditching town after three seasons (at his request). Only David Kahn could turn an All-NBA guy away from five years to let him leave after three.
Here’s the one detail that serves to hurt Bulls fans: deposed GM David Kahn came along after Love was drafted but before Rubio. Thus, he was all in and staking his reputation on Rubio, not Love. Now that Kahn is gone, Love perhaps has altered his views toward the Wolves front office.
Fast forward to the present. Love had a rough 2012-13, and is ready to dominate this season. Now, his bruising frontcourt partner is up for a new deal. Even though Nikola Pekovic has never made an All-Star team, never led the league in rebounding, and is FOUR years older than Love was when he signed, he got five years. That contract will take him to the age of 32 going on 33. Kevin Love has to be upset about this. After next season, Love will only be 26 and eligible to be an unrestricted free agent. Even if he wants to stay in Minnesota, he’s opting out to test the market.
So what does this all this mean for the Bulls? Ever since Love signed his extension, there’s been rampant speculation about where he might go after his third year. The Lakers are always a popular suggestion, as Love is from the West coast and played his college ball at UCLA. However, the Bulls come up just as often, and might be a more appealing choice. You can never count out the Lakers, but the Bulls have a much better coach, front office, and players right now.
With another full season to play and a new front office in place, Love will undoubtedly give the Wolves another shot. If things don’t go as planned this season, Love might start focusing on other franchises. If Minnesota decides it needs to trade Love to recoup value for when he opts out, the Bulls will be their number one target. They have cheap young talent in Marquis Teague and Tony Snell, if they can develop, and a legitimate two way starter on a rookie contract with Jimmy Butler. Carlos Boozer’s contract is a good salary match when it’s expiring in 2014-15, and Taj Gibson could be an intriguing part for a team that will struggle to play any defense. Joakim Noah’s probably untouchable, but Kevin Love is arguably a better player. If these rumors start getting floated, things will get a little uncomfortable for some of Chicago’s players.
At the end of the day, Bulls fans should continue rooting for Minnesota to fail and for Kevin Love to fight with the front office. I know that sounds kind of petty, but that’s just how the NBA works. For lesser superstars, like Chris Bosh or Chris Paul, failing to make the playoffs is pretty fucking annoying. Another season of disappointment in the Twin Cities could lead Love to finding a lot of love in Chi-Town.