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Kevin Love re-signs with Timberwolves for four years, $61 million

By Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

DALLAS — NBA owners haggled with players for months during testy labor negotiations last summer and fall, seeking a system that will allow small-market teams to retain their young stars for the long run.

In a contradictory twist, the Timberwolves and All-Star forward Kevin Love agreed early Wednesday morning to a contract extension in which the team got the shorter deal it sought while Love gave up his desire for “designated player” status that would have kept him in Minnesota for five more seasons beyond this one.

In the end, the two sides compromised on a four-year contract worth nearly $61 million that gives Love the option to become an unrestricted free agent after the third season.

“I wanted to be here,” Love said. “I love Minnesota. I love the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. I love the fans. Everyone who has been around me the last four years knows that. Obviously, the cold weather is tough at some points, but the fans have been so great.

“There were some naysayers in my career, even before draft night, after draft night. But the fans have been with me since Day 1, so I thank them. That message is really heartfelt and sincere.”

If Love takes that out option, his contract will expire just when Ricky Rubio’s rookie contract and coach Rick Adelman’s contract could be up in the summer of 2015. Until at least then, he is a Timberwolf.

“It’s a good thing for everybody, from him, the organization,” Adelman said. “It’s out of the way. Now he’s relieved to get it done and we can just move forward.”

The Wolves balked at a five-year contract that would have paid Love nearly $80 million  in a market where the Twins have watched Joe Mauer play fewer and fewer games by the month since they signed him to a $184 million contract in 2010.  A four-year deal also is less money on the books if owner Glen Taylor decides to sell the team in that time.

Taylor and President of Basketball Operations David Kahn didn’t want to commit their only allowed designated-player slot just six weeks into a new labor deal that will last for at least the next six seasons. Kahn said saving that ability to award another player — Ricky Rubio perhaps? — with a five-year extension someday was a consideration.

“Not at all, it’s for somebody perhaps,” Kahn said when asked if he was saving that slot for Rubio. “We’re 45 days into a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was hard to extinguish that right for the next 5 ¾ years.”

Love could have become a restricted free agent next summer — or an unrestricted free agent in 2013 if he played next season for a $6.1 million salary — but he chose the guaranteed $61 million in his pocket now and the right to leave three seasons into the contract if he so chooses. Or he could sign a two-year extension with the team then.

“Me personally, I wanted to make a five-year commitment,” he said. “When they weren’t willing to do that, I feel like four years is good. I’d like to see the direction of where this team is headed, and I think we’re getting better. I think the future is bright.”

Wednesday’s deal guarantees Love will play nearly the next four seasons with rookie Ricky Rubio.

“Of course, of course,” Rubio said when asked if he hopes to play his career alongside Love. “He is the key to this team. He is a leader. We all appreciate what he does on the court.”

Two other members of Love’s 2008 draft class — Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook — have signed five-year contracts worth as much as their teams currently could have paid ($94 million for Rose, about $80 million for Westbrook).

Love was asked if he sought that fifth year for the extra $17 million-plus so he could share the same status with two friends, one of whom already has won a league MVP award and the other who has been named to an All-NBA team.

“I believe I’m on the same status with them regardless of how much money I make or regardless how many years I get on my contract,” Love said. “I know what I’m worth in this league. I’ll continue to keep working, stay humble, stay grounded and just keep fighting for this organization, keep fighting for my teammates, keep fighting for my family, keep fighting for the fans.”

When asked what he will do with all that money, Love said he will give some to his parents and save the rest.

He was asked if he really realizes how much $61 million is.

“No, not yet,” he said. “I’m happy for my family, happy for myself. I’ve worked very hard to be where I’m at today. There’s going to be no stopping. I’d like to think at 23 years old, I’m far from my prime and people haven’t really seen anything of what I can do yet.”

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