MINNEAPOLIS – Kevin Love stepped to the free throw line late in the game against Houston and a fan shouted "four more years! Four more years!"
Love is hoping for five more, actually, and it won't be long before what has been a season-long story line for the All-Star power forward and the Minnesota Timberwolves reaches a conclusion, for better or worse.
The deadline for players from the 2008 draft class to sign an extension is 11 p.m. Central time Wednesday. If the Wolves and Love do not come to agreement, the new face of the franchise will become a restricted free agent this summer.
Timberwolves president David Kahn has remained confident that a deal will be completed and Love has done nothing to discount that stance. Coach Rick Adelman said Tuesday that he doesn't think it's been a distraction to the team, but did say he can tell it is on his best player's mind.
"I'm sure it is for him," Adelman said. "It's a big deal. Something's obviously going to have to happen by (Wednesday), so we'll see."
Love — who ranks fifth in the league with 24.9 points per game, second with 13.9 rebounds and first with 39.4 minutes — declined to comment after practice, clearly tired of answering questions about a situation that he has been discussing for most of the season.
"I'm not worried about it," Love said Monday before the loss to the Rockets. "I'm in a good situation regardless of what happens and I just want to continue to keep playing good basketball."
The new collective bargaining agreement allows the Timberwolves to offer Love more money than any other team. They can offer him a maximum salary contract of four years and roughly $60 million, or they can choose to use their one-time "designated player" contract for five years and around $80 million. Each team can only use one five-year contract during the term of the CBA, so the Wolves would like to save that chip to use give them as much salary cap flexibility in future years as possible.
But after seeing UCLA classmate Russell Westbrook get the five-year deal in Oklahoma City, which also has superstar Kevin Durant on the roster, there is no doubt that Love would prefer a similar level of security and status.
If no deal is reached and Love becomes a restricted free agent, the Timberwolves would be able to match any offer he signs with another team. Love could also decide to play next year for $6.1 million and become an unrestricted free agent in 2013, but that carries considerable risk if he suffers a serious injury before then.
"Of course he's thinking about it because it's in every newspaper across the world," teammate and friend Michael Beasley said. "As far as his play, Kevin's tough mentally. He's going to go out there and give it what he's got every night."
Love certainly has shown no signs of the situation affecting his play. He hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer on Friday to beat the Los Angeles Clippers, then fought through illness to score 39 points and grab 12 rebounds in the loss to Houston on Monday night.
"Kevin's been consistent in his games and that's all you can ask for," Adelman said.
The feeling around Target Center has been that a deal will eventually get done, with the only question being the length of the contract.
In previous years, this situation would have been settled long before this point. But the lockout has thrust it into the heart of the team's season, and that's been an adjustment for everyone.
"This is a little bit different than I'm used to because of the lockout situation and then suddenly these new rules came in," Adelman said. "Now you knew by the end of January something was going to have to happen, one way or the other. Usually it just kind of works itself out and you're not dealing with it in the middle of the season."
These types of high-level negotiations usually work best with a deadline, and now there is one staring both Kahn and Love's agent, Jeff Schwartz, right in the face.
"Kevin's a great player," Beasley said. "This organization needs him. Just about every organization wants him. As far as he goes, he's going to be straight, whether he signs it tomorrow or whether he goes into the summer a restricted free agent. But we'll see."
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