OAKLAND, Calif. – Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves watched Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob get strongly booed during Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony at halftime Monday. Long after the final buzzer sounded on the T'wolves' odd win, team president David Kahn approached his franchise player to give him a vision.
"That's exactly the same ceremony we want for you 15-16 years from now," Kahn told Love.
Sitting at his locker, Love said, "Except they won't boo [owner] Glen [Taylor]."
"But in all seriousness, you can see that if you are at one place a really long time, it's the greatest thing of all for everybody," Kahn said.
Lost in the conversation was the fact Mullin didn't play his entire 16-year career with the Warriors. Mullin had a three-year stint with the Indiana Pacers before returning to Golden State for his final season. Love, 23, is in his fourth season with the Wolves and has signed a contract extension paying $62 million over the next four years instead of testing restricted free agency this summer. There is an out-clause in the contract three years into the extension.
Love loves the laid back life in Minneapolis, playing with rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams, and being coached by Rick Adelman. But the two-time All-Star also said "it's tough to say" if he could see himself staying in Minnesota his entire career. If things don't continue to progress, greener pastures could be calling for Minnesota's star, just like they did for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul.
"For me, at the end of the day, I want to win. My first three years were 24 wins, 15 wins, 17 wins," Love told Yahoo! Sports. "Now things are finally turning around. Losing Ricky [to a season-ending knee injury] was terrible for us. We didn't make a move at the deadline, which is tough. But we just got to rock with the guys we have now.
"But at the end of the day, if we continue to progress as we get older, learn the system, learn to play together, things are going to look up for us. But am I going to be here my whole career? That's really up in the air."
The Wolves entered Thursday with a 20-25 record and were 2½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota has lost five of seven games since Rubio got hurt. While there were strong rumors about acquiring Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford, the Wolves didn't replace Rubio by the trade deadline – much to Love's chagrin.
Love credits Rubio for playing a major role in improving his scoring average by five points. Rubio will be a key figure in keeping Love happy in Minnesota.
"I never played with a pass-first point guard," Love said. "He hits me rolling to the basket with easy buckets. The jump in my scoring has been from the work I've put in during the off-season. But a lot of it had to do with how he was setting me up on the court. He's been great to play with and someone I want to continue to grow with."
The Wolves have three talented young players to build around in Love, Rubio and Williams and a respected coach. Bolstering this roster will be a challenge since Minneapolis isn't a hotbed for free agents due to its cold winters, lack of championships, old arena and average-sized media market. The biggest free agents signings in franchise history include Joe Smith, Terrell Brandon, Mike James and J.J. Barea. That isn't saying much.
With all the challenges, winning will be the biggest draw.
"With a guy like Ricky, if you want to score he's the kind of guy you want to play with," Love said. "I mentioned adding some key veterans to this team and obviously drafting well. I think coach Adelman is a drawing force in bringing guys in. That's the biggest way to do it. At the end of the day, you got both L.A. teams, Chicago, Orlando, Miami, New York, Brooklyn now, teams that are in bigger markets that are always going to draw more attention from free agents because they want the bigger market and they want maybe a warmer climate."
The Wolves play in the 15th largest TV media market, according to the latest Nielsen rankings. Even so, Love has endorsements from Right Guard, Jose Cuervo, Target and Best Buy.
Love, however, didn't rank in the top 15 among the top-selling NBA jerseys in 2011. He was also fifth in All-Star balloting among Western forwards this season. Love is averaging Most Valuable Player-type numbers with a double-double of 25.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, but is not well-known.
Is Love missing out on popularity, respect, brand building and money by playing in Minnesota?
"I feel like I could be a lot more well-known," Love said. "I feel like I could get a lot more respect. But respect is gained by continuing to get better and working my ass off and continuing to get better at what I can be: winning and every night competing and working as hard as I can. …
"Building a brand is definitely big. If someone said they didn't want to do that they'd be lying to you. If you win everything takes care of itself. That's how greatness is formed. But guys in bigger markets are going to get more endorsements because that's just what sells."
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The grass on the other side could seem greener this summer assuming Love plays on USA Basketball Olympic team with superstars such as James, Anthony, and Kobe Bryant, who are enjoying NBA life in big markets.
"It was the right decision for me at this time," Love said of signing a contract extension. "Heading into my prime, if I'm here all four years, I'll have my chance to pick and be 27. I will have my chance to go wherever I want. But if we are rolling? Who's to say what will happen."
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- Chris Mullin