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Is Minnesota's Kevin Love worth the maximum?

Minnesota's Kevin Love has the Timberwolves among the NBA’s teams to watch. But with the deadline for a Love contract extension approaching, will the Timberwolves show him the money?
“I’d probably gulp and pay up if I were the Timberwolves, given no matter how much money you save top free agents never are going there,” writes Sam Smith of Kevin Love. “He’s the best you’re going to get (and keep), and with Ricky Rubio, I have found myself watching the Timberwolves.”
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

One of the issues coming up this week is the deadline for contract extensions for the NBA’s class of 2008, and the question is whether the equivocal Minnesota Timberwolves will offer Kevin Love the maximum dollar extension. I have my doubts as well about how much Love is worth, given I don’t see how he can carry a team on any level.

I thought the way Paul Millsap handled Love in Saturday night’s Jazz win was illustrative. If you put quickness on Love, he’s going to have difficulty, given he is not that tall or a post threat. Still, I’d probably gulp and pay up if I were the Timberwolves, given no matter how much money you save top free agents never are going there. He’s the best you’re going to get (and keep), and with Ricky Rubio, I have found myself watching the Timberwolves. I’d rate them with the Bulls, Heat, Clippers, Thunder, Nuggets and 76ers the best teams to watch.

If Love gets his deal, he would be the third player from that draft class, along with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, to get the big extension.

The discussion got me thinking about the recent drafts. The 2008 draft, of course, produced an MVP in Rose, which makes it a great draft on some level. With Westbrook at No. 4, Love No. 5 (the Wolves picked O.J. Mayo and swapped him with Memphis, which looks much better now), Danilo Gallinari No. 6 and No. 7 Eric Gordon, both also up for the big extension. Brook Lopez rounded out the top 10 for a very good lottery.

From the previous 2007 draft, Kevin Durant got the maximum extension with Al Horford, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah and Jared Dudley getting extensions of various levels with Horford and Noah into eight figures.

With Greg Oden No. 1 that was to be the elite draft, though we know Oden’s story of misfortune and being an unrestricted free agent this coming summer. Beyond that, it wasn’t a very good lottery with Jeff Green, Yi, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Acie Law, Thaddeus Young (the best of the rest), Al Thornton and Julian Wright finishing out the lottery.

But it’s much better than the 2010 draft of busts.

You have to give a draft a few years to play out. But looking at the 2011 draft class, it’s becoming clear the 2010 class will go down as one of the poorest in years.

To fill in, the 2009 class shapes up as one of the deepest in years with the Bulls getting Taj Gibson at No. 26. It was a remarkable run of talent with starting point guards Jrue Holiday at No. 17, Ty Lawson at No. 18 and Jeff Teague at No. 19. Eric Maynor, hurt now, may be the Thunder’s best true point guard at No. 20. Another starting point, Darren Collison, was No. 21. With Byron Mullins, now starting for Charlotte at No. 24, it’s a terrific late first round talent pool.

Especially because it was strong at the top with Blake Griffin No. 1. Hasheem Thabeet was No. 2, the equivalent of the Darko disaster for the Pistons when they passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade for Milicic in 2003 when LeBron James was No. 1. That draft in 2003 was the draft of the new millennium even if it was weak after the top five because of the stars. The Bulls picked Kirk Hinrich No. 7 in that draft.

After Thabeet in 2009, there was the likes of James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Gerald Henderson and Tyler Hansbrough in the lottery. It may go down as one of the best top to bottom drafts in NBA history. And teams will have some interesting decisions next season regarding extensions, though that’s better than Memphis’ after giving away Thabeet.

The current class of 2011 looks very good with one of the more underrated players, Marshon Brooks selected at No. 26, coming into Chicago Monday with the Nets. Playing for the Nets gets you ignored. But this 2011 rookie class already has numerous players making an impact with their teams, like No. 1 Kyrie Irving. It’s an impressive guard draft with Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker regulars. Norris Cole has been a big addition for Miami’s bench. Others who have started include Kawhi Leonard, second rounder Chandler Parsons, Jimmer Fredette, Nikola Vucevic and Iman Shumpert.

That’s in big contrast with the 2010 class. I was thinking about it in regard to the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins after another one of his incidents recently when he clashed with a media member after running out his coach. He’s the ultimate draft mistake, taking a chance on troubled talent. It’s worse for the Kings as the same guy without the baggage went two picks later to the Pistons, Greg Monroe at No. 7. Though John Wall came with the hype, I don’t see him as a starter given his lack of a shot and inability to run a team. The Washington media love Wall because he is such a nice person compared to the rest of that dysfunctional group, so he gets the biggest pass. But I was watching the Wizards Sunday self destruct with typical Wall with 18 seconds left and trailing by four run down completely ignoring everyone and throw up one of your imaginable shots, assuming you can call it that. You gasp watching many of their shots, shocked anyone would attempt those. It was such an embarrassing meltdown to watch with Kevin Garnett taking maybe 10 seconds to get down the lane toward the end for an uncontested dunk and no one even trying to help, Nick Young taunting after a breakaway dunk to draw a technical late and cost the team a chance for at least a late tying shot, guys taking shots that would give Tom Thibodeau a heart attack.

I have some hope for Derrick Favors at No. 3 and Evan Turner No. 2 after Wall could be a starter in some places. There’s some decent talent in Gordon Hayward and Paul George, who are fourth or fifth starters later in the lottery. But with the likes of Ekpe Udoh, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis and Patrick Patterson 2010 is a pretty brutal overall lottery.

So how do the last five drafts rank?

I’d say:

1. 2009 led by Griffin
2. 2011 led by Irving
3. 2008 led by Rose
4. 2007 led by Oden
5. 2010 led by Wall

NBA news and notes

-- Interesting Achilles heel for the Heat? They fell to 2-3 on the second night of back to backs with Sunday’s home loss to the Bucks, though Dwyane Wade still was out. That was the Bucks’ second straight road win with one in New York Friday after an 0-8 road start. The change was Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup with Brandon Jennings as the league is seeing more two point guard lineups, like the Timberwolves having success with Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour. ... The don’t forget easily in Canada. The face page of the Toronto Star web site featured a picture of former (and hated) Raptor Vince Carter being carried off the court with a sprained ankle after a missed game winning three. Well below was the story about the home team Raptors’ game. ... GMs around the league were shaking their heads about Boston’s Danny Ainge volunteering he’d trade any of his top players to avoid a similar decline like in the early 90’s. It sounded reasonable, if a year too late, though rarely articulated. Coach Doc Rivers rushed to deflect the story as that sort of thing makes a locker room somewhat uncomfortable. ... How about Amar’e Stoudemire with 45 minutes and nine shots (one after the third quarter) in the Knicks’ Saturday overtime loss to Denver? Friends from Phoenix say Stoudemire felt he did his part in signing with the Knicks and being a leader and a community figure in helping turn around the franchise. But he feels the franchise sold him out with the acquisition and subsequent love fest and turning the team over to the selfish Anthony. A left out Stoudemire is averaging 17.6 points and eight rebounds, low since his rookie season. A 54 percent career shooter, he is at a personal low 41 percent. With a $22 million average salary the next three seasons with knee injuries that won’t allow his contract to be insured, he’s effectively untradeable. So there, obviously, is one deal for the Knicks: Anthony for Deron Williams. Unless Williams can be assured the Mavs can offload enough cap room to have space for both he and Dwight Howard, that might be Williams’ and the Knicks’ best chance for the Knicks to become a better team and for the Nets to have their star to move to Brooklyn. And as we’ve seen over the years, Anthony is fine with scoring and living a good life. He may be the most well adjusted of them all. Anthony, by the way, was booed in Madison Square Garden in the Denver loss and says he might now take some time off with his sprained wrist after he got badly outplayed by Danilo Gallinari. Said Anthony: "If you want to boo me for missing shots, boo me. I’m not worried about that." In a loss to the Bucks earlier in the week, it was comical to see Anthony ejected late for challenging Carlos Delfino and Brandon Jennings with the game effectively lost. Laughed Jennings: "Everybody wants to be tough guys between the lines." Though averaging 25.7 points, Anthony is shooting 40.4 percent. There’ll be several free agent point guards next season, like Andre Miller, Ray Felton and Steve Nash, and the Knicks are saying internally that will solve their issues with a mid level exception deal. Coach Mike D’Antoni is in his final season and not expected to return.

-- The 76ers probably are not in the class of the elite in the East, which is generally the Heat and Bulls now. But they’re starting to be noticed. Said Bucks coach Scott Skiles: "What they have done really well this year is they have some guys that are very good with the ball. When a guy is open, he gets the ball. And he gets it on time and on target. They are really playing unselfishly. They have guys that can do things with the ball, but they sacrifice and spread the ball around, and it makes them difficult to defend." ... Not that LaMarcus Aldridge needs to prove anything anymore, but he had a career best game with 33 points and 23 rebounds over the Raptors, who made Andrea Bargnani the No. 1 overall pick that season over Aldridge, who was selected by the Bulls and in a prearranged trade dealt to Portland. ... Ben Gordon said he doesn’t think talent is the Pistons problem: Said Gordon to Detroit media: “I wouldn’t say talent wise. But we are what we are right now. We can’t just change our record because we think we’re better than we are.” Coincidently or not, Gordon then went out in what local media said was unexpected with a shoulder problem and the Pistons defeated Portland. ... The Heat is bringing Eddy Curry along slowly with six minute stints every other game. He had zero points in six minutes in Sunday’s loss. No one is expecting miracles, though losing that 100 pounds could be considered one. I have to say you root for Curry. He’s one of the better people in the NBA and has been victimized by selfish companions and fate as badly as anyone in the league. Miami didn’t bring him in for that reason — and I think he could be a big help offensively later in the season — but he’s the kind of person who’d help you to root for the Heat, sort of the anti-LeBron and Wade. I’m not a big plus/minus guy, but Curry was the only Heat player with a plus rating in Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee. If only he’d scored.

-- The Lakers are 10-8 despite 10 home games after Sunday’s home loss to the Pacers, the Spurs are 10-7 despite 10 home games and the Celtics are 6-9 despite nine home games in the changing of the guard in the NBA. Gregg Popovich did get a bit technical in trying to explain the Spurs issues to media: “We suck on the road. We’re really good at home.” ... By the way, in that Lakers’ loss to the Pacers you could almost see Kobe Bryant rolling his eyes about the awful offensive system and Kobe throwing up a wild 30 footer for a last shot coming out of a timeout. It’s the “Huh” look we used to see from LeBron James. The Lakers are 4-7 against winning teams. I’m getting the sense Bryant is figuring out Brown is no Phil Jackson. ... Interesting to read in the Orlando Sentinel GM Otis Smith saying Dwight Howard “indirectly” threw point guard Jameer Nelson “under the bus” in talking about playing with point guards Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Nelson is averaging his low since his rookie season and shooting a career low. He admitted it did affect him. True you are supposed to be pros, but it also does show how much Howard is about himself. Whereas Derrick Rose when free agency came up in 2010 chose not to recruit small forward LeBron James, in part, to support his locker room, and Luol Deng has never played better since that summer. Character does have something to do with winning, which further complicates the Howard scenarios. Is he about winning, which requires sacrifice as even Michael Jordan learned. Or is he about Superman and as they say today, his brand? ... JaVale McGee got last week’s knucklehead award, which figures to be retired by the Wizards after this season, with his breakaway dunk after throwing it to himself off the backboard while losing. Typically, ESPN featured it as one of the big plays of the night, which is another story. McGee’s mother then told the Washington Post after everyone pretty much lit up JaVale: “My son is special. He has gifts you can’t teach: hands, height and heart. If I’m the Wizards and I’m really trying to build a franchise, really committed to rebuilding and developing, I would nurture that talent. I would help a kid like JaVale the best I could.” It is a little awkward to have your mommy defend you like that, though he is the only player on that roster I’d want to have and who could be very good in the right atmosphere with the right coach. Nick Young, of course, praised McGee for having the bravery to try such a feat. ... With the latest All-Star voting, it looks like the Lakers Andrew Bynum will be starting for the West in the Feb. 26 game in Orlando against Howard for the East, and Bynum is supposed to be the player most likely traded for Howard. Magic fans would be comfortable as Bynum is a lousy free throw shooter also and generally sits late in games. Howard, by the way, got 21 and 23 against Bynum when the Magic hammered the Lakers last week. This after Shaquille O’Neal in his new gig of ruining the TNT show as he eventually did the Heat, Cavs and Celtics said Bynum is the league’s best center. The show is so bad now even Barkley can’t save it.

-- Thabo Sefolosha leads the NBA in three point shooting at 57 percent, though he’s attempted just 21. Yes, he’s officially become Bruce Bowen. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “Thabo's worked. One of the things he wanted to do was come back a better shooter, and he's shot the ball well. In fairness to him, we don't ask him to take a lot of shots.” When Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had that little dispute a few weeks back, it was over Thabo not shooting when open and Westbrook less than gently urging him to. One issue the Thunder has had is rebounding as they are third from last in offensive rebounding and 16th in differential. The Bulls are No. 1 in differential and total rebounds and as Pat Riley liked to say, “rebounds equal rings.” Miami is fifth overall and in differential. ... Portland has been all over the place thanks to erratic shooting and that’s been Jamal Crawford’s department at 28 percent on threes and 34 percent overall. The ‘blazers had a players only meeting, the Oregonian reported, after a loss in Atlanta and the consensus supposedly was the players were too nice to one another and generally such great guys that no one wanted to criticize anyone or apparently they’d forget the words to Kumbaya. I’m not making that up, well, except for the Kumbaya part. ... Maybe it was motivation, but hours after teammate Al Jefferson said Kevin Love was the best power forward in the game, Paul Millsap dominated him in a Jazz win with 26 points while Love had a season low eight rebounds and had his season long double/double ended. Earlier in the week, Millsap outplayed Blake Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki and though listed at 6-8 is probably closer to 6-5. ... Denver is 30-12 since trading Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks are not (they are 20-24). ... Though Joakim Noah, who was talked about as a trade possibility for Anthony, isn’t having a great season, I’m not sure the Bulls would have enjoyed standing around watching Anthony shoot. Plus to make salaries match, the Bulls would have had to include Luol Deng in the deal.

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