Love: Wolves Have "Different Feel"
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It didn’t take long before Kevin Love noticed the difference. Returning from his offseason on the West Coast and fresh off winning a Gold Medal this summer, Love returned to the LifeTime Fitness Training Center on Monday and quickly noted just how different this 2012-13 Wolves roster will look.
There was Chase Budinger, who Love played AAU ball with in high school, in a free-throw contest with assistant coach Terry Porter. There was Brandon Roy taking jumpers, Alexey Shved getting extra work in and Greg Stiemsma taking a jog on the treadmill. Of last year’s roster, only seven remain.
But perhaps one of the biggest shocks was no shock at all. Love went toe-to-toe with center Nikola Pekovic during a series of full court scrimmages, and despite Pek’s slimmer physique he showed signs only of getting stronger.
“I had to guard him for five games yesterday, and by the second game I was already tired,” Love said after Tuesday's press conference welcoming him back to Minnesota. “My shots were short, my shots were long…If anything he’s stronger, more agile. I think he’s going to have a tremendous year.”
Welcome back, Kevin Love.
With a collection of newcomers in place, a potential Hall of Fame coach at the helm and, now, the team’s leader and two-time All-Star back in the state, there’s a lot of optimism rolling around Target Center heading into next week’s Training Camp. If last season was a precursor to the type of energy the team was reviving back into the franchise, this season could be the stepping stone toward the top of the conference fans have awaited.
It all starts with Love, who in his fourth season a year ago not only cemented his status as one of the league’s top rebounders but also became a respected and feared scorer around the league. His 26.0 points per game were fourth in the NBA, and he led the league in double-doubles (48) and was second in rebounds (13.3 RPG).
The problem Minnesota faced a year ago was having enough consistency across the board being able to knock down shots, particularly from the perimeter. This time around, with a new cast of characters who already seem to bring a different energy to the practice facility, there is a different vibe leading into camp.
“I’ve been geeked up to get back here for a while now, just with the team we have and just get back into the regular season, not so much a condensed season,” Love said. “Having time for us to really have practice and work on our games and see what we can do.”
Love said he’s particularly excited about adding Roy to the team, an elite scorer during his time in Portland who if healthy could be another important piece to the puzzle. With Roy, a respected scorer with the game on the line, the Wolves can experiment with different looks during crunch time that, last year, mostly involved masking where Love would be on the court.
Then there’s Shved and Andrei Kirilenko, who Love did not get a chance to interact with much while in London but bring Bronze Medal experience with Team Russia and have their own chemistry already on the court. He said the Wolves are very fortunate to have both on the roster.
“Seeing Alexey’s game, he holds nothing back,” Love said. “I played with him yesterday, and he goes out and tries to make plays and do the little things. Also you try to not get caught up with watching him. At his size, he plays almost like Ricky does.”
Love said Kirilenko’s size, defensive prowess and leadership he displayed in Utah throughout his career speaks for itself. Having him on the roster brings a credible defensive presence and a former All-Star who, playing under a Hall of Fame-caliber coach of his own in Jerry Sloan, has a pedigree of winning and success.
A lot has changed since April, and as Love returned to Target Center there was no denying the impact this group could make on the court this season.
“It’s a different feel going into the locker room,” Love said. “It’s definitely a different feel just being down there yesterday and playing with those guys. I’m really excited. I’m really excited for this team and having a full Training Camp and having a chance to really work together.”