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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When last season ended, Kevin Love didn’t hide the fact that he expected big changes to occur this offseason to upgrade the talent around one of the NBA’s rising stars.
Now that he’s returned to Minnesota with a gold medal around his neck and seen the new faces that Timberwolves president David Kahn brought in this summer to add some much-needed experience to one of the youngest teams in the league, Love can’t wait to get to work.
“I have faith in this team,” Love said on Tuesday. “I have faith in what we’ve done this offseason.”
The Wolves signed shooting guard Brandon Roy, forward Andrei Kirilenko, big men Greg Stiemsma and Lou Amundson and Russian guard Alexey Shved in addition to trading for hard-nosed Memphis forward Dante Cunningham. The massive makeover adds maturity, grit and, if Roy’s knees hold up, some fourth-quarter playmaking to a team that desperately needed all of those things.
The Wolves also jettisoned Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph and Michael Beasley in an effort to inject some more professionalism and commitment to a locker room that Love thought didn’t take the games seriously enough.
One of the biggest things that stood out to Love in his run with Team USA at the London Olympics was the mentality that superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant took in every practice and every game. As the tournament wore on, Love’s role with the team steadily increased until he became one of coach Mike Krzyzewski’s most trusted players. Love was on the court in the fourth quarter of close games, including the gold medal win over Spain, something that has him brimming with confidence as he prepares to enter his fifth season in the league.
“It was a tremendous summer for me, and a tremendous summer for our team,” Love said. “I think heading forward, there are a number of guys that will help us, especially in relation to last year. There are a lot of guys that will help us and help our locker room.”
Love averaged 26 points and 13.3 rebounds per game for the Wolves last season, cementing himself as the game’s best power forward. He starts a new four-year, $60 million contract this season and it was no secret that Love was unhappy when the Wolves declined to give him a five-year max deal in January. The team can only use the five-year deal once, and Kahn wanted to save it to give him the most flexibility possible going forward.
Love’s displeasure caused Wolves fans to worry that he would opt out in three years and sign with another team, but he said Tuesday the moves made in the offseason have him excited for what the future holds in Minnesota.
“We’ve definitely added value to this team,” Love said. “I think the locker room is really going to be great and I think the players we have on this team can make an immediate impact.”
Now the next step he wants to take is the playoffs. He was the only member of Team USA, aside from rookie Anthony Davis, who has not played in a playoff game in his career and he has already said that he fully expects that to change this season.
The Timberwolves? In the playoffs? It hasn’t happened since 2004, but with Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic surrounded by the revamped roster, Love can’t understand why anyone would criticize him for setting that goal.
“Why wouldn’t I say that? Why wouldn’t I come out and say positive reinforcement?” Love said. “Look at the players we have and the success we had before we fought that battle of attrition and had four or five players hurt.”
The Wolves were in position to make the playoffs in March of last year before Rubio went down with a torn ACL and Beasley, Pekovic, JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour also battled numerous injuries.
Rubio has started running and hopes to return sometime in December, and Love, who starts the first season of a four-year, $60 million extension, thinks the Wolves are finally ready to make this run.
“I really think we have a great shot to make the playoffs,” Love said. “If anyone else says otherwise, I think we have to go out there and prove what we’re made of.”
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