MODEL OF EFFICIENCY
The NBA's 2010--11 Most Improved Player averaged 20.2 points and a league-high 15.2 rebounds for the T-Wolves. He could be a free agent after this season.
DAN PATRICK:Can you win the Most Improved award again this season?
KEVIN LOVE:[Laughs] I don't know if they give that out twice to the same guy.
DP:What's your contract status?
KL: I haven't heard much. [It's unusual] in NBA history for contract negotiations to actually go into the season. The end date is January 25. I'm leaving it up to our owner, G.M. and coach, and my agent.
DP:Are you too expensive for the Timberwolves?
KL: I don't know the economic status of our team. I [haven't] been focusing on that, and it's really helping my game. Would I like to get it figured out? Sure, it would be somewhat of a weight off my shoulders. But I'm still young. I love playing in this league.
DP:Have you heard people say you wouldn't be putting up these rebounding numbers if you were on a better team?
KL: It's funny people say that, because even on its best shooting night an NBA team makes [only] 50%. There are a lot of missed shots out there.
DP:Oh, I know. I watch. I'm surprised you don't have 20 rebounds per game.
KL: Not to toot my own horn, [but] I'm a pretty efficient player. I don't need many shots. And I don't need the ball to score points. With my rebounding prowess, I can be effective in any system, any offense or any game plan. When people say [my rebounding numbers are inflated], I tend not to listen. I let my game do the talking.
DP:Can you get your blocked shots up from 0.4 last year?
KL: I'm 20 to 25 pounds lighter. I will try to get some blocks for you, because I know you picked me on your fantasy team.
DP:Do you think the T-Wolves can make the playoffs?
KL: I think we're going to surprise a lot of people. It's a condensed season—66 games in 124 days—so there are going to be a lot of weeks when we're playing back-to-back, four games in five nights, etc. We have a youthful, energetic group. We'll have fresh legs and surprise some of those veteran teams coming off the same kind of schedule.
DP:You didn't say anything about the playoffs.
KL: I believe we can sneak into the eighth seed. We have Coach [Rick] Adelman. He's won everywhere—with teams that had superstars, like Sacramento back in the day with Chris Webber and Vlade [Divac]; and then at Houston in 2009, without T-Mac and Yao, when they took the Lakers to seven games before L.A. won [the title]. We have a great coaching staff. We have a group of guys whose [basketball intelligence] is very high on the court. If we sneak into the eighth seed, we did our job.
DP:How do you say, "Get me the damn ball, rookie," in Spanish to new point guard Ricky Rubio?
KL: Oh, man, I need to get up on my Rosetta Stone—the headset keeps messing up on me. Everything goes back to the contract. The more years I have on picking up on this new language, [the easier it will be] to say, "Pass me the damn ball, rookie."
"He is not a dirty player by any stretch of the imagination. The problem is his style of play. When they changed the rules, he became a lightning rod. Until then he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year."
—Jerome Bettis on former Steelers teammate James Harrison
Guest Shots SAY WHAT?
USC quarterback Matt Barkley told me that sanctions against the program played a major role in his decision to forgo the NFL draft and return to school. "We were in a dark stage," Barkley said, "and how we've risen back out of that is so unique and rare that I couldn't pass it up." ... CBS's Phil Simms believes San Francisco can neutralize high-powered offenses such as Green Bay's and New Orleans's in the playoffs: "The 49ers can go into a football game and just make it ugly right away." ... NBC's Rodney Harrison related that current players won't talk to him after he criticizes their team, but that he won't change his broadcasting style. "If you don't want to get criticized, play better," he said. "They never get mad when I tell them how great they are." ... The Falcons' Matt Ryan thinks the quarterback-rating stat is incomplete if it doesn't include wins and losses. "There are two people in a football organization who have wins and losses attached to their names," Ryan told me. "Head coaches and quarterbacks."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (PATRICK)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BARKLEY)
RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES (SIMMS)
GAIL OSKIN/WIREIMAGE (HARRISON)
JED JACOBSOHN (RYAN)
DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (LOVE)