Minnesota gets Love on its terms — and a lot of pressure

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Minnesota, a franchise known for handing out ridiculous contracts — hello Wally Szczerbiak! — picked now to become frugal. Kevin Love wanted a five-year, $80 million max extension to his rookie deal, but Minnesota wouldn’t give it. Four years, $62 million was the offer on the table.

Minnesota won the battle Wednesday, they got their man. On their terms.

But the war is not over.

Love demanded and got an opt-out after three years. Minnesota will keep him happy and build a winner in that time or Love can walk as an unrestricted free agent. If you don’t think that can happen, ask Cleveland.

Look at what Love told NBA.com.

“Yeah, early-termination option after the third year is definitely keeping my options open,” Love said. “I want to see where this team is gonna head. I want to continue for us to keep getting better. I feel that we are and that we will get better. But at the same time, [with] the early-termination, I can still extend as well. So I can be a part of this team for a long time. I’m not really thinking about that too much. I’m looking at it as a four-year deal and we’ll go from there.”

Love said all the right things — he spoke about how he wants to be in Minnesota and how great the fans and his teammates are — but we’ve heard all of that before from stars who skipped town.

The way Minnesota handled this created some bad blood. Love considered becoming a restricted free agent and not taking this deal. Here is what he said to Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune.

“Yeah, I definitely considered that,” he said about not signing now. “Me personally, I wanted to make a five-year commitment. When they weren’t willing to do, I feel like four years is good. I’d like to see the direction of where this team is headed and I think we are getting better. I think it is working for us. With the addition of Coach (Rick Adelman), the players we added in the offseason, where we’re heading with our youth, I think the future is bright.”

Winning will cure any issues. Building a contender will make smooth sailing with Love. But fall short and, well, we’ve seen it elsewhere.

Minnesota wanted flexibility. They wanted to keep the one “designated player” five-year deal they could offer in their back pocket (probably for Ricky Rubio, although that issue is three years away). They got it. It’s all yours, GM David Kahn. The lockout hawk owner Glen Taylor looked tough.

But now you had better use that flexibility wisely to build a real powerhouse. Free agents to be (and their agents) just saw you play hardball with the face of the franchise and that is going to make them hesitate before joining your team. Use that flexibility to draw them in. Or else.

Because without Kevin Love you are not a contender. You’re not a playoff team. And he has given you a warning that things had better be very good in three years or he may take his talents south. Or West. Or East. But somewhere else.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.