On the surface, Nikola Pekovic's new five-year, $60 million contract might seem like an unqualified win for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But the truth is that it might not have done much to clarify Kevin Love's uncertain future with the team.
On the one hand, Love must be happy to have Pekovic back in the fold. Minnesota is simply a much better offensive team when its top-flight frontcourt duo is on the floor. And Love particularly benefits from the big Monetenegrin's interior presence.
So it's no wonder that he immediately tweeted his positive reaction to the news:
Pek!!!!!!!!!!!!! My brother is back!!!!!— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) August 15, 2013
Love might not be fully acquainted with the numbers, but there's a very strong statistical backing for his happiness.
During the 2011-12 season, Love posted an offensive rating of 109.2 with Pekovic at his side but saw that number plummet all the way to 101.3 when he was on the court alone, per NBA.com. The story was similar during Love's abbreviated 2012-13 campaign as well.
Last year, Love's offensive rating of 102 points per 100 possessions with Pekovic dwarfed the 93.5 rating he put up without him.
Pekovic is a load in the post. His ability to score in isolation, draw fouls and work the offensive glass makes life much easier for Love on the perimeter. At the same time, Love's outside game makes him a threat that defenses can never ignore. As power forwards stick close to Love on the perimeter, Pekovic will have free reign to terrorize the post and the boards.
Best of all, we're going to get a top-notch nickname out of the bargain.
The Wolves' interior defense is never going to be better than average with Love and Pekovic on the floor together. But because the pair produces so much high-efficiency offense, it's easier to look past the ugly defensive numbers.
The best way to keep Love happy in Minnesota is to put more wins on the scoreboard. In his four-year tenure in Minnesota, the Timberwolves have won fewer than 40 percent of their games every season.
According to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, team president Flip Saunders discussed re-signing Pekovic with Love at length and came away with a blessing to pull the trigger on the big deal.
"We talked about a lot of things," Saunders said. "More than anything, Kevin wants to win. As we talked about Pek, he just said, 'You have to do what you have to do.'"
So Love is at least outwardly supportive of the deal, but "you have to do what you have to do" doesn't exactly provide a ringing endorsement. That kind of phrasing just begs for speculation, doesn't it? It seems like Love—on some level—might have been implying his unhappiness with his own contract at the same time he was acknowledging the logic behind Pekovic's extension.
Maybe this is reading too much into a simple sentence, but "you have to do what you have to do" doesn't seem too far off from "whatever, man. I'm out of here in two years anyway."
The Summer of Discontent
While Nikola Pekovic gives Love a great running mate and a better chance to win games, the Wolves star has to be bothered by the fact that he didn't get the same level of commitment in his own negotiations last season. Remember, Love only requested an opt-out clause in his contract after the third year because the team wouldn't commit to him on a max-salary, five-year deal.
Love needed to keep his options open in case the franchise failed to turn things around.
Granted, it was David Kahn's regime—and not Saunders—that took a hard line with Love during negotiations. But the fact remains that Love has been a bit iffy on his future in Minnesota ever since that perceived slight.
In December of 2012, fresh off negotiations, Love told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
I have a very, very good memory, and I always remember the people who have done right by me, and the people who have done wrong by me. It will be embedded in my brain, and something I won't forget about. There's no telling what will happen. I would love to compete for a championship in Minnesota, but...
Love might also be a bit peeved by the fact that he and Pekovic share the services of the same agent, Jeff Schwartz. Things could get a little awkward if it turns out that Pekovic's big deal prevents the Timberwolves from either extending Love or having the money to retain Ricky Rubio down the line.
And that's where a whole other issue that affects Love's future in Minnesota arises.
The Money Problem
Saunders asserted that the Pekovic deal won't keep the team from retaining any of its key players in the future.
Saunders: "Our deal with Pekovic in no way hinders other potential future deals with Ricky Rubio and/or Kevin Love." #Twolves— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) August 14, 2013
But assuming Rubio eventually gets the five-year extension the Wolves seem to think he's worth, finances could get pretty tight when it comes time for Love's next payday. That problem is a couple of years off, but it has significance right now.
Basically, the Timberwolves need to be right about the trio of Love, Pekovic and Rubio being good enough to constitute the core of a contender. That's because they're not going to have the money to do much besides surround that group with role players in the coming years.
For now, Minnesota can sit back and watch its three best players grow together, surrounded by a new supporting cast that includes Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer. That's a pretty good situation at present. And the current T-Wolves group should be together through the 2015-16 season, which will give Love plenty of time to contemplate his future.
But rest assured that the big bucks Minnesota spent on Nikola Pekovic will have a ripple effect on Love's future eventually.
The Big Picture
Ultimately, it's almost certainly a good thing for Kevin Love to see that the Wolves are making an effort to field a contending team. There's nothing worse for a star like Love than watching key pieces leave because ownership is tightfisted
But there's still the chance that Pekovic's deal continues to dredge up the very unhappy memories of Love's own negotiation experiences with the team. He can't possibly look at the five-year commitment the Timberwolves made to Pekovic without remembering that they wouldn't do the same for him.
Some of Love's doubts about Minnesota's direction probably don't seem as pressing anymore, but the big man himself said he's got a long memory. Love's future with the Timberwolves is slightly more certain now that Pekovic is locked in, but there are still plenty of lingering doubts as well.