The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted flexibility; that’s why they refused to give Kevin Love a five-year max deal. In 2006, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh devised the mini-max—in the name of flexibility. David Kahn is the only man in the NBA stupid enough to have conceded a pro-player tactic and think he’s won the day.
But there's another key difference between Love's contract and those or LeBron et al. The others have been exceptional. They were special deals for special people. Love's deal takes what was an inventive business practice and turns it into the latest battle ground between owners and players. Love's not a power broker like Bron or Wade. This is an attempt to subvert the power dynamic that Glen Taylor and David Kahn abused, not establish a new one for the league’s ruling class.
Love is the first player for whom the mini-max has been fact of labor, a grim reminder that, although there's a CBA in effect, the nastiness dredged up by this summer's lockout will linger. Partisanship, or at least its outline, dies hard. Love's contract came up as a bitter compromise. It wasn't a plan, it was a statement—a way to stick it to the team that refused to follow the obvious, and civil, course of action.
By treating Love like an evil-doer, Taylor and Kahn have radicalized him. Love didn't go into these negotiations looking for an upper hand. He was perfectly happy to remain in Minnesota, exactly the kind of franchise that should be keen on getting its star players to stick around. Instead, he ended up pissed off, disillusioned, and signing a contract that reflected these sentiments. And Love never understood himself in a vacuum. He wanted the same deal that the Thunder had extended to Russell Westbrook the week before. He was appealing to structural logic, and was refused. The response, then, was a contract that expanded the scope of what the mini-max could mean, and to whom. The mandate that the NBA sought during the lockout has ended up creating more leverage, as a scarcity of money means more and more top-tier players may opt for flexibility.
If anyone was the favorite to drag ideology into these contract talks, it was Glen Taylor. He was one of the most vocal hardliners during the CBA negotiations. In theory, the CBA exists so that teams like the Timberwolves can compete, in large part through keeping players like Love. Instead, we see that all they did was make an idol of cheapness. A level playing field is not a slippery slope; encouraging parity doesn’t then give small market teams license to not spend money.
Much has been made of Kevin Love's feelings. Feelings, while they can disrupt what happens on the court and in the locker room, aren't supposed to get in the way of business. Love didn't just get mad, he became the latest player to take a contract that reflected skepticism about his front office. After the lockout, this decision is about a skepticism toward everyone on the other side of the figurative table. Kevin Love didn't want this fight. But when he took it on, against an owner who got caught in his own hypocrisy, it couldn't possibly be just about Love's career.
Five years ago, Kevin Love would have gotten a max deal as a matter of course—an entitlement. Now, he's going out of his way to take a deal that reminds his team just what happens when they try to get too cute with an All-Star. It didn't have to be this way. But there's no way, now that it is, that Kevin Love can only be speaking for himself.