FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — When a reporter asked him to assess Kevin Love’s handling of his forced departure from the Twin Cities, ever-candid Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor responded with a story.
Squinting through the Minnesota sun, the ambience and succulent scents of the Minnesota State Fair swirling around him, the 73-year-old, Mankato-bred entrepreneur turned millionaire recalled the last big-name power forward to ask for a trade. His name was Al Jefferson, and the year was 2010.
"Big Al" called Glen Taylor toward the end of the 2009-10 campaign. "’Glen, I think you’re gonna have to trade somebody,’" Taylor recalled him saying. "’I wouldn’t mind if you traded me.’"
Jefferson, a six-year NBA veteran that came over from Boston in the Kevin Garnett deal, had been trying to share the floor with a second-year four named Kevin Love. The kid from UCLA was strong, tenacious — the kind of player Big Al had no problem taking under his wing.
But there wasn’t enough room for both of them on the roster. Jefferson knew it. Taylor knew it.
So Taylor kickstarted the process of sending Jefferson to Utah for a pair of first-round draft picks; Jefferson had asked him not to execute a transaction unless that’s what the Wolves gained in return.
Four years later, with yet another blockbuster trade in the books, Taylor still appreciated Jefferson’s honesty and communication.
"I just thought that was such a high-classy way to do it," Taylor said. "And I still think about Al as highly as anything."
The same can’t be said for Love.
Agent Jeff Schwartz did the demanding in this scenario. Love never told Taylor or president of basketball operations Flip Saunders he wanted out, according to all three of them. "I had that conversation with my agent," Love said while being introduced as a Cavalier on Tuesday, "and he had talked to Flip."
So ended the organizational relationship between Love, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, and the team with which he spent his first six NBA seasons morphing into an ultra-unique stretch four while missing out on the playoffs, getting short-changed on his extension, he felt, and clashing with teammates on occasion.
And there was Taylor on Tuesday, helping a reported-estimated crowd of 700 welcome return pieces Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Jefferson wasn’t the first player to go to Taylor and kindly ask for a trade, the owner said. But Love never did, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of the man who used to cut his paychecks — including the ones on his second contract, the four-year one that Love promised via Schwartz to opt out of after this season.
The two still have a good relationship, Taylor said. He admits fault, too, saying he and former president David Kahn should’ve given Love the five-year max he desired back in 2012.
But he’s not convinced Love made the right decision in leaving the Twin Cities to join LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
"I question Kevin if this is gonna be the best deal for him, because I think he’s gonna be the third player on the team," Taylor said after an introductory press conference featuring Wiggins, Bennett and Young at the state fair. "I don’t think he’s gonna get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get the blame if they don’t do well."
Love’s health — he missed almost the entire 2012-13 season — concerned Taylor to the point of rigid hesitation. Even at the bitter end, Taylor says that’s still an issue.
The Cavs hope to sign Love to a five-year max next summer when he can become an unrestricted free agent.
"I think Cleveland should have that concern, too, if he can keep his health," Taylor said. "They sign him to a five-year contract like they’re thinking about, that’s a big contract on a guy that’s had some times where he’s missed games."
There was a hint of bitterness in Taylor’s voice, but much more enthusiasm about the three pieces his club received. A No. 1 pick along with Bennett, Wiggins is heralded as one of the best NBA prospects since James, and former 76er Young is a Yeoman-like power forward who can step in and start in Love’s stead right away.
For Love’s part, there were no parting shots for the franchise he criticized in 2012 for a lack of direction and appreciation for his highly-regarded skill set.
"It was tough, but saying that I didn’t enjoy my time in Minneapolis wouldn’t be doing it right. I loved my time there," Love said after being introduced at Cleveland Clinic Court. "The people of Minnesota were great, the fans were great, they showed up, win, lose or draw, and I really developed a lot of relationships.
"I know that we had some rocky and bittersweet moments which holds true for any player in the league. But I hope they’ll tend to look at the good times like I do after this is all said and done."
Saunders took the high road, too, in addressing the defection of the three-time All-Star — even though he turned the former Wolves coach’s first year on the job into an ultimately unsuccessful courtship followed by a lengthy, drawn-out divorce.
"Kevin put in some great years," Saunders said Saturday when the three-team trade sending Love away became official. "As I said from the beginning, he is maybe the most unique player in the league with his ability to shoot threes but also be an outstanding rebounder."
But at the end of the day, Minnesota failed to retain another superstar power forward. First Garnett, who was traded in 2007 despite desires to the contrary.
Now Love, who will be vying for championships while the Wolves vie for mere respectability as they have since Garnett left.