Kevin Love has the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Now the challenge is to help his Minnesota Timberwolves become next season’s most improved team.
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There’s nowhere to go but up for the Wolves, whose 17-65 record was the worst in the league. That didn’t keep Love from making the All-Star team and adding to his trophy collection with the MIP award on Thursday.
”Kevin deserves an enormous amount of credit, not only for what he accomplished on the court but for the kind of dedication and the fortitude he exhibited a year ago today all the way through last summer,” said David Kahn, the team’s basketball boss.
Love was a runaway winner, getting 66 of a possible 116 first-place votes and 400 points from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers was second with 157 points.
Love averaged 20.2 points and led the league with 15.2 rebounds per game this season, posting a double-double in 53 consecutive games for the longest such streak since Elvin Hayes in 1973-74. Mostly a sixth man the season before, Love established career highs in almost every statistical category.
Kahn recalled his exit interview with Love after last season, when Love clutched a pile of papers that mapped out a daily plan for his workouts in a busy summer that included a prominent role in the U.S. national team’s gold medal-winning run at the world championships.
The 22-year-old Love said he’ll put himself through the same exhausting routine this offseason.
”I plan on having basically the exact same schedule, because in my eyes I still believe that not only myself, but a lot of guys on our team and our team in general, can make leaps and bounds from where we were the last couple years,” Love said. ”I think we’re just looking forward to getting older, becoming a better team.”
Love acknowledged some initial reluctance to embrace the award, since the definition of improvement means the previous season’s performance was not up to a player’s potential. But he said he’s happy to have it now.
”Hopefully there will be more years when I continue to improve,” Love said.
As for whether that improvement will take place with the Timberwolves over the long term, Love reiterated his comfort with the area and the organization but stopped short of asking where he should sign. The league’s unsettled labor situation has put a contract extension on hold.
Kahn said he ”fully” anticipates Love being with the Wolves ”for a number of years to come.”
”I do think he wants to be here,” Kahn said. ”I think we both feel the same way: We want to start winning, and we’re very impatient about that.”
Long before Love’s contract is addressed, the Timberwolves must figure out who their head coach will be. Kurt Rambis did not attend the news conference, though that’s not unusual for a postseason individual award presentation, and Kahn has said only that there is no timetable ”for us to do something right now.”
Kahn said he hasn’t spoken to Rambis since his exit interview last week.
Love received a Kia Sorrento sports utility vehicle from the award’s sponsor. He donated the car to the Dylan Witschen Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships and funding organizations like the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., that seek a cure for cancer.
Witschen, an athlete at Anoka High School in a suburb north of Minneapolis, died last summer of brain cancer at age 16 two years after he was diagnosed. He and Love forged a friendship after meeting at St. Jude through Love’s charitable work there through the NBA. Witschen’s family attended the news conference.
While praising Minnesota’s fans for their support — ”MVP” chants were heard at times this season at Target Center — Love also singled Witschen out as ”somebody to play for” since they met.
”It’s just little things like that make your life and make the game worth it,” Love said.