Healthy Kevin Love ‘excited’ to play, done talking about last season

MANKATO, Minn. — Kevin Love’s resentment toward last year hasn’t faded.

But he left his willingness to dwell on it somewhere on the beaches of California this summer.

“It’s October, what, second? Third now?” Love said after Day 2 of training camp Wednesday in Mankato, his voice sharpening with the beginning stages of fury. “It’s still 2013, but I’ve moved on.”

Rather than rehash his displeasure at David Kahn’s handling of his contract, injuries that kept him out for 64 games of a dismal 31-51 season and the direction of the entire Timberwolves organization, Love’s turned his gaze toward foci more within his grasp.

A new year. And a new Love.

The high-scoring, board-crashing power forward is expected to once again provide the scoring punch Minnesota greatly lacked with him and most of its core sidelined at different points throughout 2012-13. During All-Star seasons the previous two years, he averaged 22.7 points per game — tops among NBA power forwards during that time span. His rebounding prowess is no secret either — try 12.2 per game for his career.

Even during 18 games last season with a maligned shooting hand, he scored 18.3 points per game and nabbed 14 boards an outing.

Kahn’s replacement, new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, calls him the game’s most unique athlete.

Teammates rave about what a healthy Love means for their prospects this season.

But Saunders and coach Rick Adelman desire more out of their franchise man.

“I think he’s at the point where he’s such a skilled player that now he’s got to make another step,” Adelman said.  “He’s got to expand on his game.”

Specifically, facilitating.

Long gone are the days when Love was Minnesota’s best and only offensive option. Since the team drafted him fifth overall in 2008, it’s added point guard Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. This offseason, it ramped up its scoring ability even more, signing 3-point specialist Kevin Martin and transition finisher Corey Brewer.

Love remains the go-to guy among that mixture. But opposing defenses know that, too, and when help slides his way, it’ll be on him to delegate quickly and effectively.

“He has to be able to initiate our offense more, to be able to be a facilitator and a feeder,” Saunders said. “Because of what he is offensively, because of his threat to shoot the ball, his threat that he’s so good when he has the ball, that he can attract a lot of attention. With attention comes opportunity for other players.”

Adelman’s pass-and-move offense maximizes Love’s chances to find open companions on the occasion he doesn’t have a good look at the basket. It’s a scheme that succeeds when the ball exchanges hands often, providing the current ballhandler is quick and correct in his decision making.

Love won’t be asked to pass up opportunities that have made him one of the game’s most prolific scorers. But he is expected to be more offensively aware.

It’s been a primary concentration of his through two days of training camp in Mankato.

“We have guys that can really shoot the ball on this team, and whether it’s Pek ducking in, whether it’s a pick-and-roll with Ricky and making the extra pass, if they’re coming to double-team me, that’s just something I am going to continue to get better at,” Love said. “The first two days here have been a learning experience for all of us and myself included.”

It’s also another way to turn the page.

“I’ve never been so excited to play some basketball,” Love said at the team’s media day earlier this week, “and stop hearing about last year.”

Who could blame him? Two manifestations of the same broken hand and arthroscopic surgery to remove scar tissue from his knee virtually robbed Love of his fifth NBA season. Meanwhile, Kahn chose not to name him the club’s “designated player” and give him a maximum contract extension.

Love, 24 at the time, was angry. He sat down with a Yahoo! Sports reporter in December and spilled his guts, lashing out at Kahn and owner Glen Taylor.

The rage — the same Love exhibits during a two-handed slam or a scrappy rebound — is still audible, though more subtle. But the message, understandably, has changed.

“Last year is last year,” Love said.

This year, Love says his knee, hand and mettle are all 100 percent. A strict, busy offseason workout regimen out West has him, his teammates, Adelman and Saunders hopeful there’s plenty more 20-plus point, double-digit rebound years left in Love’s 25-year-old, 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame.

And perhaps a few more assists, too.

“I’ve always been able to pass the ball and see different things,” said Love, who has a player option after the 2014-15 season. “I’m not going to go out there and pass the ball as great as Ricky Rubio does, but I’m going to hopefully learn a few things from him and see different things out of our corner set.”

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