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Learning to Love again in Minnesota

It's hard to appreciate Kevin Love's torrid start to 2013-14 with his potential departure looming. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Kevin Love’s head stays down in the postgame media scrum these days. With his Minnesota Timberwolves off to an impressive start, you’d expect a more cheery mood from the 6-foot-10 power forward. He’s putting up video game numbers, but the genial guy we’re used to seeing has become a calculated responder. It’s hard to get.

Love doesn't open up like he used to. He refuses to be baited into questions about the past or the future. Ask about his ability to opt out of his current deal in summer 2015 and you’ll hear about how he’s focused on getting better each day. Candor has been replaced by clich├ęs, although we’re treated to a quip every now and again.

Reticence was a tough lesson for Love to learn, but it was a lesson that was necessary. The outspoken big man, voted by league executives as the player who does the most with the least even though his skills far surpass those of your typical 4, was emerging in a hospitable, Midwestern market.

Love expressed dissatisfaction last season with a front office that few, if any, in the Twin Cities supported. Yet he was seen as ungrateful, rather than unwilling to waste precious time in his career like a previous Kevin in this organization. Show a bit of unruliness that can be spun on airwaves as an egotistical attitude in any city and you’ll be torched. Do it in Minnesota and it becomes one of two common sentiments: “Nobody wants to play here” or “We’re destined to lose the big games because that’s what happens in Minnesota sports.”

Most of us have experienced the unraveling of a relationship like Love’s tenuous bond with Minnesota. Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, there are always signals that show things are going south. Tempers flare up more often. The romance begins to dwindle. The fire gets downgraded to sparks and the sparks eventually become dormant. Soon you’re left wondering what you’re even doing in this situation.

When a relationship appears to be at its end, it’s better to get out early. You don’t want to wait so long that all each party has in the end are feelings of resentment and bitterness. Nobody wants to be left wondering why it didn’t work or how you’ll get your favorite shirt back. That’s where Minnesota is with Love as we creep closer and closer to 2015.

The dynamics between Timberwolves fans and their star player have been strange. Most assume he’s leaving a year and a half from now. Why wouldn't he? Minneapolis is a great city with a lot of recreational options and local scenes -- the Austin, Texas, of the north, if you will -- but it lacks the allure of a place such as Los Angeles, especially if you’re a big-time athlete. It’s freezing here during the NBA season. When the weather is beautiful, it’s the offseason, when players scatter elsewhere to train.

Where do they like to go? Los Angeles.

There is no denying that the Lakers would have interest in Love should they have the cap space necessary to sign him in a year and a half. And there is no denying that Love, who played a year at UCLA, is enchanted by the city. Such circumstances make it seem as though a breakup is inevitable -- or at least probable -- which strains the relationship in Minnesota.

There seems to be a defeatist attitude in the area. Too many losses have piled up, whether it be on the court/field/ice or in the offseason. It’s hard to be hurt over and over again. Some feel inclined to break up with Love before he breaks up with them.

In turn, Love has become a bit reserved. Being yourself leaves you open and vulnerable, but being guarded allows you to set the tone of what gets let in and who controls your reality. Love has clearly chosen the latter, even as the Wolves gather steam.

That, of course, is the irony: While the Love situation has never seemed more dire, things have never looked better for the Wolves in the six seasons Love has been there. Instead of throwing outlet passes to Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley, they’re going to the infinitely more capable Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin. And after missing 64 games in 2012-13, Love has reminded fans and media just how good he is. His 30.77 player efficiency rating is best in the entire NBA, and the Wolves, at 6-3, are only a half-game behind Portland for the Northwest Division lead.

We’re seeing Love locked in on both ends of the floor, proving he’s a leader on the court. We’re seeing the hedging against this team’s potential success dissipate while acceptance of this team’s ability washes over the fan base. We’re seeing a desperate march toward the playoffs to convince Love this is a franchise worth saving.

This is the relationship between the basketball culture of Minneapolis and its star player until July 1, 2015. He may break up with them; he may not. Sometimes, instead of pushing the relationship away, you have to just exist in it and allow yourself to enjoy what it still offers. It will run its course.

The one between Love and Minnesota may go on for another 18 months. It may go on for another 10 years. Regardless of what happens, an incredible player is teaching its significant other that it’s fine to love each other right now and worry about the rest later.