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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In six seasons in Minnesota, Kevin Love witnessed how warmly the fans greeted former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett each time he came back to town.
On the eve of Love's first game back at Target Center since he was traded to Cleveland last summer, the second-best player in franchise history isn't expecting the same kind of reception.
"Truthfully? Boooo," Love said Friday when asked by Cleveland reporters about what kind of environment he expected on Saturday night in Minnesota. "Probably more of that than a mix of cheers."
Minnesota owner Glen Taylor said he, for one, will welcome Love back with open arms.
"I'd be pleased to give him a hug and wish him the best and hope it goes well and hope he stays healthy," Taylor told The Associated Press. "He worked hard and he did well for us and I'm appreciative of that."
Love came to Minnesota in a draft-night trade in 2008, and eventually supplanted Garnett as the face of the franchise. With a strong work ethic, he turned himself into a three-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist. He interacted with fans who had jumped off the bandwagon when Garnett was traded. He also started a successful winter coat drive that provided warm outerwear for thousands of disadvantaged in the Twin Cities.
But unlike Garnett, who took the Timberwolves to the playoffs eight times and was named MVP in 2004 while leading them to the Western Conference finals, Love never made it to the postseason.
Management failed time and again to surround Love with enough talent to compete in the powerful West. Blunders were committed in the draft (Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry in 2009, Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins in 2010), in trades and free agency (Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, J.J. Barea) and with coaches (Randy Wittman, Kurt Rambis) and general managers (David Kahn).
All of those failures, coupled with injuries to Ricky Rubio and Love, contributed to 323 losses in Love's six seasons with the Wolves.
"I think it could've gone better with what we had if we had been a little bit luckier (with injuries)," Taylor said. "There's a lot of things. Maybe if we drafted better and did some things, but we did what we did. It isn't Kevin's fault. Maybe we shouldn't have made some decisions we made. I don't know what to say about that. I wish we would've done better."
As much credit as Love deserves for transforming himself from a doughy UCLA freshman to a sculpted offensive force in the NBA, he carries some responsibility for the Wolves' failures as well.
The relationship soured in 2012, when Kahn refused to give Love a five-year maximum contract extension. Love signed a four-year deal with an opt-out after three seasons and didn't hide his disappointment.
He carried the grudge for the next 2½ seasons, turning from a funny, engaging public personality into a sullen figure on the court and in the locker room. He played in only 18 games because of a twice-broken hand in 2012-13, alienated teammates behind the scenes by withdrawing from the group and struggled mightily on the defensive end.
Love requested a trade at the end of last season and a tour of Boston early in the summer didn't sit well with fans back in Minnesota.
"Minnesota people are pretty loyal. You turn on Minnesota, they don't forgive you," president and coach Flip Saunders said in December. "So I think people probably appreciated him while he was here. But you leave under the terms that he did, just the way Minnesota people are, they're not pretty forgiving along those lines."
The Cavaliers sent No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to Minnesota in a three-team deal that also netted the Wolves Thaddeus Young to get Love. The Wolves again were plagued by injuries during an 8-37 start to the season, but Wiggins' development has them hopeful they have found a dynamic, two-way player to team with Rubio.
"We needed a player that we get to the end of the game and we give him the ball and the other team says, 'Holy cow, he's going to be hard to stop because we don't know what he's going to do,'" Taylor said. "We just haven't had that guy. Kevin Love ... he couldn't do that by himself and the other team could guard it pretty well at the end of the game because they knew what he was going to do."
Love has gone through expected adjustments in his first year on a team with championship aspirations. He has become the clear No. 3 option behind James and Kyrie Irving, and his numbers have taken a sizeable dip. He didn't make the All-Star team in the Eastern Conference and the Cavaliers have only recently started to mesh.
Love is 6 for 26 in his last two games, but the Cavaliers had won eight straight heading into the game Friday night against Sacramento.
Maybe shooting at the baskets he filled up for six seasons will get him going. But he's bracing for an unexpectedly foreign feeling in his old home.
"I'm sure once I get there, it will be a little different feeling for me," Love said. "Obviously playing on the visitor's side, going into the visitor's locker room, going to the different bench. But I haven't really given it too much thought, and luckily we're on a winning streak right now, so that's really what's first and foremost.
"But, yeah, once the game is over (Friday night) and we get there, it will be a little different, not staying at my apartment in Minneapolis, we'll be staying at a different hotel."
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