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T/Wolves GM talks about Love

MINNEAPOLIS — Milt Newton said the Timberwolves intend to keep Kevin Love. But if that becomes untenable, the team’s general manager said Thursday, “You best believe that we will be a better team based on what happens.”

Newton spoke to reporters after a pre-draft workout at Target Center, where the team looked at a handful of potential picks in the June 26 NBA Draft, including former Gophers swingman Austin Hollins.

But Love was the hot topic, as he has been since the New York Daily News reported May 17 that the three-time all-star told the Timberwolves he will exercise an opt-out clause and pursue free agency at the end of next season.

Newton said the team’s relationship with Love is unchanged but that the Wolves will “do what’s best for the organization” regarding the 6-foot-10, 243-pound forward. Love led the team in scoring (26.1 points a game) and rebounding (12.5) last season.

“He is a hell of a player, hell of a talent,” Newton said. “And our best, our first inclination, is to keep him on board. But if it happens if that’s not the case, at the end of the day, you best believe that we will be a better team based on what happens.”

Newton said he hasn’t spoken to Love since soon after the team capped a 40-42 season with a 136-130 loss to the Utah Jazz on April 16 but thought that “maybe” there was more recent contact between Love and Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.

Saunders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Despite fielding a competitive starting lineup around Love with point guard Ricky Rubio, off guard Kevin Martin, small forward Corey Brewer and center Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves missed the postseason for the 10th straight season — the longest active skid in the NBA.

Then-GM David Kahn signed Love to a four-year contract extension in 2012, and afterward Love said he was interested in signing for the maximum five years. Under terms of the deal, Love can opt out of the deal after three years — which would be next offseason.

Saunders is trying to find a replacement for head coach Rick Adelman, who stepped down five weeks ago, early enough, he hoped, for the team to find a replacement who could convince Love to stay in Minnesota.

Rumors of Love’s desire to leave Minnesota have been swirling since February, when veteran NBA reporter Peter Vecsey Tweeted that Love was “forcing a premature exit” — which Saunders quickly denied.

But with the approaching draft — a fertile time for trades — the rumors have been stoked.

“Our relationship is the same it has been during the season,” Newton said. “It’s just so interesting that during the draft all of these rumors and everything comes up. It’s just part of the business. We just deal with it accordingly.”

The Wolves own the 13th pick in the first round and three second-round picks (40th, 44th and 53rd). Joining Hollins for Thursday’s workout were Louisville’s Chane Behanan, Oregon’s Mike Moser, Massachusetts’ Chaz Williams, Mercer’s Langston Hall and Bosnian professional Adin Vrabac.

Newton said Minnesota is looking to add more players who can help the team both offensively and defensively.

“There are quite a few players like that in this draft, so we have our work cut out seeing who we want to include in our mix,” he said. “That’s the type of players we’re looking for.”

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