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Published September 30, 2010, 08:01 AM

Love wants leadership role on Timberwolves

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Kevin Love simmered for most of last season, frustrated with his role as a sixth man on one of the worst teams in the NBA.

By: JON KRAWCZYNSKI, Associated Press

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Kevin Love simmered for most of last season, frustrated with his role as a sixth man on one of the worst teams in the NBA.

The minutes and the starts weren't coming as fast as he wanted them to, which led to some pouting and complaining as the Minnesota Timberwolves limped to a 15-67 finish.

One would think that making Team USA for a trip to Turkey to compete in the world championships would only underscore his position, give him more ammunition to show the Wolves coaches that they were wrong about him.

In the end, it appears that winning the gold medal — and playing alongside stars like Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom — changed his entire outlook and showed him just what it takes to be successful at basketball's highest level.

"Just having that positive energy," Love said. "Last year, I stepped away from that. I was, I guess the word is (whining) that I wasn't starting and getting less minutes.

"With this year there's really no excuse. It's different than the last couple years because now we really have a young team and we really need to start building from here. Because if we can't do that, there's really no purpose."

Love is entering his third year with the Timberwolves, which makes him the second-longest tenured Minnesota player. He averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds in just under 29 minutes last season after missing the first two months with a hand injury. But he only started 22 of the 60 games he played.

Coach Kurt Rambis liked his production off the bench to bolster the second unit, and he also wanted to teach the youngster lessons about responsibility and professionalism.

It took a trip across the world for him to see where Rambis was coming from.

Love was a valuable reserve on Team USA, providing rebounding and hustle off the bench.

"It was a great experience for him," said Timberwolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone, who was also on the Team USA staff. "He learned that it's not what's on the back of your jersey, it's what's on the front. He learned to come off the bench. He learned to play his role and he learned to accept it."

The Timberwolves are already reaping the benefits.

"He's been great," Rambis said. "His just overall professionalism has gone up 10 notches. He's playing hard all the time. He's doing the right things, leading by example."

Love turned 22 just a few weeks ago, and had never been surrounded by veteran leaders until this summer with the national team.

"I think there's certain things when you're on your own that you can get away with," Wolves assistant J.B. Bickerstaff said. "But when your amongst the best, everybody holds themselves to a different standard, a higher standard. You see those things and you see right from wrong every day and that makes a difference on you. I think that's had a big impact on Kevin."

If Love can emerge as a leader on the court and in the locker room, the Timberwolves would welcome it. Minnesota has the youngest roster in the league, one where 29-year-old point guard Luke Ridnour is asked what it was like to play with Bill Russell.

If any team can have a 22-year-old take hold of the reins, it's the Timberwolves.

"It's an awesome responsibility to be a leader. Not only do you have to lead by voice, but you have to lead by example and you've got to always be one of those guys that is up and positive and doing and saying the right things all the time," Rambis said. "Those are the kind of people that teammates follow. ... He is headed in that direction. That experience with the USA team really helped him. That professionalism goes a long way not only for the team, but the individual."

Love would appear to have the inside track on starting at power forward this season, though newly added Michael Beasley is in the mix.

It's clear that Love still very much wants to be a starter, but he plans on being a little more flexible this time around.

"I'd probably grit my teeth," Love said of coming off the bench. "But I need to know what's best for the team. If I'm going to preach being a leader, I need to do what's best for us to win."

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