Kevin Love has been playing his best basketball as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to begin this season. After finishing with 25 points and 11 rebounds Sunday afternoon en route to a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, Love is now showing why the Cavaliers were willing to trade their top prospect for the 3x All-Star Forward. Ever since the Cavaliers have finally brought that ever elusive NBA championship trophy to the Land, the pressure is off and the players can have some fun with less weight on their back.
Drafted out of UCLA back in 2008, K-Love became an immediate impact player for a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves team. After spending his first 2 seasons primarily coming off the bench, Minnesota traded away Al Jefferson and made Love the go-to guy. He then had a breakout year, averaging 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds while shooting 41.7% from beyond the arc, including a historical 31 point-31 rebound game. He was a fantasy owner’s dream. Love would continue to put up stellar numbers for 3 more years and established himself as one of the league’s top big men, capturing All-NBA Second Team honours twice in that time span. However, despite Love’s high productivity, the Timberwolves failed to make the playoffs and many analysts questioned his future with Minnesota.
LeBron James became the main topic of discussion during the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season. After deciding to take his talents back home to Ohio, the Cavaliers then elected to trade away #1 overall picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins in a 3-team deal for Kevin Love. While the Cavaliers wanted to win immediately by adding a veteran all-star big man, the Timberwolves were looking to start fresh with a young core. Kevin Love was also entering the final year of his contract and Minnesota did not want to risk losing him for nothing. He was the perfect complement to LeBron James: a big man who can rebound, knock down the long range jumpers, and create his offence in the post. A new “Big 3” had been formed in Cleveland with Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving. On paper, they appeared as favourites to capture the Title heading into the 2014-2015 campaign. Right off the bat, the struggles for Love were noticeable. Everyone knew he would not get the same amount of touches and he struggled being a 3rd option in the Cavaliers’ system. Love averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, his lowest since his first 2 years in the league. He simply did not look comfortable and it was as if his shots were forced. To make matters worse, rumours surfaced of Love’s locker room conflicts with fellow teammates. At the conclusion of the season, Love’s first taste of playoff action was cut short when his left shoulder was dislocated after getting tangled with Celtics’ big man Kelly Olynyk. The Cavaliers went on to lose in the NBA Finals, with both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving sidelined with injuries. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins (the main asset Cleveland had traded to acquire Love) went on to win Rookie of the Year and showed that he has the potential to be a future superstar in the NBA.
The Cavaliers stilled showed faith in Kevin Love when they signed him to a 5 year, $110 million deal. However, he still showed struggles in the Cavaliers system and became a topic of trade rumours throughout the season (including Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and Clippers’ Blake Griffin). The Cavaliers would return to the NBA Finals but Love suffered a concussion in Game 2, forcing him to miss Game 3 (which the Cavaliers would win with Richard Jefferson in the starting line-up). Upon returning in Game 4, Love managed to score only 20 points combined for the next 3 games. His best game of the series then came on the most important one: Game 7. After realizing that Kyrie and LeBron would get most of the touches, Love did what he did best and crashed the boards to finish defensive assignments and get those extra offensive possessions. Finishing the game with 9 points and 14 rebounds, Love helped the Cavaliers officially capture the 2016 NBA Championship.
In a championship or bust situation, life couldn’t get sweeter for Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Head Coach Tyronn Lue and LeBron James endorsed Kevin Love for his stellar effort and stated that he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Since then, Kevin Love has played the game of basketball a lot more loosely. He has also gotten noticeably stronger, making him a nightmare match-up for smaller wing players and slower big men. “So many guys close out to me so hard, but having my size I’m able to get the ball off quick if I just catch and shoot,” Love said. “I think I saw that and I’ve been able to do that. That’s only going to open up more for everybody. Feels good right now.” 15 games into the season, Love is averaging 22.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, and shooting a career high 42.3% from beyond the arc. This included a 40 point performance on November 23rd when Love scored 34 first quarter points, the second most in NBA history. He has also recorded 9 double-doubles in the last 10 games. His 3 point shot is looking good, he appears to be having lots of fun, and most importantly he looks a lot more comfortable and confident playing alongside the 2 superstars. He should also make the all-star team this season, which would be his first as a member of the Cavaliers. This was the dynamic trio that Cleveland fans envisioned when Love was acquired. Time will tell if this positive trend can continue into the playoffs, with REPEAT being the Cavaliers’ only goal.
Barring a significant injury, the Cavaliers should cruise to their 3rd straight Finals Appearance come Spring. With a 13-2 record, they sit comfortably at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 3.5 game cushion. While the Golden State Warriors are expected to come out of the West again, fans are already anticipating a 3rd Finals match-up between these 2 powerhouses. If the Cavaliers are to take down the Warriors who are looking quite unstoppable with Kevin Durant, Kevin Love must continue this production. His play has made Cleveland an even better squad than last year . Catch Kevin Love and the Cavaliers in action tomorrow night when they visit Wisconsin to take on the Milwaukee Bucks, live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.