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Despite constant trade talk, Love content in Cleveland

Third wheel or not, talented forward realizes the Cavaliers present the 'best scenario' for him in quest for championship

POSTED: Feb 19, 2016 11:43 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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The Cavs are 7-0 when Kevin Love, who has a team-high 24 double-doubles, goes for at least 15 points and 15 rebounds.

— The seconds hand swept upward -- :54, :55, :56 -- and when it went vertical, the NBA's trading period was over. General managers could pull handsets away from soggy ears. Diehard fans could back away from the Twitter machine, assuming they didn't have it intravenously connected. And players who'd been on edge, who saw and heard and read their names floated in this, that or the other rumored deal could exhale a little.

Except, of course, one guy. That seconds hand doesn't pause, so as soon as it began its downward sweep, someone somewhere started speculating about this summer and the possibility that maybe then, Kevin Love might get traded.

"They said the same thing last year," Love said about an hour after his Cleveland team toyed with the fading Chicago Bulls in the comeback game from the All-Star break for both.

"And then it will be the next trade deadline."

And then the summer of 2017, presuming no lockout, and invariably the third Thursday in February 2018 and on and on.

The fact is, you guys are stuck with me. I'm here. I'm happy to be here and I want to win.

– Cavaliers' Kevin Love

It is Love's lot in life, apparently, to be the object of NBA trade rumors until one of three things happens:

• The Cavaliers as currently configured -- LeBron James as resident superstar, Kyrie Irving as untouchable sidekick and Love as third wheel -- win an NBA championship. Wait, better make that two NBA championships because the skeptics are going to require extra convincing.

• Love supplants James as Cleveland's most formidable frontcourt player, looking more like the 20-point, 20-rebound monster he was when making All-Star and Olympic teams as the brightest light and baddest talent on the otherwise bereft Minnesota Timberwolves. Love is, after all, four years younger and smack dab in his athletic prime, even if it's slalomed around an unending list of injuries.

• Or Love gets old and retires. Even then, if Love doesn't sign the requisite papers, he might wake up one day to hear that he's lumped into some whispers of a transaction as contract ballast the way Keith Van Horn was two years after he played his final game.

Actually, there is one more way Love might slip the incessant conjecture and uninvited career-makeover specialists that have dogged him since his first bout of contract fallout in Minnesota in the 2011-12 post-lockout season. He could actually get traded and resume posting fat, crooked numbers as some team's No. 1 option rather than a contender's No. 3. That's the guy the league and its insiders came to know, that's the way many folks presume Love would be happiest. Compiling his stats, living the dream in a market more to his choosing, perhaps winning a little.

That's not a bad trinity, especially after tucking away a championship ring or two (if he and the Cavs are so fortunate). But it isn't Love's trinity.

"All things considered," Love said, "I've always said if I could win, be happy and get paid, that was kind of it. So ..."

So the winning remains a work in process, both for the Cavaliers in their pursuit of a title and for Love, who missed the final three rounds of the playoffs last year after his shoulder injury against Boston. No one doubts he is getting paid, given the five-year, $110 million contract he signed last summer. But be happy? That's not just a matter of depressed individual statistics, it's the occasional bad body language and off-hand remark, and the constant questions about his role and the fit that leave people unconvinced.

After starting fast in his post-break (and post-shoulder tweak) return, Love finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes against Chicago. It was his 24th double-double, most on the Cavs; they are 7-0 when he gets at least 15 of both. Mostly, though, he was asked afterward about Anderson Varejao no longer being a Cavalier while, lo and behold, Love still was.

"I mean, the same thing [trade rumors] was said last year," Love shrugged. Then his eyes brightened as he went sardonic for the Cleveland media. "The fact is, you guys are stuck with me. I'm here. I'm happy to be here and I want to win."

Love went on to say he "never believed" the speculation he'd heard -- that he perhaps was bound for Boston in a multi-team deal that would deliver New Orleans' Ryan Anderson in a rent-a-player cameo to Cleveland. He feels more confident in the relationship he has this year, and the communication, with Cavs GM David Griffin.

Griffin acknowledged that Love's name has come up frequently when he's talking with other teams' execs. In a way that James' -- what, are you nuts? -- or Irving's does not. The point guard, after all, is homegrown, Cleveland's No. 1 in 2011, and elite enough at his position to be presumed indispensable if not untouchable.

Love gets it that, in a league with more franchises than cornerstone quality stars, some executives look at him now as a lead vocalist singing backup. He and they could do so much more, in their eyes. The Celtics are a great example of a roster built largely as a supporting cast, needing a star dropped down into its middle. Ditto for other teams and GMs who at least consider him a no-brainer No. 2.

All things considered, I've always said if I could win, be happy and get paid, that was kind of it.

– Kevin Love

"I agree with that," said Love, who knows it could be worse, being unwanted or ignored. "But I think this is the best scenario for me."

It perplexes Love that his big commitment to Cleveland, and it to him, didn't snuff the scuttlebutt. "I mean, I signed here for five years," he said. But he and agent Jeff Schwartz didn't get or seek a no-trade clause in the massive deal. So critics wonder, which loomed largest when he put pen to paper: the years, the dollars or the team?

He is content to answer "the opportunity," folding it all together with a rare chance to play alongside James as part of not just a pursuit but a quest.

Then again, it's Love buying into James' and Cleveland's, not them particularly into his. So the seconds hand sweeps, some calendar pages flutter and Love hears, all over again, how he's headed here, there, everywhere.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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