Love Zeroes In On Cleveland

Kevin Love Finally Makes His Debut at the Cleveland Clinic Courts
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

No player – not even the NBA legend whose retired uniform number will force Kevin Love to abandon No. 42 – has ever been dealt to the Cavaliers with more impressive numbers than the Wine and Gold’s new power forward.

In his already-brilliant six years in the league, Love has done just about everything a star reaching his prime can do – other than reach the postseason. But odds are good that he’ll complete his collection in Cleveland – and that’s probably the reason the 25-year-old All-Star couldn’t get the smile off his face on Tuesday afternoon in Independence.

Love’s numbers came up early in his introductory press conference. Not so much his gaudy statistics, but more how difficult it was to actually find a uniform digit he could call his own.

“All respect to Nate Thurmond, I really appreciate him and pay my homage to him for having the conversation of allowing me to wear the No. 42,” explained Love. “But I thought this was a chance for me to one, start fresh, and two, pick a new number that would suit me. Then I looked at ‘11’ which is my Olympic number. Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) had that number. So the third one I was going to pick was No. 7 because my mom had that as my lucky number growing up. And No. 7 was taken by Bingo (Smith).”

”So I went all the way back to my grass roots and my first number I ever played with. I remember showing up to a game in Beaverton, Oregon with a brand new team in the inner city that I was supposed to play with. I was the last guy to the gym for the tournament, and there was the ‘0’ for me. That's the story behind it.”

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While most Cavalier fans have waited nearly a month for the three-way deal that eventually landed Love, Cavs GM David Griffin explained that the 6-10, 243-pound forward had been on Cleveland’s radar for a lot longer than that.

“From a basketball perspective we look at this as a year-and-a-half of trade conversations trying to acquire this man,” said Griffin. “We've built a lot of momentum this offeason, starting with the Lottery that was then followed by Kyrie Irving making the decision to stay with the franchise on a full-time basis and permanent basis. I really believe that Kyrie's commitment to this franchise and his belief in our direction really started to create more of the momentum that we built on.”

It’s been a whirlwind for Griffin and the Cavs brass since the regular season wrapped up less than four months ago. The Lottery win, Kyrie’s commitment and, of course, the return of LeBron James put the Cavaliers in a position to compete for the NBA Championship. The acquisition of arguably the game’s finest 4 has elevated them to favorites.

Love had worked with Kyrie in the past – most notably as “Wes” alongside Irving’s “Uncle Drew” in the infamous Pepsi Max commercials. LeBron played earned a Gold medal with him in the 2012 London Olympics. And this summer, when the King decided to return home, he (quickly) did his best to try and create a Love triangle in Cleveland.

“LeBron had signed to come back with the Cleveland Cavaliers,” recalled Love. “And just a few hours (after) he called me, I said: You know what? I'm in.”

Cavalier fans have witnessed Love from afar – (unless you’re talking about the six straight double-doubles and 33-point effort he posted against Cleveland in their seven most recent meetings) – and have taken an even closer look at his gaudy stats of late. His numbers are almost dizzying.

Last year, he posted a season that hasn’t been equaled by a big man in almost three decades – in the rarified air of names like Moses Malone, Kareem, Shaq and Bob McAdoo. And no player in the history of the Association has ever posted a season with at least 2,000 points, 900 boards and 100 made threes.

In 2013-14, he led the league in double-doubles (65), defensive rebounding (9.6) and amount of games (24) in which he registered 20 points, 10 boards and five assists

But Love didn’t just hit his stride last year. Three years ago, he recorded 53 straight double-doubles and, over the course of his half-dozen years in the Twin Cities, the Santa Monica native has averaged 19.2 points, 12.2 boards and 2.5 assists per contest.

If this frenetic Cavaliers summer – watching the Wine and Gold transformed from playoff spectators to title contenders – has been almost unbelievable to you, you’re not alone.

When asked if he could have imagined last summer that one year later he’d be playing in Cleveland alongside LeBron James, Love responded, “I wouldn't have believed it. I didn't believe it 60 days ago, 90 days ago. It's pretty surreal, but I know that there are a lot of expectations, and we also know that LeBron is the focal point. But we have a lot of good players, 1-through-15, that are going to make a huge impact for this team.”

With Training Camp exactly one month away, the only mountain that Love has yet to climb as a pro lies at the end of April – when the NBA’s tournament tips off. But he’s overcome every other challenge the league has handed him.

”I think it’ll be somewhat of an adjustment playing in the Playoffs, but LeBron and I have had conversations that I've needed to just mentally prepare myself for playing into June – and that's something that really struck me as something that I wanted to do,” concluded the three-time All-Star. “I mentioned the first conversation that we had on the phone and I told him that I was in. Everything in my entire life in the past six years has led me up to this point, and I'm excited and ready and optimistic for the opportunity.”