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Perfect mix of factors lead Love to stay where his heart is

Faced with a freedom of sorts in free agency, Kevin Love chose to stay right where he was with the Cavaliers

POSTED: Oct 5, 2015 6:02 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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The early bumps in the road for Kevin Love and his fellow Cavs superstars are a thing of the past now.

— One medicine ball already was gone, the heavy, leather training apparatus stuck on a ledge 15 or 20 feet above the practice floor at the Cleveland Clinic Courts. Someone thought it might be a good idea for Kevin Love to heave a second medicine ball up where he had hoisted the first as a way to dislodge it.

Of course that could mean two of them perched aloft rather than none. So after several long minutes in the otherwise empty gym, here came a brave soul from building maintenance with a really tall ladder.

It was an appropriate enough backdrop to Love's conversation about 90 minutes after the Cavaliers' last workout of the week.

Because he truly seems to be home.

Irving, Love Ready For 2015-16

LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving talk with Kristen Ledlow about getting healthy in the offseason.

"There is something to be said about that feeling on July 1 or whenever it is that you actually become a free agent," Love said Friday. He had had some fun earlier in the week, dropping a little "Told ya so, you didn't believe me" on media folks who speculated on his future regardless of what he told them. Now he was peeling back the curtain a little more.

"You think like, 'Oh, I can go wherever I want to.' But there was never a sense of 'I should go here. I should go there.' At 12:01 [a.m.], I got the call from Griff and it was all good. 'Welcome back.' Never really got into [looking at other teams]. It was always just here."

Cleveland general manager David Griffin got the pleasure of committing $110 million of team owner Dan Gilbert's money to Love over the next five seasons because, contrary to so much guessing, Love was fine with, even eager to re-up for max dollars, max length. A lot of factors presumed to be in play -- balmier climate, brighter lights, loftier status in his team's pecking order, strained relations with LeBron James or coach David Blatt over some frustrating moments last season, a dice roll on the tsunami of cash forecast to hit the NBA next summer -- never made it into Love's equation.

Nope, he and agent Jeff Schwartz kept their calculations simple. It was:

Winning + Money + Happiness = Cleveland.

"We always came back to the same place," said Love, still rehabbing the left shoulder that got yanked by Boston's Kelly Olynyk -- and with it, the rest of Love's postseason -- in the first round last spring. "It was, in no particular order, happiness, winning and getting paid. We had talked and said, 'You get two of the three, you're in a pretty good spot. All three? It almost makes it a no-brainer.' "

Love's Injury

Kevin Love leaves the game after injuring his shoulder while battling for the rebound with Kelly Olynyk.

The freedom could have been intoxicating, the sirens' song seductive to angle toward Los Angeles, where he has roots, or New York or Boston. Going short, for a free look again in 2016, might have had allure as well.

"Right," Love said. " 'Play anywhere. Live anywhere. Great money.' "

But the 6-foot-10 power forward had tasted winning for the first time in his seven NBA seasons after six seasons of individual success as the Minnesota Timberwolves' No. 1 guy. As for the contract, Love had been hurt enough in his early-and-middle twenties that gambling for a future payday didn't hold much appeal when the longer-term security foolishly denied to him in Minnesota was at hand.

The Cavaliers are right back where they were a year ago, only better, more comfortable with each other and no doubt healthier than the M*A*S*H unit that still went six games deep into The Finals.

Add them up and Love's decision didn't need to be televised.

"We had a locker room that really got along last year," Love said. "Guys who were fun to be around. It's also easy to live here. All of those things considered, when I considered winning, happiness, money, this is the place I can get all that right now. It's right there."

A question put to him 12 months ago -- why was James' dream necessarily his dream? -- no longer seemed pressing.

"No matter where -- had it been in Miami or wherever he [James] had been playing -- you try to find the best opportunity to win," Love said. "I thought with Kyrie [Irving] and LeBron and everybody -- you saw it last year, we had guys down and out and still went to Game 6 of The Finals -- and with how the trade went down, this happened to be the place where it shook out. I thought it was a great opportunity for me, career-wise, going for a championship every year."

It was, in no particular order, happiness, winning and getting paid. We had talked and said, 'You get two of the three, you're in a pretty good spot. All three? It almost makes it a no-brainer.'

– Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love

In Love's first six seasons, his Minnesota team was 160 games below .500. It gnawed at him, same as being the All-Star and Olympian who'd never reached the playoffs. So in his first tumultuous taste of Cleveland, he feels what it's like to go 24 games over .500 and, for at least four games, play in springtime.

Hanging around in a suit and a sling, unable to play (or help) was a vexing way to end his whirlwind 2014-15. Had the Cavaliers pulled off the improbable against Golden State with both Love and Irving hurt, Love's emotions would have been spun higher, a ring coming his way without the experiences or full achievement.

Now, because Cleveland fell short, Love has a chance to be a factor in another playoff run.

"It was a huge disappointment. That I was emotional when it happened is not a secret," Love said with a laugh. "But time heals all. It was something I got over. I knew I could work on my body, treat it like an opportunity. Know that I'm still young.

Why Love Re-Signed With Cavs

Chris Haynes joins GameTime to talk about Kevin Love's decision to re-sign with the Cavs and how the team will mesh together.

"From a human being aspect, from being with these guys all year, of course you want them to win. But there's a Catch 22 aspect to it as well -- you want to be a part of it. It's like, 'Damn. I want to be a part of it so bad.' But the way those guys stepped up -- Delly [Matthew Dellavedova], Tristan [Thompson], Shump [Iman Shumpert] -- different guys had huge games. So of course you want them to win. You're around them every day, you're still laughing, having a great time. But unless you're between those lines ... it does change things. It is tough having to sit there and watch."

The regular season was tough enough. Love often was relegated to basic stretch-4 duty, waiting and grating, as James and Irving ran and got serviced by the offense. That warning Miami's Chris Bosh had for Love about being the third wheel proved more real than many expected.

Feelings got stepped on. Tempers flared. Especially as Cleveland, bumping along the learning curve everyone acknowledged they'd need, was 19-20 at midseason. Then Griffin brought in Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, James got right physically and mentally by stepping away, the pieces began to fit and 34-9 happened.

Still, Love's numbers were lower over that stretch than they were earlier. His usage rate for the season was 21.7 percent, compared to 26.2 the five previous seasons. His field goal attempts were down by 26 percent; James went up compared to his Heat years, while Irving's slipped a mere 5 percent.

"Yeah, I think Chris had a point," Love said. "Fitting into a certain spot and knowing how to play off these guys takes a little time. We finally hit our stride the last three months when we were [34-9] or something. We started figuring it out from a comfort level and that first round, I thought we looked great."

LeBron Finds Love

LeBron James tosses the half-court lob to Kevin Love for the reverse slam.

Given Love's and Irving's injuries, there was no realistic way James or any of the other Cavs could have expected a better June outcome. Everyone exhaled and calmed down. Love and James had their renowned poolside summit in southern California in the days immediately preceding free agency and, once they both re-signed, even served as a real estate advisor, tagging along when Love went house-hunting in the summer.

"I expect big things from him this year with a year up under his belt," James said said. "He will do some of the things he did prior to last year. ... Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to see how important you are."

A more involved Love can ease some of James' burden in his 13th NBA season, which should flow from the familiarity the Cavs have now.

"I remind everyone, at the latter part of the year, not only was Kevin playing great but he was comfortable in his role," coach David Blatt said. "Kevin has so much to offer us and so much to give us. I'm sure we're going to see that throughout the year."

Said Love, who will try to get some preseason minutes in advance of opening night: "There were a lot of games last year where, just spacing the floor and dragging a lot of four and five men out, I really opened up the lane for those guys. There's a time and a place when your number's called but I think there's opportunity this year where I'll be in the painted area and work that."

We had a locker room that really got along last year. ... It's also easy to live here. All of those things considered, when I considered winning, happiness, money, this is the place I can get all that right now.

– Kevin Love

As for playing off of, and getting along with James, Love's respect is greater now than it was as a foe or as Team USA mates.

"Incredible leader," Love said. "He's infectious to be around, on and off the floor. He wants so bad to win. And he's incredibly smart, but also he has a lot of fun.

"Kyrie's the same way -- he's hilarious. We have a team, everybody's different -- it reminds me in some way how the [MLB Boston] Red Sox were in 2004 with their 'idiots.' We have so many characters on this team. LeBron is different than Kyrie, I'm different from both of them. We all come from different backgrounds, everybody's super-funny, has a different personality.

"There's something to be said for getting along and picking each other up out there. You want to work with each other and for each other. It just works. If somebody gets on you, you're not going to jaw back. It's like, 'I know why he's doing this.' It's good."

More than that for Love, it's home.

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

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