By Joe Gabriele
Over the past four years, there isn’t a Cleveland Cavalier who’s spent more time under the microscope than Kevin Love.
Even after averaging a double-double over that span, even after earning two All-Star nods or after turning in the biggest defensive stop in Cavs franchise history, Love had been scrutinized as much as he has been lionized.
Through it all, Love simply continued to pile up production and victories – all the while as a model teammate and citizen of the NBA. And on Tuesday afternoon, the Cavaliers made sure that he’ll continue doing that for the foreseeable future wearing the Wine & Gold, inking the five-time All-Star to a multi-year contract extension.
Love, looking like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, addressed the media later in the afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts. But he got an excellent surprise earlier in the day when the Cavs brass had him sign the deal in front of Cavaliers employees and construction workers working on The Q Transformation Project in downtown Cleveland.
”I actually didn’t know what I was walking into this morning, which was super-special — seeing the construction, put on a hard hat, and it felt good to be there with some real blue-collar workers,” smiled Love. “So that was special to be a part of.”
Love arrived in the summer of 2014 as a symbol of Cleveland’s ‘win-now’ mentality when the Wine & Gold shipped the No. 1 pick in that June’s Draft – Andrew Wiggins – to Minnesota in order to get him. He had already piled up prolific numbers in his six seasons with the Timberwolves, but he’d never tasted postseason success until he joined the Cavaliers.
Playing along the same frontline as James, his numbers dropped from his Minnesota days – but not much. He still continued to produce, averaging a double-double – 17.1 points and 10.0 boards per in 271 regular season starts with Cleveland. Since becoming a Cavalier in 2014, the former UCLA standout has led the team in total boards, double-doubles and three-pointers made.
Over that stretch, Love’s already catapulted himself into the franchise’s record books – ranking fourth in three-pointers, 10th in defensive boards and 12th in total rebounds.
Last year, an injury to Tristan Thompson forced Love to man the center position for 63 regular season and Playoff games. Regardless of position, he continued to produce – earning his fifth career All-Star nod (despite being unable to play; fracturing his left hand seven games before the Break), and finishing the campaign with averages of 17.6 points and a team-best 9.3 boards.
This past year, Love – the epitome of what a stretch-4 is designed for – was just one of four players to sink over 11 three-pointers while averaging at least 9.0 boards per contest. He finished the year with 31 double-doubles and 17 games of at least 20 points and 10 boards.
Love hadn’t experienced the postseason in his first half-dozen years in Minnesota, but the pressure didn’t show when he finally made it. In 63 career postseason starts with Cleveland, the Banana Republic model has averaged 15.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per – notching 27 double-doubles, shooting 40 percent from deep and 85 percent from the stripe in the process.
On an historic level, Love is one of only eight players to tally 11,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 1,000 three-pointers and the only player in league history to post a career average of at least 10.0 rebounds while knocking down at least 1,000 three-pointers. Since being tabbed with the fifth overall pick of the 2008 Draft, he’s never averaged less than 9.0 boards in any of his 10 seasons and only Dwight Howard has posted more double-doubles over that span.
But dating back to his Bruin days in Westwood, Love has always posted excellent numbers. This year will be a new experience for him. His role is now that of a veteran leader – one of the few remaining pieces from the Cavaliers’ 2016 NBA Championship squad and its lone All-Star. He’ll have to be more vocal and assertive.
The pundits have had Kevin Love on the trading block seemingly from the moment he arrived in Cleveland. When trade rumors swirled, his name was always in the breeze. And when LeBron James departed as a free agent to Los Angeles, the so-called experts had him on the move once again.
But Koby Altman and the Cavaliers brass had no intention of dealing Love – preferring to build around him instead of the pieces he might fetch in a trade.
“(I made) a phone call that no one knew about right after LeBron decided to leave,” explained Altman. “I called Kevin first and I said, ‘Kev, I’m not trading you; I want you to be here and I want you to be a part of this thing’ — and he was all in.
“So he’s never wavered in his commitment – not once in the four years since we traded for him and not once this summer. And to me that’s really, really meaningful. He wants to be a part of this team and part of this franchise and to be the leader. I think he’s earned that.”
It’s already been an eventful offseason – and the signing of Love has been the height of several highlights.
And although the Cavaliers won’t bring the same group back to Training Camp as the one which just completed its fourth-straight Finals run, that doesn’t mean that the Wine & Gold aren’t building something special for next year and beyond.
“We got a little bit spoiled with four years in a row of the Finals, but now we get to build this thing,” beamed Love on Tuesday afternoon. “So we’re definitely excited about who we have moving forward. We know that we’re going to add some new pieces, but we feel like things are going ahead in the right direction, and we’re going to have a team that’s going to play extremely hard, overachieve hopefully, and we’ll just go out there and throw the ball out and see what happens.
”But it’s a very exciting day.”