I remember how giddy I was when, two summers ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed their Big Three by swinging a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love. While it was unfortunate the deal had to involve parting ways with sure-to-be superstar Andrew Wiggins, in the long run it didn’t matter. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving now had their stretch forward, someone who could hurt you from all sides of the court, and you couldn’t help but wonder just how dominant Cleveland’s offense was going to be.
These thoughts seemed to be dashed in a bit of a hurry once the 2014-15 season kicked off, though. Love would have his moments, sure, but it was quite obvious from the get-go how out of place he felt. His stats declined, he didn’t seem to do much defensively and, offensively, a majority of his plays resulted in him just shifting to a corner hoping for a three-point shot to come his way.
We all know what happened next. Speculation of Love wanting out of Cleveland already, subtle jabs from James via Twitter and a postseason injury which ended his season just as it appeared he was finally finding a place on the team. It was safe to say this wasn’t how everyone pictured things going when word broke Love was a Cavalier.
Flash forward to this year, after Love, despite being rumored to be heading for any team but Cleveland, re-signed with the Cavs for a max deal after a poolside meeting with James. Reportedly, said meeting involved Love simply telling the four-time MVP, “I can do more.” He knew he could be more than just a three-point shooter, and it seemed James knew this, too.
If the first two games of this season are any indication, Love doesn’t seem to have any trouble proving this. Though it’s early, it’s become quite clear Love has returned to the Cavs a completely different player.
It seemed like it took forever for Love to genuinely look engaged on the court last year. He’d have his nights inflating his stat sheet, but his body language continued to imply he was having a lot of trouble adjusting to his new surroundings, as well as to not being the primary focus of the offense.
Through two games this season, the sketchy body language and visible frustration are a thing of the past. Love scored 18 points, including two clutch three pointers late in Tuesday’s season opening loss to the Chicago Bulls, then followed it up with 17 in last night’s outright dismantling of the Memphis Grizzlies. By halftime, Love had already pulled in a double-double.
While the stats alone are worth noting, what was more important was how Love has looked on the court. Gone is the visible awkwardness, the more than apparent frustration. Replacing it is a player who’s looked fully engaged, moving with a purpose and playing as if a new fire had been lit from under him.
Love’s intensity from the past two nights has been impossible to ignore, especially when juxtaposed with how he looked last season. For the first time in a while, Love sincerely looks like he wants to be in Cleveland, like he wants to be a part of something big and wants to be a major contributor.
Words can’t describe how huge this is for the Cavs. Obviously the team was going to go out of its way to re-sign Love in the offseason. At the same time, there had to be concerns about whether or not the Kevin Love from Minnesota, the one who averaged 26.1 PPG in his final season with the T’Wolves, was just not going to be there for Cleveland.
So far, it seems as though Love has come back to the Cavs with a vengeance. James has gone above and beyond praising Love this offseason, claiming he’ll be the focal point of the offense for Cleveland. Based on the first two games of the year, Love seems more than willing to accept said task.
It’s still very early, so the urge to jump to conclusions is both obvious and in need of being tempered. However, the early returns of Love have been nothing but positive. After a year of awkwardness and frustration, Love finally looks like he can be a major factor for the Cavs.