CLEVELAND -- He toiled for six playoff-less seasons in Minnesota, scoring, rebounding and soft tossing Wes Unseld-like outlet passes nightly, and really all Kevin Love wanted was one thing: relevance. Sure he wasn’t overly fond of those chilly winters, of the small market stigma, but it was the Timberwolves steady diet of sub-.500 seasons, their mediocre drafts, their revolving door of head coaches that ultimately drove him out the door.
So there was Love on Thursday, sharing the floor with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, being introduced to the roar of a sold-out crowd waving flashing wine-colored light sticks, starting Game 1 of a season that will be unlike any other. Indeed, as irrelevant as the Timberwolves were, the Cavs are just the opposite. They are the NBA’s new Voltron, a startling collection of superior talent that begins the season with championship expectations.
On an ugly night for the team -- the Cavs fell 95-90 to the Knicks -- Love began the new chapter he desperately wanted.
“It’s a different look for me,” Love said. “It was definitely [emotional]. It’s a new look for my career.”
It was an emotional night for everyone, especially James, who declared the season opener “one of the biggest sporting events, ever” and played like a man crushed by the expectations of it. James needed 15 shots to get his 17 points, and committed a ghastly eight turnovers along the way. The game might have gotten away from Cleveland earlier if not for Love, who submitted a positively Love-esque line: 19-points (on 6-14 shooting), 14 rebounds and four assists. He scored in the paint and from behind the arc (3-6), showcasing the talent that has separated him from other power forwards.
Cleveland doesn’t need Love to carry it like Minnesota did but on Thursday, Love reminded everyone that, when needed, he still could. There was some mild friction between Love and coach David Blatt in the preseason, with Love publicly declaring that he needed more touches in the low post. Blatt responded by running the offense through Love in the paint early, which will go a long way toward defusing an issue before it becomes one.
Cleveland will be a work in progress for a while, much like Miami was in James' early days on South Beach. Thursday was a sloppy, turnover filled mess. Love rolled on screens when James expected him to pop. Irving dove to the rim when James thought he was going to to camp out in a corner. “I was just out of rhythm,” James said. “We’ll continue to learn each other.” It’s no cause for panic, no reason to doubt Blatt’s coaching ability. Great teams are built over time (see San Antonio) and the Cavs are too talented not to eventually come together.
And when they do, look out. Irving (22 points, seven assists) is as good as any point guard in the game. The bench (12 points) will be better when Blatt figures out a rotation that works. James and Love will get on the same page, too. In the first quarter James skipped a crosscourt pass to Love for an open three, an effortless play that made the two look like longtime teammates. The James-Love pick-and-roll wasn’t especially productive against New York, but it will be. An assistant coach watching on TV texted, “When they get that 3-4 pick and roll down, no one will be able to defend it.”
Big things are ahead for Cleveland, for Love, and that’s all he has ever wanted. After the game, Love chatted with a Minnesota reporter, prodding him for details about his former franchise. He asked about the status of Ricky Rubio’s extension, about his former boss, Flip Saunders, about the ‘Wolves new franchise player, Andrew Wiggins. He smiled when asked about former teammates, but Love is where he wants to be: in Cleveland, with LeBron James, finally relevant.