LeBron James Shifts Kevin Love's Focus from Major Markets to Championships

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LeBron James Shifts Kevin Love's Focus from Major Markets to Championships
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If subliminally altering priorities and preferences of Kevin Love were, by NBA rule, considered tampering, LeBron James would be a fugitive living and operating outside the letter of the law.

Love is on the precipice of forging an instant powerhouse with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Once the trade—that includes Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-rounder coming out of Cleveland—is eligible for completion (Aug. 23), it's expected to be done. Over with. Finished.

Bigger news, though, lies in how this months-long epic has wound up here, approaching an ending that seemed beyond unlikely before James was involved.

He changed everything. The unattractive became appealing. A non-starter reached the finish line. 

The beyond unlikely became reality as Love's focus deviated from its original course and prioritized winning over status and location.

 

From Outcasts to Favorites

Jim Mone/Associated Press

This trade doesn't gain traction, let alone actually happen, without James.

When Wojnarowski first revealed that Love's relationship with the Minnesota Timberwolves reached the point of no return, the Cavaliers weren't on the rumor mill's radar. They weren't even a blip.

Between Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, Love's list of preferred trade destinations became public record. The Cavaliers were nowhere to be found.

And the list was rather long. The Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics were all named. Even the New York Knicks were identified as a (not-so-)viable suitor.

Basically, Love's wish list read like a big or semiprominent market biography, lending further merit to what was assumed all along: Love harbored gargantuan-sized dreams.

"A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love," ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin wrote in late March. "He’s enamored with the idea of being 'big time in a big city,' and that list of possible places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well."

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
LeBron's return changed everything about this soap opera.

Noticeably absent through all this was Cleveland, a button-sized bailiwick that promises neither the on-court potential nor off-court appeal Love clearly sought. 

Cleveland's seeming irrelevance was not for lack of trying, either. The Cavaliers, like any sensible team, were interested in acquiring Love. But their adoration went unrequited, per ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan; Love had no intention of playing in Cleveland.

Until he suddenly did.

James returned to the city and team he abandoned four years earlier, and things unfolded rather quickly from there. 

Love was willing to play in Cleveland. The Cavaliers were willing to deal Wiggins.

The trade was done but not done. 

 

What Love Is Giving Up

USA TODAY Sports

Funny how things change so definitively, so quickly, right?

Not really.

Because, LeBron.

Shortly after rejoining the Cavaliers—and obviously excluding Wiggins and Bennett from his self-reflective return essay—James reached out to Love as a sign of tampering goodwill, according to Wojnarowski. Less than a month later, we're here, evaluating the long-term impact Love's arrival has on the Cavaliers, James and Love himself.

This isn't because Cleveland is suddenly a market monster. Or because it's a warm-weather climate alive with beach-going, shirtless rollerblading and beard-to-toe-tanning possibilities. Or because Love is being handed the reins to the Cavs' future. 

Speaking honestly, the Cavaliers go against almost everything Love was reportedly looking for. 

Most of his desired options included big-market clubs on which he would be the second- or absolute best player. This version of the Cavaliers offers neither.

They don't call Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston or even Oakland home. They cannot promise Love individual preeminence within their offensive system. Not like he's used to. Not when he'll play third fiddle to the ball-dominant James and Kyrie Irving

Those are long-term deterrents and main reasons why so many people—myself included—thought Cleveland needed to consume some chill pills.

No matter where Love finishes next season, he will reach free agency. Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com says Love's camp has made that perfectly clear, which means the three-time All-Star's future in Cleveland wouldn't be. 

Would Love welcome playing the Chris Bosh role? In Cleveland? When he has the opportunity to sign elsewhere? When there's always the possibility things go badly with the Cavs?

No, Love isn't Bosh. He's better, and he's suited to give James more of what he needs on the offensive end. But that doesn't change how his purported desires conflict with Cleveland's dynamic on and off the court. And as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal cautions, that clash of will vs. winning turns catastrophic if the former claims victory and compels Love to leave: 

They could part ways with a not-quite-once-but-maybe-twice-in-a-generation prospect (in addition to more talent) and watch it develop elsewhere, all for one season with a player who doesn't have the defensive chops necessary to shepherd a championship into Northeast Ohio. Then, the 2015-16 season could see them bear witness to both Love and Wiggins excelling for different organizations.

All of this is only a possibility, however likely or unlikely each component may be. But isn't it scary enough there's a chance the Cavaliers could be living through another nightmare?

Losing Love would be the nightmare—a possible nightmare. The Cavaliers still cannot offer Love everything he wants. At one point, it didn't even seem like they could promise what he wants most.

Interest in the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics suggested that Love valued status and location more than winning. The trifecta was important, but the former two were imperative. 

Then LeBron smiled.

 

The Real Power of LeBron

Tony Dejak/Associated Press
James changed everything about the Love soap opera.

There has never been a more demonstrative example of James' power before now. 

Joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Bosh with the Miami Heat doesn't compare to this. Selling role players like Mike Miller and Ray Allen on playing in Miami doesn't, either. Doing the same for Cleveland still isn't as impressive. 

Love is James' greatest accomplishment. Attribute this to his (alleged) courtship or the championship cachet he's now carting around. Or both. It doesn't matter. 

This is all James in some way, because Love's decision is now all about championships. He's no longer considered a flight risk...in Cleveland...on a team that demands he defer more frequently...less than a year away from having the entire NBA at his beck and call...weeks removed from basically telling the Cavs, "No thanks."

What does Kevin Love's trade to the Cavaliers prove about his interests?

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"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love said on ESPN's SportsNation earlier this offseason. "At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing."

Not long ago, Love's intentions were up for debate, his list of preferences malformed and fluid.

But not anymore.

Somewhere along the way, Love's priorities changed, and it's not hard to pinpoint where or why.

July 11. That's when James officially came home and changed everything. 

That's when Love's inner-most desires gave way to winning championships above all else—including an initial, market- and status-driven vision that would have prevented this now near-certain ending from ever beginning.

 

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