Kevin Love said he was committed to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He said it over and over and over despite near-constant reports about said commitment wavering. The three-time All-Star forward stayed true to his word, announcing on the Players' Tribune on July 1 that he will stay in Cleveland:
I'm going back to Cleveland.
After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, that's when it really struck me. Sitting on the sidelines, I never wanted to play in a game more than that one. I had dreamed of playing in the NBA Finals and I just wanted to help my guys win. I couldn't have been prouder of them as they poured their blood, sweat and tears onto the court.
Yeah, of course I've heard the free agency rumors. But at the end of the day, and after meeting with my teammates (it turns out pools are great meeting places) and with the front office, it was clear Cleveland was the place for me. We're all on the same page and we're all in. We have unfinished business and now it's time to get back to work.
Love confirmed he had signed the deal and went into more detail about the decision to stay in Cleveland in a video the Players' Tribune posted July 9:
Love also discussed his talk with LeBron James prior to reaching an agreement with the Cavaliers, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com.
"He happened to be in Los Angeles the same time I was," Love said of James, who remains a free agent but will re-sign with Cleveland.
"So, we just talked everything out and a lot of stuff was very honest and we came to a really good place and we agreed on a lot of things, so I think that was also a very big deal when you're talking to the best player in the world."
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck joined Stephen Nelson to discuss the move:
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
Cavs are loaded. There’s a logjam, but it’s a good problem to have.2015-7-1 18:38:09
There had been a healthy sense of skepticism about Love's potential return throughout the regular season and playoffs after Cleveland acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves last August. However, his plan to do just that became increasingly apparent in recent days.
Sam Amico of Fox Sports reported Love told Cleveland brass he planned to return shortly before the free-agency period began. Love was willing to take meetings—most notably with the Los Angeles Lakers, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard—but all parties acknowledged this was the likely outcome.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reported Love will sign a five-year, $110 million deal with the Cavaliers.
A long-term deal is a bit of a surprise. It wouldn't have been shocking to see him push for a James-style, short-term deal that would allow him the maximum possible flexibility going forward. The NBA's skyrocketing cap would have helped assuage concerns about Love's leaving long-term guaranteed money on the table. Even if the injury bug bites him again, the current max is the worst possible level for his next deal.
Regardless, the immediate future will be about Love recouping his value around the league. He averaged 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds last season, marked declines from his final campaign in Minnesota. A dip in his counting stats was expected as Love learned to play with James and Kyrie Irving, but an efficiency spike was nowhere to be found.
Love actually shot worse in nearly every category, which was a byproduct of his usage and his own shaky play. The Cavaliers rarely used Love in the post, a spot where he's thrived his entire career. Instead, he was essentially a super stretch 4—a label he publicly bristled at more than once.
Factor in Love's less-than-BFF relationship with King James, and there is a lot of trust to be built and regained over the next several seasons. The Cavs with a correctly used Love could be unstoppable. The team was dominant with James, Love and Irving on the floor following its midseason acquisitions of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov. Bringing most of the band back at the very least makes Cleveland the Eastern Conference favorite.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports pointed out what Love's return will mean for the Cavs roster:
Whether it works out in the long term ultimately depends on how far the Cavs get with Love. They were within two games of winning a title without him last year. That run led to a growing contingent of fans in Cleveland who are convinced Tristan Thompson is the better long-term fit at the 4. Those fans are prisoners of the moment, but Love is going to have to work hard to regain trust after riding in on a white horse last summer.
The real work starts now.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.