Tired of Waiting, LeBron Decides It's Time to Publicly Challenge Kevin Love

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 9, 2015

Mark Duncan/AP Images

CLEVELAND — For everything that didn't happen for Kevin Love in Minnesota, starting and ending with the lack of winning, most people remained believers.

In Boston, they believed he could soak up the Celtics' winning mystique and lunch-pail history and be like Larry Bird. Lakers fans figured his affection for L.A. would mean his best behavior to learn from Kobe Bryant.

Love instead landed in Cleveland.

And now we are seeing LeBron James wisely waiting no longer to make clear that Love doesn't understand the ways of winners—and make clearer that he'd better start seizing the opportunity to learn.

Let's be clear here: James is a two-time NBA champion with three other trips to the title round. He might have risen to power on the strength of being a freakish basketball specimen, but he has earned a graduate degree in team building.

Love, though, never made the NBA playoffs in six years in Minnesota—partly because of substandard talent around him, partly due to not approaching his job with a determination to do things that inspire others.

Over the weekend, we learned that James has already had enough with waiting and seeing. Next weekend, James and Kyrie Irving will be at the All-Star Game without Love, and James is hoping Love sits around thinking about how much he wants to be with James and Irving on a title team as opposed to lamenting how he missed that All-Star team.

A quick recap of the latest chapter in LeBron's comeback story:

• With James recharged from a turn-of-the-year rest, the Cavaliers win 12 consecutive games.

• That streak ends Friday in Indiana, with Love benched down the stretch and returning to his refrain about wanting the ball in the post to get his offense going. Love then told Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group just how hard subjugating himself is, even amid recent winning, saying, "Definitely frustrating. Yeah, I think it's one of the toughest situations I've had to deal with."

• James steps out on Twitter on Saturday with a thinly veiled piece of advice:

• After Love lights up the flimsy Los Angeles Lakers defense for 32 points in a 120-105 victory Sunday, James is asked about the tweet and decides to back off, evasively saying, "It wasn't even about this team. It was more about people in general."

• But James decides to come clean about pointing the finger at Love soon after, saying quietly, "It's not a coincidence." James is even asked later if his comment is on the record, to which he replies, "Ain't no such thing as off the record"—and that he is well aware what reporters are looking for even as he and they are acting "like the best of friends."

• Love, after reiterating how "it definitely does change the game when I start [scoring] inside," tells Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal regarding James' tweet, "I don't know really what he's talking about. I feel like I've sacrificed and I think everyone knows that. I'm not trying to downplay what he said, but I think I've done a pretty good job of trying to help this team."

(Monday update: James, in a two-part tweet, says the media shouldn't "try and make a story cause it looks good" and that if he has a "problem" with a teammate, he'll say it to his face "and not over social media.) 

If Love, 26, doesn't feel like he's at a crossroads in his career yet, then James is just going to have to shove him forward a little harder next time.

If you want to be a champion, you're going to have to commit to substance and stop worrying about your style.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 06:  C.J. Miles #0 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball while fouled by Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on February 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Coach David Blatt tries to feed Love at the start of every game to get it out of the way, even though the Cavaliers offense runs a million times better through James or Irving. The Cavaliers already paid a steep price in trade for center Timofey Mozgov to make Love's life easier and alleviate his defensive challenge.

So why can't Love bring more energy to everything he does do?

We're not talking about the gaudy rebounding numbers he infamously tracks as proof of unselfishness. We're not talking about those long outlet passes that do move the ball but also bring him so much acclaim.

We're talking about expanding his intensity to include help defense and accepting that his primary role on offense is as a big-man floor-spacer.

Love hit seven of eight three-pointers Sunday, but he obviously can shoot and score. That wasn't even the most meaningful development for the Cavaliers in evolving their team.

New Cavalier J.R. Smith, so horribly unfocused throughout his career, took only four shots in 34 minutes and was the one moving the ball quickly and willingly to Love for consecutive three-pointers in the third quarter. Smith's passes were so quick upon receiving the ball from James that it was hard even to notice just how right they were.

That's how the Cavaliers can become champions overnight: If people such as Smith and Mozgov, and especially people such as Love and Irving, truly want to and do fit in on James' team.

It's no small task, because Love has always been deep inside his own mind.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 21:  (L-R) LeBron James #23 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 21, 2014 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

While not connecting with Timberwolves teammates. While sitting in front of his locker in Cleveland and never looking up to receive or answer reporters with any eye-to-eye contact.

But James has to try. He'd be wasting all he learned in Miami and selling this whole homecoming venture short if he didn't try to show Love the way before it's too late this season.

So James headed out of the locker room Sunday after routing the Lakers, looking forward to seeing The SpongeBob Movie in 3D with his sons, hoping this weekend spent educating another newbie helped that guy grow up a little, too.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.