Cavaliers aim to feature Kevin Love more prominently this season

ByDave McMenamin via ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- As the Cleveland Cavaliers open Year 2 of their Big Three era, LeBron James is looking to reshuffle the order of the trio by featuring Kevin Love more prominently than the Cavs did last season.

"I just think he's more comfortable in the situation that he's in," James said after practice Wednesday. "He's got a year under his belt; he knows what he expects out of himself and what his teammates expect out of him. I expect big things from him this year with a year up under his belt."

James was expounding upon his statement at Monday's media day that Love's increased presence will allow James to sit back and rest more than he has in years past.

"He will do some of the things he did prior to last year," James continued.

Of course, some of the things included making three All-Star teams from 2011 to 2014, being named the league's Most Improved Player in 2010-11 and averaging a gaudy 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in his final season in Minnesota.

Love's numbers took a noticeable hit last season, as he averaged just 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while often appearing an ill fit for coach David Blatt's schemes. Love's usage rate dropped from 27.7 in his last season with the Timberwolves, second among all power forwards, to 20.4 in his first season with the Cavs, 20th among all power forwards.

His shooting clip also took a dip to just 43.4 percent, as he found himself farther from the basket. Love also was benched for the entire fourth quarter of a game on four occasions, and James questioned the big man's prioritiesvia social media in February.

Despite his personal struggles, Love decided to re-up with the Cavs this past summer on a five-year, $110 million deal. In an essay for The Players' Tribune, Love wrote that part of his motivation to return to Cleveland was seeing how hard his teammates fought through the playoffs without him after he suffered a separated shoulder in the first round against Boston.

The timing of the injury could not have been worse for Love, as he seemed to have finally settled into a rhythm in the Cavs' first three games against the Celtics before getting hurt when tangling withKelly Olynykin the first half of Game 4.

"I think him being out showed even more of what he means to this team, more than him being on the floor for those 3 games," James said. "It would've been huge for us obviously if he was in the lineup, but it gave him the opportunity to put things in perspective and see what his presence can mean to our team. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to see how important you are."

Once Love committed to the Cavs long-term, Blatt spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to get more out of his stretch 4.

"No question, this summer we looked for and identified ways that we can take advantage of Kev's unique skill set, and hopefully we'll see that on the floor," Blatt said.

And how does he plan on integrating Love exactly?

"The things that you run, the emphasis you place on certain things, the responsibility that you give him and he takes," Blatt said. "Those are the main ways."

When asked about his role on Tuesday, Love deferred to James the same way James deferred to him.

"I think all of us will be more comfortable with what we're trying to do out there," Love said. "I think that, like I said [Monday], it all starts with the big man, No. 23, and it all kind of trickles down from there. I think if all the pieces fit together as we expect, we'll be a tough team to deal with."

He delivered the message in the same optimistic tone he projected on Monday's media day.

"Most hungry of my career? I think that resets itself every season," Love said. "I think it's a fresh start, a fresh start for everybody here, the coaching staff included. We're going to continue to keep building this thing."