INDEPENDENCE — Zero is Kevin Love’s new number with the Cavaliers. It also happens to represent his postseason appearances in a six-year NBA career and how many titles Cleveland has won in its 44-year existence.
The latter two could change, however, because zero is also how many days it took LeBron James to contact Love after the four-time league MVP announced he was returning to the Cavs in a July 11 Sports Illustrated essay.
Within hours of his announcement, James was on the phone telling the 6-foot-10, 243-pound power forward how great it would be to play with him in Cleveland.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m in,’” Love said Tuesday during his introductory press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “That had a lot to do with my decision.”
All that remained was for general manager David Griffin to complete a three-team deal with Minnesota and Philadelphia. The parameters of the trade, the GM said, were pretty much set when Andrew Wiggins signed his rookie contract with the Cavs in late July.
The deal wasn’t officially announced until Saturday because Cleveland had to wait 30 days to trade Wiggins after signing him.
“Some of you probably see this as a culmination of a 60-day or 30‑day period,” Griffin said. “From a basketball perspective, we look at this as a year and a half of trade conversations trying to acquire this man.”
Love, who has said he will opt out of the final year of his contact in July 2015, made it clear to the Timberwolves he was not going to re-sign with them. As time went along, it also became more and more clear that Cleveland was where he wanted to end up.
James was the primary selling point. The two players became close during the 2012 Olympics, when their lockers were fairly close to one another and James repeatedly told Love how much he liked his game and how good he was.
In February 2013, they talked again at Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday party over All-Star Weekend in Houston — Love was out with an injury — and James continued with his praise.
“It just goes to show you that things come full circle,” Love said. “I was the first call after he had signed, and I’m really happy about that.
“LeBron is a guy that I’ve admired since he came into the league. Everybody has watched him since his high school days here in Akron and can’t say enough good things about him. So that’s when the relationship really forged. I thought that one day maybe I could play with LeBron James.”
Until recently, however, Love thought the chances of it ever happening were zero.
“I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “I didn’t believe it 60 days ago, 90 days ago. It’s pretty surreal. I know that there are a lot of expectations, and we also know that LeBron is the focal point. But we have a lot of good players, one through 15, that are going to make a huge impact for this team.”
That’s where the other zeroes could change. With Love, James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have a “Big Three” every bit as good as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in Miami and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in Boston.
Even before adding James, however, Griffin was in pursuit of Love, continuing a trend that started under previous GM Chris Grant.
Griffin is such a big fan of Love’s game — he can shoot, rebound, pass and has a high basketball IQ — that he is willing to take a calculated risk the 25-year-old will re-sign with Cleveland in free agency. The fact the Cavs will be able to offer Love a contract with a lot of zeroes — five years, $120,000,000 — doesn’t hurt, either.
“I see it as a risk because there’s a possibility (Love’s management people) have a miraculous turn of thought,” Griffin said. “But they see the possibilities.
“He can see the fit in the organization,” the GM added. “He could see it before (James signed). … Now he can see himself winning titles. That’s what he wants to do.”
Said Love: “That is something that hasn’t been talked about, but like I told Griffin in our meetings and Dan Gilbert as well and the powers that be in the front office and all the way down, I’m committed to this team, committed long‑term to the end goal, and that is to win championships.”
A three-time All-Star who averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season, Love should have zero problems making his first playoff appearance in 2014-15, as the Cavs are already a heavy favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
“I think it will be somewhat of an adjustment playing in the playoffs, but LeBron and I have had conversations that I’ve needed to just mentally prepare myself for playing into June,” Love said. “That’s something that really struck me as something that I wanted to do.”
Deciding on a number required a little more thought.
Love wore No. 42 with the Timberwolves, but that has been retired by the Cavs in honor of Nate Thurmond. Though Thurmond had said he would be OK if Love wore it, the new Cav didn’t want to disrupt the team’s history.
Love then thought about No. 11, which he wore while winning a gold medal in 2012, but that had been retired in honor of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who, despite some recent rumors, is not contemplating a comeback at age 39.
Next was No. 7, which was his mother’s lucky number for him as a teenager growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon, but that had been retired for Bobby “Bingo” Smith.
“I went all the way back to my grass roots and my first number I ever played with,” Love said. “I remember showing up to a game in Beaverton, Oregon, with a brand‑new team in the inner city that I was supposed to play with. I was the last guy to the gym for the tournament, and there was the zero for me. So that’s the story behind it.
“I just decided that zero was the right fit for me. It really brings me back to Portland, which is Oregon, the ‘O.’ Then, as Griff told me later in a text, too, when I told him which number I was going to choose, he also said, ‘You can’t forget Ohio, too,’ and he’s right.”
For his part, Griffin has zero doubt the Cavs landed the right power forward.
“When we brought (new coach) David Blatt in to discuss our franchise and what he needed to be successful, the very first thing he said was, ‘I need a spacing big, somebody who can shoot and pass and knows how to play,’” Griffin said.
“I said, ‘We’ve got one of those in mind. His name’s Kevin Love; he’s a trade target.’ He said, ‘Wow, Kevin Love would be amazing. If you could get Kevin Love to go with LeBron James, you would have had a really good offseason.’”
Griffin may not be done — the 39-year-old Allen is still a possibility, and the Cavs are looking for a “rim protector” and a possible backup point guard — but Love was certainly in the air — and the room — Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“He’s (going to be) 26 years old,” Griffin said. “If you could have picked a player’s skill set to fit in this system, it was him.”
Of that, the GM has zero doubt.