The Cavaliers have become the NBA’s Cinderella story this season.
In a campaign that was thought to be a rebuilding year, following a 22-win season last year, Cleveland worked its way up to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, which today would qualify them for the play-in tournament. .
Kevin Love, currently the longest-tenured Cavalier, has been at the core of Cleveland’s turnaround. The big man accepted a minor role off the bench to help rookie center Evan Mobley develop, and he has thrived in his new role.
“You know, I didn’t fight it,” Love told The Post about coming off the bench, a move he discussed with Cleveland head coach JB Bickerstaff just before the season. “I trust our team, I trust the front office that put us in a place to be successful. And I knew that.
Love was there when the Cavaliers needed to use their abilities in a different way. Not only is he effective on paper, but he also put himself in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
“I was with him and I trust JB,” said Love, who is averaging 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per night. “I was with him my first three years in the league [in Minnesota], and he was really the first guy that believed in me when I came into the league. So that trust factor is there.
“You know, when he told me, ‘Twenty-five or twenty or twenty-five minutes a night,’ for how long he watched me go out, I said, ‘I can do a lot during that time and I can help these guys, I can be an X factor. dark horse, an X factor for this team”.
The five-time NBA All-Star said there was a “four to six week window” to adjust to his new role before “I was able to find myself in it and feel really good in it.”
“So I’ve really been able to do that and lead the team, hopefully vocally, and they’ve embraced that very well. And again they are curious about where they want to grow. They want to improve. They ask veterans, they ask coaches, you know, how can I get better? Can I watch more movies? What can I do off the pitch? You know, we just have a team that has a growth mindset every day so they can get a little bit better. And I think over time that adds up. So I’m just hoping to be a small part of that and play that six-man role. You know, hopefully for as many years as they will have me.”
The Cavaliers posted their first winning campaign this season without LeBron James since 1998, and they did so with a season-long injury-plagued roster.
Cleveland’s star guard Collin Sexton was ruled out for the season in November after he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. Then the Cavs lost Ricky Rubio, who was a crucial part of his recovery, to a torn ACL in a December loss to the Pelicans.
The Cavs took another hit when big man Jarrett Allen broke his finger in March, just after earning his first All-Star nomination. The team and Allen, who is averaging 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, are optimistic about a return before the end of the regular season against the Bucks on April 10.
The Cavaliers losing Allen allowed Mobley’s game to develop further, which helped his case for Rookie of the Year. But the 20-year-old has been sidelined since he sprained his left ankle in a win against the Magic on March 28.
“The fact that we were able to stay in a contention spot for a playoff spot, or be within that 7-10 [seed] range with all the injuries that we’ve had and the bad luck that we’ve had with that, and a lot of games lost across our lineup, it just shows where we’re at as a team,” said Love, who credited his teammates for giving a step forward to play great minutes.
“People predicted that we would be in the mid-20s, as far as the win column goes. And last year we had twenty-two [wins]… So in terms of numbers, [we have] a winning season. But it’s just a testament to everyone from our front office, the coaching staff, to all of our players who just do their jobs every day and make it a place in a culture where everyone wants to come to work and get better.
“I think anyone who’s been on our team, and getting guys like Caris LeVert or [Rajon] Rondo: The guys that we’ve had throughout the season have felt like this is a very inclusive place where we celebrate each other and just allow freedom on the court. We want you to be yourself. We want you to obviously play within the structure of what we’re doing, but also grow within that individually and for the team to improve. So I think everyone understands the ultimate goal for us.”
Love has no plans to slow down after the completion of the 2021-22 season. The NBA champion will marry his longtime girlfriend, supermodel Kate Bock, this summer.
“But I am so excited because not only do I get to marry my best friend, but we have established an amazing life together,” said Love, who shares a Vizsla dog with Bock, named Vestry. “It’s going to be a celebration of the people we have in our lives.
Although Vestry won’t be at the wedding, Love is keeping her busy with her new partnership with Milk Bone to help launch the new Milk-Bone® Birthday Cake artificially flavored cookies, which includes a dog birthday giveaway.