INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – When LeBron James called, Kevin Love said goodbye Minnesota and hello Cleveland. Love left behind six seasons without a playoff appearance, and immediately began visualizing NBA championships.
Just as James helped draw Chris Bosh with him to Miami four years ago, James’ first call as a Cav was to Love, his former Olympic teammate, who was looking for a way out of Minneapolis with one year remaining on his contract with the Timberwolves.
“LeBron had signed to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and just few hours later he called me, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m in,’ ” Love said Tuesday. “[James signing] had a lot to do with my decision.”
Love, traded to the Cavs in a three-team deal announced Saturday, was introduced to a media throng Tuesday at the Cavaliers’ practice facility in suburban Cleveland. Love has not signed an extension with the Cavaliers, but said he planned to stay.
“Like I told [Cavs General Manager David] Griffin, and [owner] Dan Gilbert, I’m committed to this team, committed long-term to the end goal, and that’s to win championships, and to win a championship here in Ohio,” Love said.
Love, a three-time NBA All-Star forward, acknowledged a sometimes rocky relationship with fans during his Minnesota tenure.
Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Love said, “Just as a guy that worked extremely hard, was good to the community and tried to fit into that Minnesota nice lifestyle. I know we had some rocky and bittersweet moments, which kind of holds true for any player in the league, but I hope they’ll tend to look at the good times, like I do.”
Love said it was tough not making the playoffs in his six years with Minnesota.
“But saying I didn’t enjoy my time in Minneapolis wouldn’t be doing it right,” he said. “I loved my time there. The people of Minnesota were great. The fans were great. They showed up win, lose or draw. I really developed a lot of relationships all the way down through the organization, through ownership, through Flip [Saunders], management, players, all the way to probably my best friend there, which his Clayton Wilson, the equipment manager.
“It was a great six years. I enjoyed my time.”
Love did not shed light on when he told Minnesota he would not re-sign with the Timberwolves, or what he told the team, saying his agent, Jeff Schwartz, had those conversations with Saunders. Schwartz did not attend the news conference and Jaymee Messler of Schwartz’s agency, Excel Sports, declined to comment.
Griffin said the trade was in the works for 18 months.
James signed a two-year deal with the Cavaliers last month, and can opt out next year. Like Love, James said he is committed long-term to Cleveland.
Love developed a bond with James at the 2012 London Olympics, where he told Love he would be the reason the Team USA would win the gold medal, which it did.
“We’ve always had a common respect for each other. I always admired the way he worked, and I got to see that firsthand, really, in 2012,” Love said. “He would usually sit next to me and had a locker really close to me and would always tell me how good he thought I was. I would just kind of brush it off. I was kind of standoffish because I didn’t know him well.
“But when we were at MJ’s [Michael Jordan’s] 50th birthday party at the All-Star Game in Houston [in February 2013], he pulled me aside and I had a private conversation with him. I said I knew and I believed him then, what he thought of me. It just goes to show you that things come full circle, that I was the first call that he made after he signed, and I’m very happy about that.”
Love said he has found a place to live in Cleveland and worked out a couple times at the practice facility. Emblematic of what he hopes will be a fresh start in Cleveland, Love will wear uniform number 0. His first choices were not available because all are retired Cavaliers numbers: No. 42, his number in Minnesota, belonged to Nate Thurmond; 11, his Olympic number, belonged to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and 7 belonged to Bobby “Bingo” Smith.
Love said he spoke to Thurmond about wearing No. 42, and Thurmond agreed to it, but Love ultimately chose zero.
“I thought this was a chance for me to, one, start fresh and two, pick a number that would suit me,” he said. “I went all the way back to my grass roots. I remember showing up to a game in Beaverton, Oregon, with a brand-new team that I was supposed to play with. I was the last guy for the team at the tournament, and there was the zero for me.
“I just decided zero was the right fit for me. It really brings me back to Portland, which is Oregon, the ‘O.’ When I texted that to [Griffin], he said, ‘Don’t forget Ohio, too.’ ”
Griffin called Wiggins and Bennett “great young kids” and predicted they would have “great careers.” But he said the opportunity to obtain Love trumped potential.
“Kevin Love [is] a player who quite frankly fits us as well as any player possibly could,” Griffin said. “The very first thing [new coach] David Blatt said was, ‘I need a spacing big. Somebody who can shoot and pass and who knows how to play.’
“We said, ‘We have one in mind. His name is Kevin Love, he’s a trade target.’ He said, ‘If you could get Kevin Love to go with LeBron James, you would have had a really good offseason.’ ”