CLEVELAND, Ohio — DEAR KEVIN LOVE:
Your contract extension made you an immediate hero with most Cavalier fans.
In many ways, those of us who grew up following Cleveland sports teams are delighted when any player of any magnitude wants to stay here and actually does so. I have been hearing from some fans about how they think you’ll return to being the Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. By that, they mean the player who averaged 26 points and 12.7 rebounds, shooting 45 percent in the field.
That was in your last two full seasons in Minnesota (2012-13, 2014-15).
Kevin, don’t try to be that guy. The numbers were huge. But you were younger. You also didn’t have the same grasp of the game you do after playing four years with the Cavaliers.
You were a very good player on a team that never made the playoffs. Your defense was lazy, your basketball priorities were immature.
That’s why your adjustment to the Cavaliers was rocky.
WHAT WAS LEARNED
You had to sacrifice shots and add defense. You had to defer to more talented players. There were days when you had to wonder why you ever wanted to play with LeBron James.
But you also have a championship ring and four trips to the NBA Finals. You learned a lot about yourself and what it takes to win at the highest level.
That’s the Kevin Love the new Cavaliers need – the older, wiser and yes, even the more scarred version.
You can teach the younger Cavaliers so much.
REMEMBERING COACH LENNY
“Don’t try to do too much.”
That was one of the favorite phrases of Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. The former Cavaliers coach (1985-93) often told his players that in the huddle.
He had a bunch of highly skilled players, much like you: Larry Nance, John Williams, Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Craig Ehlo and Ron Harper. They also were a thoughtful and sometimes sensitive group. They were very serious. They took losses hard. They were frustrated because they couldn’t get past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The pressure to be more than they were sometimes led to:
1. Forcing bad shots.
2. Being afraid to shoot, deferring to someone else.
I’m sure you know both feelings. And you know how destructive they can be on the court.
LAST MAN STANDING
Much will be made of you being the only member of the Big Three still with the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving is in Boston. James is with the Los Angeles Lakers. You are the only member of the current roster to make an All-Star team. Let’s amend that. Kyle Korver was an All-Star … once … but he is now 37.
The point is you can’t be James. You can’t be Irving. You probably can’t even be the 26-point scoring Kevin Love of 2013-14.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to try to be those things.
THIS CAN BE FUN
Most of the pressure you’ll feel will come from one place…you. No one expects the Cavaliers to contend for a title. Few even expect to make the playoffs.
Part of the reason the Cavs were so excited to sign you is your influence on the court. You know how to play the game the right way. You know how to pass. You know how to rebound. You know how to find open shots.
You’ve played for six coaches in 10 NBA seasons. You probably lost track, but here are the names: Randy Wittman, Kevin McHale, Kurt Rambis, Rick Adelman, David Blatt and Tyronn Lue.
Last season, you admitted to dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. Coming public about that not only is what you needed, but it will help others. That includes some younger teammates who will look up to you.
You are not alone when it comes to leadership. The front office brought back Channing Frye, “a fountain” as general manager Koby Altman calls players who nourish others. Korver is a solid veteran, a wonderful man. Same with George Hill.
If they are focused, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson can be assets in the attitude area. It’s up to them.
In your four seasons with the Cavaliers, you have averaged 17.1 points and 10 rebounds. You made two All-Star teams. A key will be staying healthy. Don’t be afraid to talk to the coaching staff if they start to pile minutes on your back.
You have five years left on your contract, making more money than you ever dared to dream. You have a fan base ready to embrace you, and a team that needs your skills and wisdom.