INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Kevin Love’s phone rang in July and LeBron James asked the All-Star forward if he wanted to play with him in Cleveland.
“I’m in,” Love told James.
For the long haul.
Getting used to a new city and new team after being acquired by the Cavaliers on Saturday, Love said he’s committed to winning an NBA title with the Cavaliers — however long it takes.
Love, who didn’t make the playoffs during six sometimes rocky seasons with Minnesota, can opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer. But 25-year-old Love, regarded as the game’s top “spacing” forward, said he intends to stay with James and the Cavs.
“I’m committed to this team, committed long term to the end goal and that’s to win championships,” he said.
Cleveland is smitten with its newest superstar.
Love was introduced Tuesday by the Cavs, who acquired him in a blockbuster, three-team trade that instantly turned Cleveland, which won just 33 games last season, into an NBA championship favorite. The deal also gives the team a star-powered trio in Love, James and Kyrie Irving.
Love and James became friends two summers ago as U.S. Olympic teammates in London. It was there, while chasing a gold medal together, that James began recruiting Love, who wasn’t sure what to make of the four-time league MVP’s overtures.
“Sitting next to me, a locker really close to me and he would always tell me how good he thought I was,” Love said. “For me I would just kind of brush it off and shake it off because I was standoffish because I didn’t know him well.”
James persisted and after more conversations, Love realized there could be a time when their careers could intersect again.
“I thought that one day maybe I could play with LeBron James,” he said.
And now that Love is gone, the Timberwolves are left to rebuild around No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and last year’s top pick, Anthony Bennett, two young players they were able to pry from Cleveland.
Love didn’t leave the Timberwolves on the best of terms. He was the face of the franchise, and Minnesota is where he developed into one of the game’s top rebounders and scorers, a dual threat from inside and out. But the years of losing wore on him and it was no secret that he wanted out.
Still, Love said he’ll look back on his first NBA home as a positive experience.
“The people of Minnesota were great, the fans were great, they showed up, win, lose or draw, and I really developed a lot of relationships all the way down through the organization,” he said. “It was a great six years, and I enjoyed my time, and I can’t say enough good things about it.”
While Love was saying good things about his former team, his old boss wasn’t as warm about him.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor isn’t sure Love fits in Cleveland as well as many believe.
“I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he’s going to be the third player on the team,” Taylor said. “I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get blame if they don’t do well.
“He’s around a couple guys that are awful good. I’m not saying Kevin isn’t good. I think where maybe he got away with some stuff not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure that’s how it’s going to work in Cleveland. I would guess they’re going to ask him to play more defense — and he’s foul prone.”
The Cavs know nothing is certain, and there’s risk in bringing aboard Love. But with James, Love, Irving, guard Dion Waiters, relentless rebounder Anderson Varejao and newly signed veterans Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones, the Cavs have the makings of a championship team — this season and for many more to come.
“This is culmination of a year and a half of conversations to trade for Kevin,” general manager David Griffin said. “This is a player that, quite frankly, fits us as well as any player could have.”
Love will wear No. 0 for the Cavs. His No. 42, the number he wore in college and with the Timberwolves, was worn by Nate Thurmond and retired in Cleveland. He considered No. 11, his Olympic number, but that was worn by Zydrunas Ilgauskas and also hangs from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. So he went with 0, the number he first wore as a kid in Beaverton, Oregon.
“I thought this was a chance to start fresh,” Love said, “and pick a new number that would suit me. I just decided that 0 was the right fit for me.”
And so was the chance to play again with James.