Ditched by LeBron, Cavaliers need love

Cleveland forward Kevin Love (left, with J. R. Smith), signed a $165.2 million four-year extension to his contract in July.
Cleveland forward Kevin Love (left, with J. R. Smith), signed a $165.2 million four-year extension to his contract in July.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Star forward is new face of franchise, believes balanced squad can step up in James' absence

LOS ANGELES • Life without LeBron James will not be easy for the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to take a significant step back after their native son's departure to California.

After carrying the Cavs to four consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals appearances, including a first championship win in 2016, James joined the Los Angeles Lakers, in the process creating a gaping hole in the team he left behind.

Yet James' former team-mates are adamant that they can step up to fill the void. Kevin Love, for one, thinks Cleveland are going to surprise a lot of people.

"Losing the best player in the world, we're going to have a fresh start," the forward said.

"We have first-and second-year guys who have to make an impact, and then veteran guys who have play-off experience."

Tristan Thompson also believes any team underestimating the Cavs will be making a mistake.

"We're a play-off team," he said. "Everyone who says play-offs is overachieving (for a Cavs team without James) doesn't know our squad and doesn't believe in our squad. For us, we're a play-off team.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

When he plays mad, (he) plays like he's the best player on the floor, sometimes you do have to p*** him off a little bit to get under his skin.

TYRONN LUE, Cleveland head coach, on getting All-Star forward Kevin Love going.

"We just have to go out there, be ourselves and prove the naysayers wrong, which we will."

James could probably be forgiven for taking his talents to Hollywood.

He has, after all, brought Cleveland its first sports title in 52 years, took them to the Finals for four straight seasons and built a school for special-needs youth.

Last season, Cleveland cruised through the Eastern Conference play-offs before meeting the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. But the Warriors proved too good, sweeping them in four games.

After a series of roster changes in the off-season, the Cavaliers face different expectations this year.

Love is now the face of the franchise while first-round draft pick Collin Sexton hopes to throw his hat into the ring for Rookie-of-the-Year consideration.

Love, a 10-year veteran who won an NBA title with Cleveland in 2015-16, has changed his game for the better and is still one of the best power forwards in the league.

 
 
 
 

The 30-year-old signed a four-year US$120 million (S$165.2 million) extension in July to stick around as the leader of the offence.

"The only thing I didn't want was I didn't want to be with a team that was going to tank or not be competitive," Love said.

"I wanted this to be a building year and still be competitive. They had told me they didn't want to take a huge step back.

"Obviously, losing LeBron, you know what is going to happen with that. But I wanted to be part of something where we could continue to strive for all those banners up there."

Speaking ahead of their season opener today against the Raptors in Toronto, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the key to Love playing at his best is to get him angry.

"When he plays mad, (he) plays like he's the best player on the floor, sometimes you do have to p*** him off a little bit to get under his skin," Lue said.

"Then he will do some great things, he will look at the bench, single you out and talk stuff back. That's Kevin at his best."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Ditched by LeBron, Cavaliers need love'. Print Edition | Subscribe