Kevin Love ready to be No. 1 option again

Photo courtesy Shock Doctor mouthguards
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Chris Bosh warned him, but the extent of it was still a surprise at times — Kevin Love had been an All-Star playing one way, but he was going to have to evolve his game and his mindset to play next to LeBron James in Cleveland.

Love went from being the star at the center of the solar system in Minnesota to becoming one of the planets orbiting LeBron in Cleveland — one of the biggest, brightest planets, but it was a shockingly different role at times. Love eventually was all-in — not all-out — embraced the change and it got him a ring, which is what he wanted most.

This summer, LeBron went Hollywood

The Cavaliers quickly pivoted and, not wanting to rebuild, signed Love to a $120 million extension and made him the face of the franchise. Love is a No. 1 option again.

This time, though, things are going to be different for Love.

Yes, he again will be asked to score more, but he said that biggest thing that is different now is he doesn’t care about his numbers as much as finding ways to get the Cavaliers the win. Also, the game has evolved since he left Minnesota so he must as well.

“Just shooting the ball from the perimeter,” Love told NBC Sports about what will be different from when he was the No. 1 option in Minnesota. “That’s where the game has gone and there are stretch fours and stretch fives now. It’s such a luxury for a big man to be able to step out on the perimeter, it stretches defenses and it helps with the pacing of how you run your offense.”

How he gets his shots will be different, too. Last season 23.4 percent of his shots were spot-up jumpers where another player (usually LeBron) created the opportunity. Now it’s Love who has to create those shots for others and, in the preseason, most of his used possessions have come out of the post or in isolations.

That means the game is going to be a lot more physical for Love — and it already was plenty physical at times, like when Love lost a tooth late last season.

“I got hit in the face last year which led to losing a front tooth, and I had to get a root canal, but had I not been wearing that Shock Doctor mouthguard I would have lost my four front teeth,” Love said, speaking on behalf of Shock Doctor mouthguards. Love took an elbow to the face against the Heat and, while it wasn’t pretty (and he ended up in the league’s concussion protocol), he praised the mouthguard from saving him a lot more pain (and root canals) and a lot more time off the court recovering.

In a pace-and-space league, Love said being physical will be crucial to the Cavaliers making the playoffs this season.

“We’ve got to be (a physical team),” Love told NBC Sports. “We’ve got to be in great shape, I think that’s going to be an advantage for us. I think all of our guys being able to bring the ball up, that’s an advantage for us. We’re going to be able to switch at a number of positions and be very physical, that’s a way we need to play and we have that luxury. And also it’s a pace-and-space league and we’re going to have to be able to knock down shots, that’s the way the game has evolved, and the only way we’re going to do that is if we’re in shape and pushing the ball.”

From the moment Love signed that extension, the question around the league (and NBA Twitter) was “how long until the Cavs trade him and go all in on a rebuild?” Or, alternately, when will he get Blake Griffined?

That may be farther off than some fans realize — this summer started a two-year, $185 million renovation project of the Quicken Loans Arena, and it’s a bad look for the team to get the city and other entities to pitch in money for it then start tanking immediately — but the rumors are not going to stop. Love expects as much.

“From what I’ve gone through the last four years, my name has always come up in trade rumors and constantly come up in talks, whether it has been at the deadline, or throughout the summer, so I just let the chips fall where they may,” Love said. “The general manager, Koby Altman, and the owner Dan Gilbert know that I want to be here, but at the end of the day it’s a business.”

For Love, his summer has been focused on his new role. That means a mental adjustment, but as he turns 30 it also means a different focus on his training and body.

“Some running mechanics and just some biomechanics in general, just the movement of my body,” Love said. “Being 30 years old now It’s something I had to focus on.”

He also gets to focus on winning from the position of being the No. 1 option again. And that’s a place he is comfortable.