Kevin Love heard the setback when he took a coveted spot on the US national team after one of the worst seasons of his career before the Tokyo Olympics. So did coach Gregg Popovich, who had a message for the doubters.
“We’re going to work his ass off for the next four to five weeks and demand a lot,” said Popovich after the team’s first training session at UNLV on Tuesday.
“That will definitely get him back into the rhythm he needs to be in to keep playing. I think that’s one of the main reasons he wanted to do this so that he can get back to who he was.”
Popovich called to offer Love a spot, believing his ability to shoot and fight for rebounds could be valuable in competing against some of the seasoned European squads Team USA will face in Japan.
Love only played 25 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season due to a recurring calf injury and averaged just 12.2 points, the lowest since his rookie year. He had a few good games at the end of the season, but he was still a surprising pick. Love hasn’t played on Team USA since 2012 and hasn’t been an All-Star since 2018.
“In a way, I understand [the criticism] because I’ve had a season in which I didn’t play that many games and wasn’t in top form, “said Love.” For me, coming here, I feel like I have a lot to prove. “
Kevin Love says he understands the criticism of his selection of Team USA and has “a lot to prove” at the Tokyo Olympics. AP Photo / John Locher
There is an undercurrent of this opportunity that could play a role in Love’s future. While he is focused on helping the team win a second gold medal – one he won in London in 2012 – his ticket from Cleveland could be tied to his performance that summer.
The Cavs have attempted to trade Love for portions of the past two seasons, but his injuries – just 103 games in the last three years – and disillusionment with a lengthy rebuilding have at times diminished its worth. So the two years and $ 60 million that he still has.
Cleveland blessed Love’s desire to play this summer despite risking further injuries. At the end of the season, Cavs chief executive Koby Altman said “we want him to be here” when asked about Love’s future. While the team is no doubt hoping Love can return to an all-star level and support Cleveland’s youngsters, Love’s game could well create some options that could benefit both sides.
It’s unclear how much playing time Love will actually get in Tokyo given the Americans have a deep squad. But the league executives are in attendance this week watching the practice as there are five exhibition games before the team flies across the Pacific. These could be a showcase for love – not just for Popovich and his employees, but also for other teams.
“I’m 13 years old now, I’ve heard everything,” said Love. “All I can do is go out and chase the game, let it all fall apart and just rip my ass off and see what I can do for this team.
“I think if it’s up to me to turn my career around so a team wins, I’m more than ready to do that. I feel like I’m on.” [the Cavs] or whatever team I end up in, or in a US team, that’s definitely something I can develop in. “