CLEVELAND – Olympic champions together, Kevin Love and LeBron James spent the last 30 days waiting to become teammates again.
Cleveland has craved a championship for 50 years.
One drought over. One to go.
On the first day they were able to complete the long-discussed blockbuster trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves sent Love to the Cavaliers, who capped a spectacular summer Saturday by acquiring the All-Star power forward as another running mate for James to make them instant title contenders.
James didn’t waste any time in making Love feel at home.
“Welcome to the Land (at)kevinlove!” the four-time league MVP posted on his Twitter account.
Yes, Cleveland, a city without a major sports championship since 1964, has another superstar.
The Timberwolves receive a bountiful return for parting with Love, the disgruntled face of their franchise. They acquired No. 1 overall draft choice Andrew Wiggins and former top pick Anthony Bennett from the Cavs and veteran forward Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers in the three-team deal.
“When it boils down to it, Kevin over his six years, he kept on saying ‘I want to win. I want to win,’” Timberwolves President Flip Saunders said. “Unfortunately over these last years, both him and the team haven’t been able to do that. He felt it was best for him to go elsewhere.
“I was happy we were able to work with him and (agent) Jeff Schwartz and put him in a situation that he’s going to have the ability to do that and we’re going to have the ability for us to have an identity of where our team is at and continue to grow.”
The Sixers received a 2015 first-round draft choice from Cleveland – ironically, one of the ones the Cavs got from Miami for James in 2010 – and guard Alexey Shved and forward Luc Mbah a Moute from the Timberwolves, who also receive a trade exception worth about $6.3 million.
The Cavs and Timberwolves discussed a trade involving Love for months, long before James decided to end his magnificent run with the Heat and come back home to Ohio. The deal dragged through the summer, first because of Cleveland’s unwillingness to include Wiggins, and then due to a rarely used league rule that prohibited it from being completed until 30 days after Wiggins signed his rookie contract.
That bit of fine print in the collective bargaining agreement triggered an agonizing wait in both cities, more so in championship-starved Cleveland where generations of fans have longed for the Cavs, Indians or Browns to win it all.
But once the teams completed a conference call with the league Saturday, there was nothing to prevent the planet’s best player from aligning with the league’s best power forward. Add in All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and James is the ringleader of a trio as potentially devastating as the one with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh he broke up last month.
“Kevin joining the Cavaliers represents a very special and unique opportunity for our team,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said. “At only 25, Kevin has already firmly established himself as one the NBA’s elite players and his talent, versatility and fit are major parts of our team’s vision for success.”
Love’s arrival caps a stunning two-month turnaround for the Cavs, who won just 33 games last season and haven’t been to the playoffs since James left in 2010.
Cleveland locked up Irving, last year’s All-Star Game MVP, to a maximum contract extension on the first day of free agency and then James rocked the league by announcing his return to bring a title to Northeast Ohio. Beyond that, Cleveland signed free agents Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones, veteran players with NBA titles on their resumes.
Love is the biggest piece. He’s coming off of his best season, averaging career highs in points (26.1) and assists (4.4) while grabbing 12.5 rebounds per game and shooting 37.6 percent on 3-pointers.
“Welcome to Cleveland Wes,” Irving tweeted at Love, alluding to a Sprite ad campaign the two players starred in where Love played a character called “Uncle Wes.”
Despite his play, the Wolves finished 40-42, well out of the playoff chase in the demanding Western Conference, and he made it clear to the organization that he would opt out of his contract next summer and look for a contender.
“I want to personally thank Kevin Love for his six seasons with the Wolves,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. “On the floor, Kevin has worked hard to make himself a great player in the NBA. He also made it a priority to give back to the community … we wish him nothing but the best in Cleveland.”
The Cavs were initially reluctant to deal Wiggins, the super-athletic small forward who spent one year at Kansas. The Timberwolves entertained offers from several other teams for Love, who can opt out of his contract next summer. But they stayed patient, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Taylor agreed last month in Las Vegas that Wiggins had to be included.
Adding Wiggins, Bennett and Young, an underrated seven-year veteran who will start in Love’s spot, along with first-round draft pick Zach LaVine transforms the Wolves into a far more dynamic team around pass-happy point guard Ricky Rubio.
“We’ve all of a sudden become athletic, exciting and fast instead of being maybe a little bit slower and more plodding,” Saunders said.
For Cleveland, Love could cure years of frustration.
The city’s pained wait to celebrate a title may be nearing an end.
James and Love are together again, and the hope of ending so much sports heartbreak rests on their shoulders.