Kevin Love heard criticism when he landed a coveted spot on the national team before the Tokyo Olympics after one of the worst seasons of his career. So did coach Gregg Popovich, who had a message for skeptics.
“We are going to work hard for the next 4-5 weeks and we will demand a lot,” Popovich said after the team’s first practice at UNLV on Tuesday.
“That will definitely get him back to the pace he needs to keep playing. I think that’s one of the big reasons he wanted to do this, so he could get back to who he was.”
Popovich made the call to offer Love a spot, believing his ability to shoot and be tough in the paint fighting for rebounds could be valuable in taking on some of the veteran European teams they will face in Japan.
Love played just 25 games last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers due to a recurring calf injury and averaged just 12.2 points, the lowest since his rookie year. He had a couple of good games at the end of the season, but he was still an amazing selection. Love hasn’t played for Team USA since 2012 and hasn’t been an All-Star since 2018.
“In a way, I understand (the criticism) because I came out of a season where I didn’t play that many games and I wasn’t at the top of my game,” Love said. “To come here, I feel like I have a lot to prove.”
There is an undertone to this opportunity that could play a role in Love’s future. While he’s focused on helping win a second gold medal – he won one in 2012 in London – his ticket out of Cleveland could be tied to his performance this summer.
The Cavs have tried to trade Love the last two seasons, but his injuries (only 103 games played in the last three years) and his disappointment with a long rebuilding have sometimes hit his courage. So do the two years and $ 60 million left on his contract.
Cleveland blessed Love’s desire to play this summer, even though he is at risk of further injury. At the end of the season, Cavs general manager Koby Altman said “we want him to be here” when asked about Love’s future. While the team certainly hopes that Love can return to an All-Star level and support his young players, it could also create some options that could benefit both parties.
It’s unclear how much playing time Love can have in Tokyo, as the Americans have a great squad. But League executives attended practice this week, as there are five exhibition games before the team crosses the Pacific. Those could end up being showcases for Love, not just for Popovich and his staff, but for other teams as well.
“I’m 13 years old, I’ve heard it all. All I can do is go out there and chase the game, let everything fall into place and just break my ass and see what I can do for this team.” Sees it.
“I think if it’s up to me to have to turn in my career for a team to win, I’m more than willing to do it. I feel like (the Cavs) or whatever team I finish for or Team USA, this is it. definitely something I can continue to progress on. “