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As the lone remaining All-Star from the 2016 championship team, Kevin Love has become the new face of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He kind of had a hunch the old one would leave. Though Love admitted he wasn’t quite sure what to expect when it came to LeBron James’ free-agent decision to bolt to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I had somewhat of an idea,” Love said in an interview with ESPN. “I had, like everybody, weighed the options and kinda had an idea of where he might go. … I knew it was probably between Cleveland and Los Angeles.”
Love clearly has had no issue with James deciding to take his talents to Hollywood. The two remain fairly tight. But other than his own family, James doesn’t share big free-agency news with even his closest friends — as LeBron always wants to break the news himself.
This time, he did it quietly, or as quietly as James can break news, via social media.
“I think he’s always looking for a different challenge,” Love said. “He’s always wondering what’s next and it feels like sometimes he’s playing chess and everybody else is playing checkers. He’s very, very mentally strong, knows the game of basketball so well, and sometimes there’s something that he sees that other people don’t.”
With James, the Cavs made four straight appearances in the Finals, winning the franchise’s lone championship in 2016. Only Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and head coach Tyronn Lue remain from that team.
Now, James is a member of a Lakers team that finished last season at 35-47 and in 11th place in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs.
But James turned around the Cavs immediately upon arrival in 2014 and could have a similar impact in LA.
Meanwhile, the Cavs will to try overcome the loss of James with a team-first, share-the-wealth philosophy with Love as the focal point of the offense. Along with Love and the other veterans, the Cavs will be relying on plenty of youth, with No. 8 overall draft pick Collin Sexton offering the organization reason for hope in the future.
“When you lose the best player in the world, it’s hard to bounce back from that,” Lue told the Boston Herald. “You can’t replace a player like LeBron James. So we’ve got to do it by committee.”
Most experts aren’t exactly predicting a whole lot of success — with ESPN projecting the Cavs to finish 11th in the East.
As for LeBron departing, well, Love tried to explain it the best he could.
“I think he might have been looking for something different, and a change, and the next chapter for him,” Love said, “and here we are.”