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Kevin Love running out of time to find role alongside LeBron James

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"I think his confidence maybe shooting the ball is a little down, but for me as a player, I get him good looks. I want him to shoot the ball and he needs to shoot it with confidence." - LeBron James on Kevin Love.

The needs and wants of LeBron James have been the Cleveland Cavaliers main concern since his return last summer.

LeBron is reportedly the GM, coach and star player all rolled into one - an unfair characterisation but one that reflects the fact that the Cavs have completely mortgaged their future to live in LeBron's present.

And Kevin Love is the daily reminder of the future Cleveland gave up. When they traded for the three-time All-Star, the Cavs thought they were getting the perfect big-man complement to LeBron - a dead-eye shooter with the range to spread the floor in an offense that was going to be dynamite.

Whoops.

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While Andrew Wiggins gets better by the week in Minnesota, Love puts together 1-7 shooting nights like his effort yesterday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

It was 33 minutes of event-free action for the former-Timberwolves forward, who ended the game with five points, two assists, 15 rebounds and a whole bunch of passed up shots.

The Love of Minnesota would have been throwing daggers from around the court against a willing but naive Sixers defense.

My entire life I've played the game from inside out - Kevin Love

When players, in any sport, switch teams it takes time to gel. The Cavs knew this, but they don't have much time. LeBron is the wrong side of 30, he's already played more than 34,000 minutes.

When he signed, Love knew he was brought in to occupy the Wade/Bosh supplement to James.

"My entire life I've played the game from inside out," Love said back in October.

"So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I'm not accustomed to starting a game shooting a three."

That raised a few eyebrows back at the start of the season. So how's that inside-out game working? Well, it's not.

Per Basketball Reference, Love is shooting a career high 37 per cent of his field goals from three point range and a career low 23 per cent from inside three feet of the basket.

The Cavs wanted him to space the floor with his shooting, but it's been a dramatic shift for a forward used to getting his touches down low. And his shooting trend is not curving upward either.

Through his first 24 games, Love had less than 10 points just once - against the Wizards in November. Since then, he's had fewer than 10 points seven times including last night against the Sixers.

Offensive concerns

Back in October, James dismissed the concerns over the Cavs' sputtering offense.

"I think we are all going to go through an adjustment and less touches than we would like.

"Anytime one of us says something it will get blown out of proportion and I think that got blown out of proportion. I read the clips of what he stressed. The first thing you see is Kevin Love wants more touches and is unhappy, but I've had zero reaction."

The thing is, offense was supposed to be the one thing Love definitely would bring to Cleveland. It made his awful defense forgivable.

His limited impact in the Western Conference, despite eye-catching stats, was not his fault. It was the Timberwolves supporting cast.

Here is the final decision on the Kevin Love era in Minnesota: He was not a defender, not a team guy and not a winner - Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding

Alongside better players, so the thinking goes, talented stars raise their game. For Love, that inability to carve out a niche is worrying. When LeBron rejoined Cleveland, the Miami Heat circus upped sticks and moved with him.

Stuff like this, from Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, was new for a player used to the backwaters of Minneapolis: "For all the gaudy individual numbers and All-Star appearances, here is the final decision on the Kevin Love era in Minnesota: He was not a defender, not a team guy and not a winner."

So back to last night. A win is a win, and when that's a league-leading 11th straight, then it's easy to just sweep any concerns under the carpet.

After the game, LeBron had his say on a shot-shy Love.

"I think Kev had some shots that he passed up on," James said. "Maybe he felt that he just wasn't in a good rhythm, but I know I hit him with a few [potential] shots after the first quarter where he had some good looks when he decided to swing-swing [with a pass], which is OK, it kept the ball moving."

ESPN reported that Love returned to the court after the game to get some more shots up. That's encouraging. Every player goes through slumps, the good ones play their way out.

Love is a talented forward figuring out his role. But he's running out of time already, we're almost at the All-Star break after all.

The Cavs season will not be a write off just because they're in the East, they could be at 80 per cent and still reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

And against the Sixers, Love had the highest plus/minus rating on the Cavs team at plus-26. But, come playoff time, when the Cavs are up against the Hawks, Bulls or Wizards, five points and a bunch of rebounds won't be good enough.

Love is still only useful relative to his effectiveness working alongside James. And at the moment, that's not very useful at all.

LeBron unselfish

Because ultimately, it all comes back to LeBron.

"At the end of the day, you want to win and you sacrifice whatever you need to do to help the team win," James said. "It's all that matters. It doesn't matter about shot attempts. It doesn't matter about how many touches you get. If you want to win, then you'll do that.

"I'll go 0-for-0 from the field to win. I'll get rebounds, I'll get assists, I'll take charges, I'll get steals. I don't need to shoot the ball at all, because I'm about winning. That's all that matters."

That's fine for LeBron, who has the championships and is chasing more. But is that really Love's role? A $16m-a-year guy who eats up the minutes - with an opt-out too?

That's not what the team, the player or the fans had in mind, and that's worrying. Cleveland needs to figure it out fast, because the future is something they've given up on already.

Topics:
Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
NBA
Kevin Love
LeBron James

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