As the seconds ticked off the clock at the end of Game 7, Kevin Love ran onto the floor to hug his teammate, LeBron James. They had just won an NBA Championship in Cleveland defeating the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. They had done what the sports pundits across the country thought to be impossible: beating the Warriors, coming back from down 3-1, and winning a close-out Game 7 on the road. This was different when compared to the way Love's first season in Cleveland had ended just 14 months prior.
Love's shoulder was dislocated in the first-round of the playoff series against the upstart Boston Celtics. This limited Love's offseason routine as he was not able to work out his upper body due to the corrective surgery he had undergone. Instead, Love had dedicated his offseason to working out and strengthening his core and his lower body, looking to gain more consistency in his jump shot and to make sure his legs were in shape for the year. Coming off of this past season, Love is healthy, and he has been able to work out his upper body, which has been clear to see from watching Love in training camp and in the early preseason games.
Love has come into camp stronger than ever — he has added strength without adding weight. Love has also benefited by being able to workout with his teammates in the offseason, something he was not able to do last off-season. This is evident as the ball movement that the team has shown has been gorgeous, and Love has been able to more effectively get open and create shots for himself and others this year. This improvement in his game has been visible as he looks different on the floor when comparing him to years past.
Love is beginning to re-discover the confidence he showed when he was a member of the Timberwolves — the confidence to put the ball on the deck and take his man to the bucket off of the three-point line. He spent a large part of his off-season working on his ball-handling skills, that will enable him to make the defense respect him with space. If they close out and don't respect his ability to drive to the cup, he will show the ball-fake, draw the defender off his feet. He'll then be able to take a dribble or two and either get a better shot or find an open teammate due to the short-term numbers advantage caused by the Love ball fake.
With James likely having his regular season minutes cut down this season, more of the offensive load will be on Love and Irving. Love has prepared for this in the offseason, and due to the new-found confidence that accompanies both a championship and finding yourself, look for Love to have the best year he has had as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also look for Love to silence the critics this year with his performance on the floor.