INDEPENDENCE — As the Cavaliers experience growing pains with four new players, relief might be ahead: Kevin Love.
The All-Star forward, sidelined since Jan. 29 with a broken left hand, said Friday he could return sooner than expected. The initial timetable was for him to be out two months.
“If I can get back before eight weeks, great,” he said. “So I’m hoping that that is the case.”
Love’s recovery has picked up speed in recent days. He’s now able to catch the ball with a padded glove to protect his left hand, and the progress is such that there’s less risk for re-injury.
“One of the things I can do now is kind of catch the ball, guide it and shoot it within 12-15 feet so that feels good to do something other than run on the treadmill or run on the bike so it’s nice,” he said.
The Cavaliers have been transformed since the last time Love played, with their roster overhauled by three trades before the deadline. Cleveland is just 4-3 since adding guards George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and forwards Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. But Love has been encouraged by the infusion of talent and is excited about the team’s prospects once he returns.
Reduced to a role of interested observer, Love has watched as coach Tyronn Lue force feeds numerous offensive sets and defensive principles to players who began the season in different systems. The new-look Cavs have had some great moments, and more than a few tough ones.
Following Thursday’s home loss to Philadelphia, Lue said he planned to simplify things for his new players. On Friday, the Cavs watched film and afterward Lue said he’s still confident his club will mesh.
“I feel good about this team,” Lue said. “No doubt about it. We got a lot of young talent. We got a lot of good pieces. We’re just trying to figure it out, put it together. We’ve only played seven games right now and those guys are still trying to figure it out.”
There will be another adjustment when Love returns, but it won’t be as if Lue has to re-teach him how to play with LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, the four players remaining from Cleveland’s 2016 NBA title team.
The Cavs may not be the same, but Love believes they remain strong.
“We have guys who have been here and know exactly what to expect moving forward,” said Love, who is averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. “So it’s on us to bring everybody along and have veteran guys push maybe the younger guys or the new guys through the process. ...
“The coaching staff has remained the same so we know what they want out of us. Having some new blood and some new faces in some ways can be a good thing because they’re going to be very hungry and want to get on that quick learning curve to make it so we have a big run.”
Chicken noodle or tomato? J.R. Smith didn’t serve up any explanation.
Cleveland’s mercurial shooting guard declined an interview request Friday, a day after the Cavaliers suspended him one game for throwing a bowl of soup at assistant coach Damon Jones.
The soup toss came following Thursday’s shootaround at the team’s training facility, hours before the Cavs played the Philadelphia 76ers, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not disclosed details.
Smith was with his teammates Friday — the Cavs didn’t practice, but watched film — and after getting in some extra shots, he told a team spokesman he will address the media at today’s shootaround before the Cavs play Denver.
Until then, what triggered his brothy outburst remains a mystery. ESPN.com first reported the reason for Smith’s suspension.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Smith did not address the team over the latest drama for a team that has had no shortage of theater this season.
“I had a little discussion with him,” Lue said before refusing to say if he was the one who suspended Smith.