There is a lot riding on Kevin Love in his return to the Olympics.
The 32-year-old’s inclusion on the 12-man Team USA roster for the Tokyo Games raised eyebrows following his lackluster season in Cleveland, in which he averaged 12.2 points (the lowest since his rookie year), 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Following the roster reveal, Jalen Rose, a columnist and podcast host for The Post, said he didn’t believe Love deserved a spot on the coveted list. Instead, Rose said Suns breakout star Deandre Ayton, who’s currently playing in his first NBA Finals, should replace Love.
The Cavaliers big man has heard the loud doubters and critics alike. So has Team USA coach Gregg Popovich, who believes Love accepted his offer to play in Tokyo so that he can get back his basketball mojo.
“We’re going to work his a– off the next four to five weeks and demand a lot,” Popovich said after the team’s first practice in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
“That’s going to definitely get him back into the rhythm he needs to be in to continue to play. I think that’s one of the big reasons he wanted to do this, so he can get himself back to who he was.”
The longtime Spurs coach is a strong believer in Love’s shooting ability, as well as his paint-pushing to fight for rebounds — something Cavaliers fans only saw out of Love in 25 regular-season games this season due to a nagging calf injury.
“In a way I understand [the criticism] because I came off a season where I didn’t play that many games and wasn’t at the top of my game,” Love said. “For me to come here, I feel I have a lot to prove.”
After 13 years in the league, Love admitted he’s “heard it all” when it comes to opinions about his game.
“All I can do is go out there and chase the game, let everything fall into place and just bust my a– and see what I can do for this team,” Love said. “I do believe if it’s on me to have to pivot in my career for a team to win, I’m more than willing to do that. I do feel like on [the Cavs] or whatever team I end up on or USA team, this is definitely something I can continue to progress in.”
The Summer Olympics could very well be a prime opportunity for Love to show teams outside of Cleveland that he can still play at a high level — like he did when he won a championship in 2016, alongside former Cavs teammate LeBron James.
The Cavaliers are in the midst of a major rebuild after a 22-50 record, and it’s difficult to imagine how Love fits in with their blueprint.
The five-time All-Star, who seemed frustrated with the team’s young core throughout the season, just finished the second year of a four-year, $120 million contract extension with the Cavs.
Love’s future in Cleveland is in question, and he could be a target in the buyout market or if he shows enough in Tokyo, a potential trade option if a team is willing to take on the rest of his contract.
Team USA will play five exhibition games before traveling to Tokyo for the Summer Games.
Love has a shot at a career rebirth, and a chance to win gold again, like he did in 2012 at the Summer Olympics in London.