CLEVELAND -- It was close to midnight on Saturday, LeBron James was thinking about the state of his Cleveland Cavaliers and he had something he wanted to share not just with his 18.7 million followers on Twitter, but also with the guys he shares the locker room with.
"Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN," James tweeted. "Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts."
While James didn't specifically reference any teammates in the tweet, the message was loud and clear: Time to get on board, Kevin Love.
Over the past three weeks, ever since James returned from a two-week hiatus to not only heal his back and left knee but also get his mind right, the Cavs had become the hottest team in the league. With Sunday's 120-105 domination of the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland has now won 13 of its past 14 games, beating the likes of Chicago, Portland, Oklahoma City and twice taking down the L.A. Clippers along the way.
The team's ascendance has coincided with major struggles for Love, however. Before Love's breakout performance Sunday with a season-high 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting (including 7-for-8 from 3-point territory), his offense had been atrocious. He was averaging roughly half of his 26.1 points per game average he put up in Minnesota last season on sub-40 percent shooting and bottoming out by totaling just five points in two of his past three games.
The wording of James' tweet was suspicious, considering this quote from Love that he said back in training camp:
"I'm comfortable and just not trying to, I guess, fit in so much," Love said. "I had a talk with the guys on the plane ride over [to Brazil] and also at different practices off the floor and they told me to fit out. Just be myself."
James wants Love to be himself so long as that means the three-time All-Star is selfless.
James initially denied the tweet had anything to do with the Cavs, saying, "Obviously any thought that I have, people always want to encrypt it and Da Vinci Code it and all that stuff." He later illustrated the Da Vinci Code example, saying that a LeBron Truther online suggested he announced his comeback to Cleveland on July 11, 2014 -- 7/11/14 -- specifically on that day as a hat tip to the Finals losses in 2007, 2011 and 2014 he wanted to avenge.
But later, when asked at his locker about the tweet and its relationship to Love's quote back in October by a small group of reporters after the game, the four-time MVP flashed a revealing smile.
"It's not a coincidence, man," James said.
James had been dancing around Love's involvement -- or lack thereof -- all week.
On Monday, after Love didn't attempt a shot after the first quarter in the Cavs' 97-84 win over Philadelphia, James tried to shift the focus to what really matters to him: winning.
"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."
Thursday, James took it even further, stating he would accept coming off the bench -- as ridiculous as that sounds -- as long as it benefited the group.
"It's about a team and how we all fit together, how the five guys on the court fit together, how the eight guys or 10 guys on the bench all help the guys that are on the floor and so on and so on," James said. "So, sacrifice is the biggest word in team sports, but it's not about saying it. It's about doing it, as well. It's about living it."
While James' approach to get his message across certainly could be categorized as passive aggressive, it's important to recognize that there's nothing malicious about it. It wasn't like James sent out that tweet about Love and then froze him out on the court Sunday. It was just the opposite, actually, as he made a point to pass to Love early and often and was instrumental in Love topping out at 32 points. He even drew up plays during a timeout on Sunday to keep getting Love the ball, because, as James said, "He had the hot hand, I wanted to keep going to him."
"It's huge," Love said after the game when asked about James targeting him with passes. "Whether I'm running the floor and ducking in or he's calling a play for me to get it inside or out, he's one of the best in the league at setting guys up. So when I'm on the other end of that and it's a crisp pass coming from him, it's going to be a good look."
Love, to his credit, had been saying all the right things during the Cavs' winning streak, never complaining about his lack of scoring while Cleveland was climbing up the Eastern Conference standings from sixth to third. But Friday night, after scoring just five points again in a loss to Indiana and being benched for the final 3:30 of the fourth quarter, he let his frustrations come out in an interview with Cleveland.com, saying, "I think it's one of the toughest situations I've had to deal with," and classifying his role in the offense as a "spacer." He also said, "there's no blueprint for what I should be doing."
It echoed Love's squeaky-wheel comments in the preseason when he spoke about the lack of post touches he was receiving in Cleveland.
The Cavs made a conscious effort to correct that earlier in the season, devising a plan to feed Love in the first quarter of games, especially down low, so he would already have a feel for the ball as he was asked to stretch the floor and become more perimeter based as the game went on.
Back in November and December, James was just as guilty as Love has been for having bad body language on the court and not playing by example when it came to things like always getting back on defense instead of arguing with referees over a call, or keeping his head up after a missed shot.
However, he became re-energized by the two weeks off to rest and bought back in with everything he's got when the Cavs made their pair of trades to bring in Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
Now that he's locked in and seemingly has the confidence that these Cavs could very well be properly equipped to make a championship run, he wants everyone on the same page immediately, Love included, so there's nothing festering that could derail the team from reaching its potential.
Yes, James was calling Love out, but he's also asking Love to trust him.
It might be hard for Love to see, but even when he's not touching the ball out on the perimeter, he is helping open up the court for James and Kyrie Irving -- two of the best players in the league off the dribble -- to operate and attack the lane.
"When he's on the floor, he gives us another dynamic anyways because people have to pay attention to him, but when he's knocking down shots like that, it just spreads the offense out even more and the defense has to pay even more attention to him," James said.
The sun and moon revolved around Love's planet in Minnesota for the past six seasons, so it's not shocking that it has been an adjustment for Love to suddenly be pulled into James' orbit. But James' point is that his universe has been mighty good for his teammates -- five trips to the NBA Finals in the past eight years for the teams he has led -- and Love should see that and become a willing disciple.
"Right now," James said. "There's no time to wait. When I decided to come back, I wanted to change the culture back to where it was when I left. Get back to the winning ways, but just get back to being professionals."
And James is finding out which teammates fit that culture. After not seeing eye-to-eye early on, Irving quickly got in line. When Dion Waiters failed to fully relish his role, he had to go. Now he is testing Love -- no doubt knowing full well that the Feb. 19 trade deadline is less than two weeks away and with Love able to opt out of his contract and walk as a free agent this summer, it's now or never for him to prove just how much he wants to be a part of what is being built in Cleveland.
"We need Kev to play at a high level," James said. "We know he can shoot the ball. We expect a lot out of him and he gave us everything he had tonight. It was great."