INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- With the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2018 postseason set to open Sunday, Kevin Love knows what could be at stake based on how the team performs: LeBron James' future with the franchise.
Love and James -- the latter of whom is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer -- are two of the four remaining members of Cleveland's 2016 championship team.
They are trying to lead Cleveland to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance -- something that only four other teams have done in the 71-year history of the league.
Love, a 10-year veteran who will open the playoffs as the Cavs' starting center, acknowledged what has largely gone unmentioned by the organization this season -- that James' impending decision could have an impact on Cleveland's playoff run, and vice versa.
"It definitely could," Love told ESPN on Friday. "But only one person knows what he's thinking and that's 'Bron. I think at the end of the day, we would love to have a long run, but that's going to be up to not only him but all of us. And you know I don't mean only the players, but the coaching staff and everybody. I mean, really getting on board and, you know, sticking to our schemes and playing great basketball.
"So I think it definitely could affect it, but you know that's, at least for me, out of sight, out of mind right now."
Love was traded to Cleveland in the summer of 2014 after James made a personal appeal to him to accept a deal out of Minnesota. Love is aware that this could be his last hurrah alongside the future Hall of Famer.
"I think that's in the back of the mind," Love said. "I think it's always something that is potentially on the mind. But I feel the same way about myself. It could be my last run, too, so you just never know. The unknown is something that you try to just put out of your hands for a certain amount of time. But, just go out there and lose yourself in it and everything will fall where it needs to."
Love nearly left Cleveland after last season. Shortly after the Cavs lost in the NBA Finals, the team and its current first-round playoff opponent, the Pacers, were engaged in serious discussions that would have sent him to Indiana in a deal for Paul George.
"My name has always come up and will always continue to come up in trade rumors," Love said. "I guess it's good to be wanted. But at the same time, I've enjoyed being here. I've enjoyed every year competing for a championship. ...We're looking for another run this year. But I don't think that stuff will ever stop. And that's OK. I mean I've come to come to terms with it and, you know, whatever happens happens, but for now I just want to try to win."
Love will have more responsibility than ever in assuring that the Cavs win this postseason, now that Kyrie Irving is no longer playing the 1A to James' No. 1 option.
Cleveland went 11-2 during the regular season when Love scored 24 points or more, and his second straight All-Star nod as a Cavalier (although it was his second straight missed All-Star Game due to injury) seems to have shifted the national narrative about just how valuable a player he is.
Perhaps the most scrutinized player in Cleveland the past three seasons during its "Big Three" era, Love said the change in perception could be because of how well he has played. He shot 32-for-70 (45.7 percent) from 3-point range in 11 games since returning from a fractured left hand.
But he said it could also be just as much because of how he has handled himself.
"I just kind of kept my mouth shut throughout it all," Love said. "Just sacrifice for the better of the team no matter what happens. No matter if I was scrutinized, no matter if I was playing bad, or whether I was playing great, or whether I was going through my struggles. It didn't matter what it was. I just want to keep my head down and keep moving forward. So I feel like I've been able to feel more at peace and more at home on the court no matter who is out there with me."
And the experience of being on the court with James has Love supporting his teammate to win his fifth league MVP this season -- unlike in Love's first season in Cleveland, when he caused a bit of controversy by endorsing a former UCLA teammate, Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
"I don't know if the word 'unprecedented' is the word to go with, but [his] 15th season, [James] could easily be the MVP," Love said, adding he indeed believes James should win it. "I would say even if he doesn't, if he weren't to win it, it would have to be the best season anybody's ever had and not won the MVP. It was such a special year, and we had so many injuries. He played all 82 games. He was still able to, and not surprisingly play such a miraculously high level."
Considering the Cavs' midseason struggles -- they went just 4-11 from Dec. 19 to Jan. 23 -- it would be somewhat of a miracle if they were to go on and capture their second championship in three years this spring.
Looking back at Cleveland's midseason trades, which sent six players out the door -- including notable names like Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose -- and welcomed four new players, Love still doesn't have an answer for what went wrong.
"I remember of one of the first meetings we had, and [assistant coach] Larry Drew ... he'd been in the league 30-years plus and had never been around a more talented group. And I felt really the same way," Love said. "Sometimes those types of things just don't mesh. And I think everybody's mind, everybody's heart was in the right place, but at the end of the day we just couldn't put it all together. So the changes were made and here we are."
Where "here" is remains to be seen. Some believe Cleveland is prime for an early postseason upset, with rotation players such as Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood having little to no playoff experience.
However, inexperience isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the Cavs made the Finals in 2015, they had a group that relied on players like Love, Irving, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, all of whom were making their postseason debuts.
"Hopefully when we lock in like we always do heading into the playoffs, we're going to be better off," Love said. "It is a different feel than any other year, but it's tough to say exactly what that is just because it is there are so many new guys, so many moving parts. But we have the guys that are hungry and locked, and some guys that are thirsty for playoff experience.
"We would like to give our best shot to make it to the Finals and win an NBA championship," he said. "I think that's been the goal really ever since 'Bron came back and I got traded here. So I don't think that changes. I think even with the new guys getting experience, younger guys getting experience and our savvy veterans stepping up to play, I think we have a really good shot. But the East's gotten a lot better."