INDEPENDENCE — Kevin Love signed his new contract and proudly put on a hard hat.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will rebuild around him.
The All-Star forward made a long-term commitment to the franchise Tuesday by signing a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavaliers, who believe Love can help them stay competitive following LeBron James’ departure.
The 29-year-old Love, who was nearly traded twice by Cleveland, signed the extension in front of dozens of construction workers inside Quicken Loans Arena, the team’s downtown home, which is undergoing a $140 million renovation not unlike the makeover taking place with the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
The symbolic moment wasn’t lost on Love, who came to Cleveland four years ago to join James and Kyrie Irving and form the Cavs’ “Big 3.”
It’s now his team.
“I look back, everything happens for a reason,” Love said. “My best friend from back home said, ‘It always works out.’ This is where I wanted to be. I’ve said that all along. There were some tough times where potentially I would have been traded and my name came up in rumors every few months. But hopefully that ends now.”
Love didn’t know when he arrived at the arena that he would be meeting with carpenters, electricians, plumbers and team employees to celebrate his signing. General manager Koby Altman wanted to surprise him.
Moments after signing, Love took a selfie with the workers and posted it on Instagram.
“It wasn’t even my idea, but I thought it was great,” Love said. “I had all the people behind me. It’s almost like, to me it’s not a rebuild, because we have talent, we have championship-caliber guys, and we have young and fresh guys that are going to be willing to learn and come along in this league.
“I think guys putting on their hard hats and coming to work every day — that has to be the identity to our team, and I think we have guys that are cut from that cloth and are going to be willing to go out there and prove themselves.”
Love will make $24.1 million next season before the extension begins, making his contract worth $145 million over five years. Love waived his option for 2019-20 and there are no other options or trade clauses within the new deal.
He will be paid $28.9 million in 2019-20, $31.3 million in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and $28.8 million in 2022-23.
The deal gives Love obvious financial security, and it locks up an elite player for the Cavaliers, who want to avoid stumbling the way they did when James left the first time in free agency in 2010.
As the NBA waited for James to make his move earlier this month, Love was with friends on Long Island when he got word that his teammate was bound for LA.
“I was kind of just sitting there in a crowd of people and I go, ‘Huh, OK, well, let me go call Koby,’” Love said. “Koby actually ended up calling me and made a couple calls and we need to figure some things out, but here we go, let’s build this thing.”
Love, who will turn 30 in September, just completed his fourth season with Cleveland, which was swept by Golden State in the Finals. And although James is elsewhere, Love believes that with him and young players like rookie guard Collin Sexton, forwards Cedi Osman and Larry Nance and others, Cleveland can remain more than competitive.
“You lose the best player in the world, you have to form a new identity,” he said. “But I think in some cases what we lose in identity we will make up but we also have in culture. We’ve always had a culture here that has been very hard working. … I think we’re going to see a lot of guys really having fun and being themselves and playing really hard-nosed basketball.”
Altman said it wasn’t long after James announced he wasn’t coming back that he made his commitment to Love.
“Right after LeBron decided to leave, I called Kevin first,” Altman said. “I said: ‘Kev, I’m not trading you. I want you to be here and I want you to be a part of this thing,’ and he was all in then, too. He’s never wavered in his commitment, not once in the four years since we traded for him and not once this summer and, to me, that’s really, really meaningful.
“He wants to be a part of this franchise and be the leader. I think he’s earned that.”