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With a team and a daughter to embrace, Heat’s Kevin Love pauses to appreciate, ‘It has been a very happy year’

A year ago, Kevin Love did not know what to expect.

During the 2023 All-Star break, the five-time All-Star had just completed a buyout with the Cleveland Cavaliers after being benched and then shuffled out of the rotation. At 34, it appeared the endgame was at hand.

Married. No kids. No team to call his own.

A year later, Love stands as a portrait of competitive perseverance and personal growth.

He couldn’t be happier, and hardly for something as trite as his Miami Heat standing as winners of six of their past eight amid this eight-day break in the schedule.

Again there is a prime role with a playoff contender.

And now it is being done as a dad.

Life, in at least one profound way, is just getting started.

For the first time, in the Heat’s final home game before this All-Star break, Love experienced take-your-daughter-to-work day, cradling his 8-month-old prior to again standing tall as Bam Adebayo’s backup at center.

“The craziest thing to me,” Love said during a quiet moment, “is how quickly they change. I mean, every 10 days, two weeks, she’s a different person. It’s wild.”

So has been the yearlong whirlwind.

Having remained with the Cavaliers through the rebuild following Cleveland’s second LeBron James tenure, Love had a different career sunset in mind, one in the wine, gold, navy and black of the franchise that he helped make an NBA champion in 2016.

During last year’s All-Star break, the color scheme changed to the black, red and yellow of the team he would help drive to the 2023 NBA Finals.

As he dressed following a victory during the Heat’s final road trip ahead of this break, the 2008 first-round pick out of UCLA paused for perspective.

He smiled as he spoke.

“I think the thing that’s most gratifying to me is that going to a new location or a new team or a new organization, new city, especially at this stage in your career, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “And after that run last year, I got so much fun out of it, as well as guys I’ll have relationships for life, bigger than basketball.

“My daughter was born on June 10th, right after Game 4 (of the NBA Finals). We bought a new house in Miami. It’s almost like we got to start our life in a place where we have a lot of friends and a lot of great teammates and people in the organization who have become family in a pretty quick time, So it has been a very happy year.”

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A year ago, the timing seemed so wrong. Franchise icons aren’t summarily dismissed at midseason. Newcomers generally don’t acclimate during deep playoff runs.

And few do it as expectant fathers on a ticking clock, albeit with much in that regard being handled by wife Kate Bock, the Canadian model.

“It was actually an amazing summer in terms of how we balanced our time,” Love said. “It was working out in the morning, getting all that done, and just hanging with the baby.”

It has been, Love said, both everything he thought and nothing he expected.

“A little bit of both,” he said. “You plan as much as you can, mentally and within your household, but outside of that it kind of just throws you for a loop.

“But it’s great, just great.”

And now, he said with a smile, the pressure, as part of a model couple, is off.

Had there been a boy, he appreciated there would be comparisons to his career, having gone from national prep player of the year in 2007, to collegiate All-American to 2012 USA Basketball Olympic gold.

But now, with a daughter, the comparison goes elsewhere, at least to a degree, with Love having been featured semi-naked in ESPN Magazine’s 2015 Body Issue.

In that regard, Love is hoping that like mother, like daughter.

“She better be,” he said, again smiling, a seeming constant during the interview. “I’ve fluctuated. I’ve been the ugly duckling; I’ve been ESPN body issue.

“But it’s Kate that’s under a lot of pressure. It’s kind of like if you have a son and you have a dad that played basketball, then it’s put on being this great athlete. So just put it all on mom.”

As for the basketball element, Love has assumed somewhat of a patriarchal role in the Heat locker room under Erik Spoelstra, now that longtime Heat captain Udonis Haslem has retired. There certainly is no bigger or more boisterous voice after victories.

“I feel comfortable here as well as understanding what everyone, and I mean everybody, wants,” he said, “and just being an absolutely bubbly guy and personality to be around. I think from that perspective, yes, I feel like I’m in a good spot.

“I certainly want to embrace that leadership role, because I can kind of extend an olive branch and meet guys halfway and just relate to guys on different levels, whether they be Niko (Jovic) or be it Bam or be it Tyler (Herro) or Jimmy (Butler). There’s a way to get through to each guy that I do feel like I have the capability of doing.”

While also not quite ready to move into a role solely of mentor, as Haslem did during his closing seasons.

“For at least the next year or two, I’ll certainly be able to add a lot of value and be able to play at a high level,” he said. “But after that? We’ll see. But as far as a mentor role, with good young guys, yeah, hell yeah, I can lead.”

A year ago, the perspective in Cleveland was that Love had gotten old.

“I am old,” he says without shame.

But also rejuvenated.

“Yeah, I think it’s a renewal, certainly a recalibration,” he said. “I think one of the things I told Spo was that living out of a hotel last season and being integrated into a system, and wanting to play so well right away, it was up and down.

“I think recalibrating, and being in a very good place physically and mentally is paying dividends for me and hopefully the team. So I think that is very positive moving forward, so I can show, he’s in Year 16, but still with a lot to give, definitely in a good place, mentality.”

And a good place parentally.

“My wife, and our baby, we’re settled in here,” he said. “We feel good.”