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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/The former Lake Oswego star, itching for a return to healthy duty with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sees family and continues his new role as a spokesman in the mental health movement

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - KEVIN LOVEKevin Love looked fit and strong as he mingled with friends and acquaintances outside the visitors locker room Wednesday night at Moda Center.

The Lake Oswego native is still on the mend, though, as he tries to work his way back onto the basketball court.

Love hasn't played in a game for the Cleveland Cavaliers since Oct. 24, when the throbbing in his big left toe became too much to handle. He underwent foot surgery on Nov. 2, and only this week has been given permission by Cavs medical staffers to begin basketball-related activities.

"I'm getting better," Love said after Cleveland's 129-112 loss to the Trail Blazers. "I'm back on the court. I'm going to start running this week. Things have progressed. I'm hoping for (a return to action by) the end of this month."

Love accompanied the team on its six-game trip, which ends with stops at Utah on Friday and Denver on Saturday.

"All of our training staff is here," he said. "Now that I'm back on the court, I'm working with them and seeing every game."

The initial prognosis was that Love would be out for "at least" six weeks. He's at the 10-week mark now.

"It's longer than I expected," he said. "We wanted to make sure we had all the i's dotted and the t's crossed, to pass every (medical) test. No reason to rush it, especially with a weight-bearing injury like this."

And especially since the Cavaliers (9-36) are the worst team in the NBA. The post-LeBron James era has been catastrophic in Cleveland, with the best remaining player — Love — missing for most of the season.

"This has been tough," Love said. "We've had a lot of guys injured. I've been out. We've been losing games. It's never fun, especially when you've been out as long as I have. I'm itching to get back."

Last July, Love signed a four-year, $120-million contract extension with the Cavs, his team for the previous four years. There had been four trips to the NBA Finals, a championship (2016), two All-Star selections and familiarity with a city he has embraced.

After the season, Love met with Cleveland general manager Koby Altman.

"I said regardless of what happens with LeBron, I want to be here," Love said. "We've had a lot of success. I feel comfortable there. I like where I live. When the negotiations ended, it was an easy decision."

The Cavs could offer more money than any other team, too. Love's total package — including the final year of his previous deal — is $144 million. He will be paid $24.1 million this season, $28.9 million next season, $31.3 million in each of the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons and $28.9 million in the 2022-23 campaign, when he is 34.

With James in Los Angeles and part of the Lakers, Love's role will return to one similar to what he had for his first six NBA seasons with Minnesota, where he was a three-time All-Star and piled up huge scoring and rebound numbers.

He averaged 19 points and 13.5 rebounds in the four games he played this season before surgery.

"But with that, I've had to generate some growth with being able to set guys up more," Love said. "These last four years in Cleveland, I've sacrificed for the betterment of the team. Early on, I had some bad habits and some selfish tendencies, because at that time I was just trying to find my way into the league. I didn't really know what it took to win at a championship level. I've learned a lot, this being my 11th year."

Love has become a renowned mental health advocate after a Players Tribune article he penned last March told of his dealing with depression from the time he was a child growing up in Lake Oswego. Over the past few months, he has spoken at a seminar at Tufts University, hosted a web series while interviewing the likes of Michael Phelps and Paul Pierce and enjoyed a role as a spokesman in the movement of mental health.

"Everybody has their own story to tell, whether it be at arm's distance, whether it be about them or another person," Love said. "I've been dealing with it myself for my whole life.

"Phelps is maybe the most decorated U.S. athlete of all time. He has done a lot of stuff, talking the talk but walking the walk, trying to help people and setting up his own foundation. I really respect that, and I want to keep doing it as well."

Love said he has had more response from the public on the mental health subject "than about anything at any time in my career."

"More than winning a championship, than winning an Olympic gold medal — this has been the No. 1 thing," he said. "It's cool. If someone had told me it was going to happen like this, that I would be able to transition into this and be able to help the masses — I would have never known. I never thought being vulnerable and speaking my truth to people was something I was going to do."

Love had a brief but meaningful visit with family while in Portland. He visited the new house of his brother, Collin, and attended the baptism of his nephew, Aksel, at Our Lady of the Lake Parish.

"That's where my grandma and I used to go," Love said. "My sister (Emily) was there, too. It was a lot of fun."

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