There has been plenty of speculation about the future of injured Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, although Love has said time and time again that he plans on being with the Cavaliers next season. The big man reiterated that once again on Sunday when speaking to the media for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery on his left shoulder, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
When discussing his rehab from shoulder surgery, Love said he plans on being ready for Game 1 next season. The follow-up question asked whether he’d be in a Cavs uniform, to which he replied, “Yes, sir.”
Love very well could have just been giving the politically correct answer so as not to provide any distractions in advance of the NBA Finals. We’ve seen guys in his position say this kind of stuff before only to wind up leaving. Love himself gave diplomatic answers near the end with the Minnesota Timberwolves, even though everybody knew he wanted out.
Love has a $16.7 million player option he can exercise for next season, but the belief is that he’ll opt out and look around in free agency. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are two popular destinations usually mentioned, and there’s an appeal to both spots. Love has ties to Los Angeles and the Lakers are the Lakers, even if they’re in the midst of a rough patch. The Celtics are a young, up-and-coming team seeking a star talent, and while Love’s season prematurely ended because of Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk, there are no hard feelings there.
Of course, opting out doesn’t mean Love is leaving Cleveland. He could opt out and then sign a new max deal with the Cavaliers and get more money there than from any other team. He could also sign a short-term deal in Cleveland and then become a free agent again when the cap surges in the next few years.
People will point to some of the issues Love had this year as a reason why he’ll leave. But even despite some of his struggles and all the hand-wringing about him not fitting in, he still nearly averaged a double-double and the Cavaliers transformed into a juggernaut after those midseason trades, with Love playing an important role.
Cleveland went 29-4 when the starting lineup of Love, Irving, LeBron, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov played together this season, and that group outscored opponents by 19.3 points per 100 possessions in 481 regular-season minutes, per NBA.com. That net rating was 15.8 against the Celtics in the playoffs, and simply put, that unit was one of the most dominant lineups in the league.
Love, who struggled with his shooting at the outset of the year, began to find his stroke as the year went on, even if his overall numbers went down a bit. In the 23 games after the All-Star break, he shot 44.5 percent overall and nearly 41 percent from three on six three-pointers per game. His strong shooting from distance continued into the playoffs before he got hurt, as he was at 43 percent from three and went 6-of-10 from deep in a Game 3 win in Boston.
The emergence of Tristan Thompson as a consistent force on defense and the offensive boards has some thinking Love is expendable, but there’s no doubt the team would be even better if both are around. Thompson is a restricted free agent in the summer and is in line for a huge raise, but even if he’s a bench guy making eight figures annually, he’d still likely provide enough value to make that palatable. Love and Thompson offer different skills that make the Cavaliers a more dynamic, well-rounded team.
Things haven’t always been easy for Love this season, but Chris Bosh warned that it wouldn’t be easy adjusting to being a third banana. Bosh came to terms with it and helped the Miami Heat win two titles. If Love sticks around, he’ll be in title contention every season with the opportunity to put up double-doubles every night. And with more time in David Blatt’s system, perhaps there are more wrinkles put into the offense that help utilize Love better.
If Love ultimately wants to go somewhere else and be “The Man,” that’s his prerogative. But if he wants to be a strong contributor to a perennial title contender while making the big bucks, staying in Cleveland is the right play.