Depending on whose side you are on, January 2018 has been hysterically funny or cruelly sober for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are 5-7. They are scoring 109 points per game but giving up 116. The hand wringing and complaining and reflexive finger pointing sound familiar to anyone who has been around a losing team. The usual suspects are at the front of the class, staring into the abyss. Ty Lue doesn’t need to say another word. Just look at his hair; it is getting grayer by the day. He has to put up or shut up or his job will be on the brink similar to his mentor David Blatt’s experience. Similarities aside, Lue suddenly has cover now that Kevin Love has broken his hand and the Cavs have to find a scorer and fast. All of it feels like a tired song. Nothing has changed. The Cavaliers are seemingly on an island, all alone, because their incessant apathy and not even caring enough to whine, has made most of us tune it all out until April. It feels like they are good enough to march their way through the Eastern Conference but only because it is what we know and in stress we lean on that, the familiar. But there is a difference between being very good and being great. It is the difference between champions and their victims, between champagne and tears.
Two years ago, on his podcast, Brian Windhorst said this about Kevin Love:
“Kevin will do things like not look you in the eye and say Russell Westbrook is the MVP, or say it starts with our leader instead of coming into a meeting or coming into a huddle and say ‘I am open, I can take this guy. Give me the ball here’.”
Love is a third wheel being forced to act like the second best player. He’s had a great season and was rewarded with an All-Star bid in his hometown of L.A. and give him credit for taking the high road when everyone was treating him like he had the Zika Virus. He’ll have the last laugh now. The Cavs are going to miss his 18 points and 9 rebounds. They don’t have someone lingering on the bench to magically fill in and save them. Channing Frye can score but doesn’t rebound and guards no one. That’s about it in the slim pickings of Cavs depth. The Cavs can stick with what they had planned or start burning up the phone lines asking about Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson or even Nikola Mirotic.
Things were gloomy but they just got worse. It’s LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas; Thomas is not his Boston self and frankly has a usage rate of 30.8%. He and Bron have to carry the luggage until Love returns sometime in March. That just is not going to work. It’s easy to get caught up in IT’s Kevin Love war because it entertains but the real problem here is IT has to give up the ball. But his game is centered on having the ball in his hands. Ty Lue has a lot of work to do to make this team respect one another on the court.
But back to Love. He scores from the perimeter. 43% of his shots are threes and he’s making 40% of them. He can get the ball on the block, spin, turn and score. He can cut to the rim and finish 68% of his shots in traffic. That is what the Cavs are going to miss for two months. Who is going to fill in with the three ball? The Cavs are 10th in the league in threes. They take 32 threes per game. Only Brooklyn and Houston take more threes. Love takes almost 6 threes a game, the second most to Isaiah’s six a game. More threes for Isaiah then? Or, Korver?
What the Cavs are not going to miss is his defense. Love can play center if it’s a pickup game at 24 Hour Fitness. But not in the NBA when the games really count. The Cavs have been destroyed at the rim this year, giving up layup after layup after layup. Love is not a rim protector. His lateral movement is supsect and on pick and rolls he is lost. You can lose him on back cuts.
Before he broke his hand, there was chatter about a Kevin Love trade, either before the deadline or perhaps on draft night. Love has next year at $24 million and then an opt-out. He’s an offensive player and no shame about that. He’s a talented specialist. But how good is he really compared to his Minneosta days?
Pretty good, still consistent at rebounding and draining shots.
The Past Is Never Past Points 3-Point % Rebounds Rebound % PER 2012-13, Minnesota 18.3 21.7% 14.0 23.3% 17.9 2013-14 Minnesota 26.1 37.6% 12.5 18.7% 26.9 2016-17, Cleveland 19.0 37.3% 11.1 19.5% 21.1 2017-18, Cleveland 18.2 40.4% 9.6 18.8% 23.1
Kevin Love bears some responsibility in this whole funk. No one on the Cavs can escape accountability. He is to blame for the entire team going rogue against each other because he is a member of the team. As for Love in particular. He can’t have it both ways. He can’t be paid $22 million and then act as if he is the 7th man off the bench. It’s ridiculous to talk about trading Kevin Love. After all, he has star offensive talent and he is labor. He is doing what he is being told. It is management that needs to change if they can’t figure this Kevin Love thing out.
The irony is that a week after the war of the worlds team meeting in which Kevin Love was the villain, Kevin Love may emerge as the de-facto hero. With Kevin Love in a suit, the Cavs are going to see how much they miss him, how necessary he is, and how they better all mend fences pretty quick or it’s going to be a short playoff run for the wine and gold.