When Kevin Love opted out of his contract a week ago, it was not the type of breaking news that had basketball people running to their phones to extract more information. It lacked the basic intrigue necessary to graduate into a full blown story because we’ve seen it before. Money lures activity, changes behavior and in this case it made financial sense. No one would suggest that Love turn down an excess of $100 million dollars because he wanted to appear noble or make a point about loyalty.
Love took a few days to reflect and then came to his senses, sort of. For the next four years he will get paid . But he will have to stay in Cleveland in a marginalized role. It may lead to mulitple championships or it may lead to nothing at all. LeBron James is already a four time NBA Finals loser.
As in most things with more than one choice, it can be a no-win situation on both ends. Being transformed into Trevor Ariza may solve an issue in the short term for Kevin Love but over the long haul, how exactly will Love handle this role as company man? In Cleveland, he’s been Bosh-ed.
If Love wanted to be bold- there was no suggestion in his past behavior that he thinks outside the box- he would have signed a two year deal with the Cavs. Purportedly, the max will reach a possibly sick number of $108 million in the *2017-18 season (Zach Lowe, Grantland). Two years is enough time to give the Cleveland experiment a chance to reach its full potential. He would only be 29 years old.
It was this time last year when LeBron James begged Kevin Love to come to Cleveland and Love accepted. As up and down as his regular season was, the post-season only exacerbated Love’s playoff hunger. The Cavs are destined once again for the Eastern Conference Finals if Kyrie Irving can stay healthy. It means Love will have his first long playoff run, that is if he can stay healthy too.
In 2012, Kevin Love reluctantly signed a four year extension with Minnesota. He was screwed over royally by then general manager David Kahn, an incompetent talent evaluator and overall out of his league front office man. For some reason Khan could never really explain, he didn’t offer Love the full five year max extension and Love brooded about it, and worse, he never forgave Khan and by default, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Financial selflessness is rare in NBA players and in front office men too. The Cavaliers operated on high hopes that Love would play out the last year of his contract. It would have been an act of mercy that would allow the Cavs some financial breathing room. The Cavs then could sign Love to a max deal next year when the new television money kicks in.
It was a stupid but somewhat hopeful, fingers crossed plan.
Nevertheless, Kevin Love earned his payday the hard way, while gritting his teeth. He had to suffer through David Blatt’s benchings of him. The in-over-his-head-oppressed-by-Lebron-James first year coach usage of Love as a three point shooter ruined what Love does best. Love is a double-double player. His second year, his third year, his fourth year, his fifth year, his sixth year, Love dropped, at the bare minimum, 14 points and 11 rebounds. Only his rookie year and this year did he not have double digit rebounding numbers. Lay the atrocity of this year at the feet of David Blatt.
Twice in his career, Love had a 26 point season. This past year, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, that number dropped precipitously to 16 points which was to be expected. He was the third spoke in the wheel and was missed until the playoffs when it was nearly impossible to stretch the offense and create mismatches with power forwards, making them guard the perimeter.
Leaving the Cavs would have been a tougher decision had the teams wanting Love, the Lakers and Celtics, were not in the midst of rebuilding. Yes, Love would have been the star there but he was the star in Minnesota and that got him nowhere.
But what Love didn’t know in Minnesota, what he understands now, is the sacrifice and compromise of playing the third wheel character in a prize winning play. In Cleveland, there are two stars, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The rest of the roster revolves around them; those are the facts. Kevin Love decided that was good enough for him. That and $108 million dollars.