The last sighting of Kevin Love the magnificent was April 14th 2014. In a road game that was to be the last of the year, the opponent was the Golden State Warriors, a team still in development. The Warriors would not win the title that year and instead would lose in the first round in a seven game series to the Los Angeles Clippers. Love played 36 minutes that Monday night in Oakland. He had 40 points and 14 rebounds plus 9 assists. He made 55% of his threes which is the Love barometer, are his threes falling? One year later, Love would return to Oakland in the NBA Finals, though injured.
But in 2014 on an April night, Kevin Love didn’t know his future, specifically that he would in grand fashion have to say goodbye to himself- Kevin Love the star- and say hello to Kevin Love the teammate of LeBron James. The star was what Kevin Love was attached to even as he griped about the Wolves. He liked being everything.
Four years later and one championship ring, not much has changed for Love except his stardom is dimming as each game begins and ends with the Cavaliers ineptness. He is on the trade market in the same way Blake Griffin was last season, at first whispers and then a blockbuster deal.
In Love’s first games as the solo LeBron replacement or place holder, he has been an offensive disaster. He is shooting 30% and 26% from three while playing 35 minutes. His saving grace, all he is bringing to the table, is free throw shooting. He is going to the line a career high 9 trips and is making free throws at a 82% clip. His rebounding is sick, nearly 14 a game which surprisingly isn’t a Love high (2010-11). His 20 points per game are deceiving. The Cavaliers are being led the same way a dog chases its tail, by going around and around in circles before falling in an exhausted heap.
As the Clippers did last season with Blake Griffin, the Cavs are waiting for Kevin Love to lead them. If he can’t, and so far that is a big fat no, it’s time to let the kids have it and go for the lottery which means Love will be moved.
Philly has taught everyone losing for the lottery works. L.A. has taught everyone, at the very least, you can get workable pieces the fans love. Phoenix has taught everyone there is a Devin Booker out there. Sacramento has pretty much failed at it but that’s Sac-town. The lottery does work in isolated cases and the Cavs are going nowhere pretending Kevin Love is Minnesota Kevin Love.
In his last season with the Wolves, Love had 25 games in which he scored over 30 points, including (6) 40+ point games. He had 65 games in which he had 10+ rebounds. His offensive rating was 120 and his defensive rating was 104. This season is trending pretty badly. His offensive rating is 101 and his defensive rating is 121, a career worst by a huge margin, 12 points higher than last year’s defensive rating which was a career abysmal 109.
The optimists believe in patience and say he is in a slump and that he will shoot his way out of it and that his defense will improve and that he is all the Cavs have to champion, until their younger players get more seasoned. But the phone is ringing for Love.
He has never been a leader, not even in Minnesota. Ricky Rubio famously compared him to guy who wants to stuff the stat shut (In a twist of irony, Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns is accused of the same thing).
There is no precedent for Love as he tries to be something he just is not. He has never led a very young team and molded them into something greater than their parts. His only playoffs were with LeBron James. He just isn’t that guy. Even when he was at UCLA and was in the Final Four, he had Russell Westbrook on his team.
So now is the time to get what you can get for Love. He has a ridiculous contract (4 years after this year) of more than $118 million. It looks unmovable but then that is what people said about Blake Griffin. The Love salary is what he could negotiate so I’m not hating but it is not what he can respectfully earn. He cannot be the number option on a team if that team has playoff aspirations. He is a supporting player who can score and rebound but you can’t depend on him as the best player. Plus, he’s moody and has those down days which impacts leadership.
The Cavs need to unload him and quick because, well, he couldn’t even save the Cavs against the dreadful Hawks who haven’t hidden their interest in tanking for Zion Williamson of Duke.
Love can’t be traded until January because of the extension he signed but by then the Cavs will be out of playoff contention and with a bloated salary doing them no favors. There are movable players with Love’s salary whose organization may be enticed: Dallas (Harrison Barnes), Miami (Hassan Whiteside), Detroit (Andre Drummond), Memphis (Marc Gasol), Washington (Dwight Howard), Brooklyn (Allen Crabbe) etc.
Early in the summer, Love spoke about the pitfalls of being a running mate of LeBron James, notably the frustration. However, being frustrated and winning, knowing a Finals appearance is written in stone, is something altogether different than being frustrated and losing night after night, knowing you just can’t compete. The team isn’t good enough and neither is Kevin Love.