While the Cleveland Cavaliers are at a crossroads, Kevin Love looks like he’s here to stay
Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Finals sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James’ departure seemed all but inevitable. James’ decision to leave Cleveland (again) morphed the championship contender into a potential bottom-dweller overnight. After winning fifty games en route to their Finals appearance last season, Las Vegas projects that Cleveland will win just 30.5 and likely finish out of the playoff picture. Yet after this world-changing LeBron-to-LA event, the Cavs signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million extension. The question is: what’s going to happen to Love?
Throughout his Cleveland tenure, Kevin Love has been largely underrated. After his unsuccessful starring role in Minnesota, Love decided to join the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and sacrifice individual success for a chance at a championship. In his last season with the T-Wolves, Love posted 26.1 points per game in 18.5 attempts on 45.7% shooting. Last season, he put up 17.6 points in 12.4 attempts on 45.8% shooting. Most of his numbers have been down since his 2013-14, but those stats are the result of a player embracing a role rather than a player in decline, as evidenced by the steady field goal percentages.
LeBron is in LA. Kyrie is in Boston, for the time being. Love is the last man standing on a team comprised largely of veterans, built for a playoff run that is unlikely to take place. How does Kevin Love fit on a Cavs roster destined for a rebuild? In the immediate future, it looks as though Love will attempt to lead the team to playoff contention with the help of Cleveland’s younger talents like Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and newly acquired Clipper Sam Dekker. But the question remains as to if Love will actually figure in the future of the Cavs, or if he is expected to put up big numbers as trade bait in the coming months.
While the Cavaliers might be a long shot to make much noise in a playoff race, expect Kevin Love to show out this year. Though his last All-NBA days were over four years ago, Love’s skillset is still highly effective in the modern NBA, specifically his knack for efficient 3-point shooting. Last year, Love posted the second-best field goal percentage from deep in his career at 41.5% (healthily above the league average of 36.2%). As (seemingly) every big man in the league has attempted to add a 3-point shot, Love still remains one of the best.
Kevin Love’s last season where he was the best player on the team:— NBA Buckets (@NBA_Buckets) August 6, 2018
Could we get Timberwolves KLove this season?
Another benefit of the roster reshuffling and lack of playoff expectations is the fact that Love can slide back into his more familiar and natural position at the power forward, and play alongside Tristan Thompson. In 2016-17, Love spent 87%of his minutes played at the 4 position, while last season he played the position in 2% of his minutes. This change was made to run a small-ball lineup to matchup with 3-point-chucking championship contenders like the Warriors or Houston Rockets. As a result of his playing center more often, Love’s pronounced deficiencies on defense became even more noticeable, when he was tasked with defending taller centers like Joel Embiid or Kristaps Porzingis (his defensive field goal percentage was a below-average 52.9%).
With all the benefits a possible return to ‘T-Wolves’ Kevin Love would bring, however, the same downsides that sunk his Minnesota tenure also remain. Without offensive superstars like LeBron and Kyrie to draw the attention of opposing defenses, it is to be expected that Love would not get the quality of looks he has so far received in Cleveland. Without the elite lane driving of LeBron and Kyrie, look for Love’s corner-three attempts to drop precipitously. Not to denigrate the importance of the 3-ball in today’s game, but Love will most likely need to diversify his offensive attack this season and work harder to get decent looks at the basket.
Despite Love’s professed dedication to the franchise, his future with the Cavaliers still is largely ambiguous. If Love performs at a high level, he might very well prove to be a tradable asset at the deadline. He could be moved, but that would only occur if Cleveland was really out of the running, and they found a trade partner (most likely a contender) that could furnish a suitable number of young, controllable assets in return. The Love signing was a major signal that the Cavs are not looking to completely rebuild yet. Love has enough value to the team that he could play a large part in their future as the face of the franchise, or the piece that nets them pieces to a new young core via trade.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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