It’s pretty apparent Kevin Love is biding his time, waiting for the next opportunity, and he should. His time looks to be coming to a close in Cleveland, where he is the veteran graybeard surrounded by a bunch of kids just trying to figure out the game.
The Cavaliers are in a total post-LeBron rebuild, years away from competing and Love and teammate Tristan Thompson are completely out of place. Two years ago, they were competing for a championship. Three years ago, they won the crown.
Now the Cavaliers are back to those pre-LeBron years where they are just trying to find an identity, cultivate their prospects into legitimate NBA players, and hopefully discover their next superstar in the process.
Meanwhile, Love and Thompson are caught in purgatory. LeBron James bailed on the Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kyrie Irving demanded a trade and was sent to the Celtics. All of the other role players are gone or retired.
The 28-year-old Thompson, in the final year of his contract, is in a better position for another more fruitful location. He remains a menace on the boards, a potential asset for any contending team because of his relentlessness. The Cavaliers, though, would likely have to take back an unwanted contract for Thompson, but would demand another prospect and a first-round pick.
The 31-year-old Love, meanwhile, signed a curious contract extension just a few weeks after James signed with the Lakers. He has three more years on the deal with no opt-out clauses, which could serve as an anchor in coming years.
The Cavaliers signed Love as message to their fan base that they didn’t plan on completely tearing down their championship team. But that promise has turned into an awkward situation for both sides. Love is trying to remain professional on a team that has no chance of competing on a nightly basis.
After a 47-point loss Saturday to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Cavaliers lost Monday to the Celtics, 110-88, for their 13th defeat in 14 games, with new coach John Beilein calling their second-half comeback from a 29-point deficit “a positive.”
Love, who played 27 minutes and scored 7 points on 3-for-12 shooting with 10 rebounds, tried to paint the effort as pleasantly as possible.
“Looking at the film, a lot of the time we want to show a lot of the things that’s we’ve been working on,” Love said. “Just show the things that went really well and be able to go out there on the floor and go how to get through screens on the offensive end, what cuts to make, what reads to make, continue to do some stuff like that with the young guys. It’s not getting easier for us, so just continue to drill that stuff.”
The NBA is not just LeBron and Anthony Davis dominating for the Lakers or Giannis Antetokounmpo galloping for monster dunks for the streaking Bucks. There are teams where losing every night is a true reality. The Cavaliers have won once in the past month and it’s reached a point where Beilein has to sift through the negatives in a game to find the bright spots.
That’s not an environment conducive with a five-time All-
Star seeking at least one final glorious championship run. So Love has to trudge along in this situation, understanding it was one of the possibilities when he signed on for the long-term extension and security.
He was once of the most feared rebounders in the NBA during his Minnesota Timberwolves years and turned into a stretch-four with the Cavaliers. He’s still averaging a double-double (points-rebounds) despite an adjusted role to allow the younger players more repetitions. So there’s no question about Love’s value around the league, it’s just the price.
For years, Love has been rumored to be a trade target for the Celtics. They would have relished the opportunity for his services in the past, but not now. It would likely take Gordon Hayward (to match salaries) and a first-round pick as an incentive (because Hayward has an opt-out clause after this season).
But the rejuvenated Hayward, who returned to the lineup Monday from a broken hand, is too valuable and his potential long-term impact on the Celtics’ lineup too enticing to consider such a deal.
The Celtics also don’t want to clog their long-term salary cap with Jaylen Brown (four years, $115 million) and a potential $170 million deal for Jayson Tatum on their books. Maybe in a different time, the Celtics would have jumped at an opportunity to get Love, but they have too much invested in their current roster and aren’t going to relinquish their three first-round picks from this coming draft for the final three years of Love’s deal at $91 million.
But there will be interest. Teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers could not only make a strong playoff push with Love but bring him back to his Oregon roots. There are enough win-now teams which will take on Love’s deal with the hopes that it results in a championship, such as the Raptors did with Marc Gasol last season
Love is biding his time for that team to approach the Cavaliers with an equitable deal. Talks could begin to intensify this week when players who were signed this past summer are eligible to be included in trades.
Until then Love will have to play leader/life coach/baby sitter/positive influence. Sometimes that’s the price for long-term contract security with a team with an uncertain future.