The Cavaliers could have easily decided to rebuild their roster after LeBron James once again left Northeastern Ohio. The first step in that process would have been to trade Kevin Love for young players and future draft picks. But rebuilding is easier said than done. Tanking has not helped many teams. Just look at the Orlando Magic. Since the Dwight Howard trade, they’ve struggled to assemble a half decent roster together. In a LeBronless East and uncertainty surrounding some of the top teams in the East, maybe doubling down on Kevin Love is not such a bad idea.
Cleveland was easily the biggest loser of the offseason. Any team that LeBron leaves is left in much worse shape than when he called that team home. That was assumed to be the case for Kevin Love as well. He’s been on the trade market ever since his arrival to the Land and with LeBron leaving in free agency; his departure seemed imminent. They were headed for rebuild after the greatest stretch in franchise history. Four straight finals and a championship. This would have been the length of Love’s tenure in Cleveland were it not the four year, $120 million contract extension that he signed on Tuesday. This deal is $8 million less than the 4 year max contract that the Cavaliers could have offered to him. Including the final year of his 5 year contract he signed when he first moved to Ohio – he’s owed $145 million over the next five years. That’s a sweet, sweet deal.
Initially, one would have just one question in mind when they found out that Owner Dan Gilbert and M Koby Altman offer Kevin Love an extension. Why? It’s likely because they still believe that they’re a playoff team and locking up their best remaining player for the long run is their best way of doing that. That being said, the remaining players on this roster are nowhere near capable of making a deep run into the playoffs. Signing Love to the Cavs current window draws parallels to Houston’s decision to sign Chris Paul for the next 4 years. Both players are in their prime though signing both players to long-term deals with their respective injury history hurts the roster flexibility for both teams. Paul signed a four year, $160 million max contract. The Rockets will have to get most out of Paul in the next two years. They invested in Paul for the long-term in order to win a championship in the next 2 seasons. It’s a similar situation for Love and Cleveland. Both teams doubled down on a win-now mentality which will hamper their future success.
Cleveland has never been a free agent destination, even when the best player on the planet played in their gym. With him gone, the situation could get really dire. Given that Cleveland is not the destination that Houston is, the Cavs were stuck at a cross road; either they keep Kevin Love or they build through the draft. And they’ve managed to pave a path in between their two options. If the Cavaliers manage to salvage a berth for the playoffs, what would be the point? The only decent young pieces that the Cavaliers have – a 19 year old Rookie in Collin Sexton, and restricted free agents in Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood – are yet to live up to the hype. While this may be a decent core to build around, the rest of the roster is filled remnants of LeBron’s second spell back home. J.R Smith, Tristan Thompson, and George Hill are under contract for the next two seasons. They all have massive uncontracts that are untradeable at best. They only moveable veteran they have is 37 year old Kyle Korver. Though, how many suitors are there for his services? Reasoning Kevin Love reminds me of an Einstein quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Cleveland is making the same push with the same roster. If LeBron couldn’t make do with them, will Kevin Love?
The only silver lining in Love is that we’ll get to see him as a number one offensive option. A good-stats, bad-team guy is foreseeable. In his last season with the Timberwolves, Love averaged 26.1 points on 46% shooting, with 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. These are insane numbers that gave him a place as an All-Star starter in the West and earned him a spot on the All-NBA second team. But Love finding his former individual glory may not help Cleveland. He’s struggled with recurring injuries since he left Minnesota. And he’s not getting any younger. He sacrificed shots and became a dedicated spot up shooter alongside LeBron. He turned from a number one option to a Chris Bosh stretch 4. Returning back to being the number one option should bolster a jaded Cavs offense. Though will that really help the Cavs win?
The identity of this Cavs team is unclear. They’re banking on a player that has meant much of his prime as the third wheel to LeBron and Kyrie. If this roster is unchanged till their season opener, an already dreadful defense is likely to get even worse. It is feasible that they Cavs could be ranked 31st on defense even though there are 30 teams in the NBA. Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman took a bold risk in giving Love an extension. But, is committing long-term to a player who has been second fiddle for much of his prime the best option for the Cavaliers. I’d argue that this was their only option.