Both on the court and off it, Kevin Love’s first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers has been defined by awkwardness.
All season long a nightmare scenario has loomed for Cleveland: that Love would leave in free agency in the summer of 2015 and the Cavs, with cap space already taken up with other players, wouldn’t be able to replace him.
That scenario seemed unlikely back in August, when the NBA world salivated at the prospect of a Love-LeBron-Kyrie offensive juggernaut. But as the season has gone on it has come closer and closer to reality.
On a basketball level, Love has been an awkward fit. He has been marginalized within the offence. The multiplicity of offensive weapons that he used in Minnesota — getting to the free throw line, posting up, hitting mid-range jumpers, stretching the defence with three-pointers — has been reduced to a single function. He’s now a “stretch-four” who’s role it is to stand on the perimeter and wait for open three-pointers. To make weird analogy, he’s like a Swiss army knife that’s being used exclusively as a toothpick.
He’s clearly frustrated by this. In an ominous quote, he told Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com that he doesn’t like being a stretch-four:
“I heard some people calling me that but I know I’m not a stretch-four. I’m a post player that can shoot. Right now I’m just doing what I’m called to do. For good, bad or indifferent, I’m playing my role and doing what’s asked of me. Tonight, I stayed out on the perimeter.”
He has gone from one of the five best offensive players in the league in Minnesota to a glorified role player in Cleveland. That could improve in time (it took the Miami Heat more than a year to flourish in the Big 3 era), but is Love really going to re-sign with the Cavs knowing that he’s going to be standing in the corner and scoring 13 points a night?
There has also been some off-court weirdness involving Love this year.
Most recently, Love sat out two-straight games to “rest” after being benched in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs. At first Blatt said Love came to him and asked for a rest. Later, Love said it was Blatt who proposed the idea of two games off.
In February, LeBron seemed to call out Love in a tweet.
Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2015
For context, Love used the phrase “fit out” when talking to ESPN in October, saying, “I’m comfortable and just not trying to, I guess, fit in so much. I had a talk with the guys on the plane ride over (to Brazil) and also at different practices off the floor and they told me to fit out. Just be myself.”
LeBron initially denied the tweet was about Love, and then, in front of a small group of reporters, admitted that he knew what he was doing.
The Cavaliers have been one of the three best teams in the NBA since trading for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. LeBron has surged during that period, vaulting himself into the MVP discussion. Irving has been lights out, converting some doubters with a string of strong performances. Love, though, remains marred in the rut he’s been in all year.
People are starting to speculate that he’ll leave this summer, even though teams like the Lakers and Knicks can’t offer him as much money as the Cavaliers. As disappointing a season as he’s having, that would be a disaster for Cleveland. They traded two No. 1 overall picks to get him, including Andrew Wiggins, who has been way better than expected.
The real problem is that they can’t really replace him if he leaves. Under NBA rules, the Cavaliers can go over the salary cap to re-sign Love. But they can’t go over the cap to sign a free agent from another team to replace him. It’s not like they can let Love leave and use the money they would have given him to sign Marc Gasol. With around $US60 million already committed to players next year, if the Cavs lose Love, they also lose the ability to have three max-contract players unless they’re able to pull off a trade.
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