What Kevin Love's season-ending injury means for his future with the Cavaliers

Kevin loveMaddie Meyer/GettyKevin Love stands to make much more if he becomes a free agent in 2016 instead of 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers took a major hit to their title hopes when Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder, taking him out of the next round of the playoffs and likely the rest of the season.

Though Love struggled individually this season relative to how he played as the No. 1 option for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was nonetheless an important part of the Cavaliers. Without him, they lose a top scoring option, a floor-spacer, and a solid rebounder.

Love has the option to become a free agent this summer, but there’s reason to believe this injury may keep him in Cleveland longer.

Love has a $US16.7 million player option for the 2015-16 season, and it makes financial sense for him to take it rather than becoming a free agent this summer. Not only will Love make more as a free agent in 2016 when the cap jumps, it’s risky for players coming off a big injury to hit the open market. Teams may look at how Love’s stats declined this season, along with his injury, and fret about giving him a max contract. In addition, the Cavaliers were playing their best basketball of the season when Love went down — which could make him more optimistic about his future in Cleveland than he was four months ago.

By opting in to his player option, Love has another chance to prove himself on the court while enjoying free agency in 2016 when the salary cap is $US89 million instead of $US66 million.

When the Cavs traded for Love last August, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team and Love had agreed that Love would opt out of his contract to re-sign in Cleveland on a five-year, $US120 million max contract. The supposed agreement (which had to be in principle, otherwise it’d be a violation of NBA rules) would assure Cleveland keeps Love long term after giving up No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins in the trade, while also locking in Love at a bargain rate before the giant salary cap jump in 2016.

However, in January, amid speculation that Love was unhappy in Cleveland during their rocky start, Love told Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group that he didn’t plan on opting out:

“I think that we will figure it out here, so I don’t plan on opting out or any of that. I plan on being here. As far as leaving my options open, I mean sure, it’s always there. At the end of the day, it’s always good to have something but no, I plan on being here.”

This is beneficial for Love. Although his $US16.7 million salary for 2015-16 is less than what he’d get if he opted out and signed a max contract with Cleveland, he can earn much more long term.

According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, Love can earn a max contract worth 30% of the salary cap because he’s been in the league seven to nine years. Next season the salary cap is expected to be $US66 million, giving Love a starting salary of $US19.8 million with 7.5% raises each season. If he opts in and becomes a free agent in 2016 with the $US89 million salary cap, he could have a starting salary worth $US26.7 million with 7.5% raises each season.

Over the course of five years — assuming he stays with Cleveland, the only team that can offer him a five-year contract and 7.5% raises — that would be worth $US153 million — a $US33 million difference from the reported five-year, $US120 million agreement when he was traded.

When Love and the Cavs made this reported agreement, the NBA’s huge salary cap jump as a result of a new TV deal hadn’t been reported.

Now, with Love’s shoulder injury, it’s more likely that he takes his player option rather than entering free agency coming off a big injury when teams may be hesitant to sign him.

Whether the Cavs will be happy about that or not is another matter, but they don’t have much of a choice. This at least gives Cleveland another year of the LeBron-Kyrie-Love trifecta, with another year to jell and see if it’s a championship core with the right surrounding pieces.

Having Love around another season is also beneficial in that the Cavaliers wouldn’t have the financial ability to replace Love if he decided to leave in free agency this summer. Assuming LeBron, Love, J.R. Smith, and Mike Miller all take their player options this summer, the Cavs will have over $US88 million on their payroll with no room to sign a free agent of Love’s calibre as a replacement.

Though the Cavs will likely have to fight for a title without Love this season, they will have at least one more shot with this current core next season, which could be the deciding year for Love’s future.

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