When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, it seemed like the Cavs might go into tank mode. Such a plan would’ve likely included trading forward Kevin Love.
That said, it’s surprising that Cleveland has decided to re-sign Love to a 4-year, $120-million deal. As reported by Brian Windhorst, the contract will begin in the 2019-20 season, when Love’s current deal expires. It also guarantees that he stays a Cavalier (barring a trade) through the 2022-23 season.
Love brought the Cleveland fans into the moment, signing his deal during a ceremony in front of the Quicken Loans Arena.
The 29-year-old will play out the final year of his $24.1 million contract this season before beginning his new deal. Windhorst noted that the first season of the contract pays more than the rest.
Love’s New Deal Is a Win for Both Sides
Kevin Love could’ve possibly earned more money by waiting until he was a free agent. The max would’ve been 5 years and $221 million next summer.
He could’ve also signed a 4-year, $129.7-million max contract with Cleveland this summer. That said, it appears that Love gave his team a little hometown discount.
But on the other hand, he guarantees himself a big payday. As we’ve seen with the sad way Isaiah Thomas’ situation played out, this can be an important thing.
Love turns 30 in September and has missed 45 games the last two years due to a variety of hand and back injuries. He’s also suffered a concussion in two of the last three pro seasons. Inking this deal guarantees Love another $120 million from 2019-2023.
Certain teams that were eyeing Love may be disappointed that he’s essentially off the board for next summer’s anticipated free agency period. He likely could’ve fetched around the same amount of money if he had a big campaign in 2018-19.
Cavs Retain a Reliable Centerpiece
Kevin Love may not be LeBron James, but he’s at least a reliable player with All-Star potential. He’ll step into the 2019 campaign as the team’s number one option. He often played third fiddle to James and Kyrie Irving before the latter left for the Boston Celtics in 2017.
Prior to joining the Cavaliers in the 2014 offseason, Love put up big numbers for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists during his last season with Minnesota. It’s unclear if he’ll reach the same monster numbers as the top option for Cleveland. But his career history shows that he can produce when called upon.
Another good thing about Love is that he’s the prototypical modern big man. He’s 6’10”, 250 pounds and can play outside or inside.
Love is especially lauded for his three-point shooting, including 41.5% last season. He also has a strong back to the basket game and can get good shots in post-up opportunities.
The only reason why Love isn’t as highly regarded these days is because he deferred so much to James and Irving. Injuries also haven’t helped the equation since Love has been battling more ailments while playing extra minutes at center. But given that he’s the team’s top scoring option right now, he’ll likely play his natural power forward position a lot more.
What can Love and the Cavs Do Next Season?
Nobody is taking the Cleveland Cavaliers to make their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. After all, they lost Irving to a requested trade in 2017 and James to free agency this summer. But the question is whether a core led by Love can at least compete for a playoff spots.
As currently constructed, the team includes some quality holdovers, including Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., J.R. Smith, and Cedi Osman. They also drafted Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, who’s expected to have an immediate role on offense.
This is largely the same roster that couldn’t help James win a single game against the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. But it’s also difficult to tell how good they can be without the NBA’s best player. It’s possible that this group rallies together and can push for a playoff spot in the watered-down East.
Cavs could Still Trade Love
One of the biggest questions worth asking is whether Cleveland is locking down Love, or just locking down an attractive pricetag that could be later traded.
Love’s new deal ensures that he can’t be traded for the next six months. However, that doesn’t exclude him from being moved before next February’s trade deadline.
Cleveland has extra incentive to lose games, because their first-round pick goes to Atlanta if they finish above the draft lottery’s top 10 in 2019 or 2020. Therefore, it makes sense to consider a Love trade to make the team less competitive.
It could be a similar situation to what the Los Angeles Clippers did with Blake Griffin last season. They signed him to a huge 5-year, $173-million deal in the offseason after point guard Chris Paul left.
Many thought this signaled that the Clippers were interested in building around Griffin. However, they shipped him off to Detroit in January.
Another potential reason for the current deal is that Love becomes a more attractive trade asset when he’s locked down for over four years, as opposed to just half a year. Few teams will be interested in dealing for Love at the deadline as a half-season rental.
Of course, we also can’t rule out owner Dan Gilbert wanting to prove his team can stay competitive in the post-LeBron years. This is, after all, the same guy who promised that Cleveland would win a title before James after he bolted for the Miami Heat in 2010. Given that Gilbert appears to be every bit as competitive as LeBron, he won’t be as quick to tank as everybody thinks.
Whatever the case may be, it’ll be interesting to watch a team led by Love and the rest of James’supporting cast. Assuming the roster is kept together, it’s not unfathomable to think that they could make it to the postseason again.