Thursday, June 25, 2015

Let Love Leave

Owie Owie Owie
Today in Cleveland, Kevin Love opted out of the final year of his contract, leaving $16.7 million on the table to give him the ability to sign for more from either his current team, or the increasingly unhinged Lakers, Blazers or Celtics.

Now, each of these teams has really good reasons to go after Love. The Lakers aren't likely to keep their draft pick next year, and presumably want to send Kobe Bryant and whatever number of games he might play off into retirement with something approaching competitiveness. Boston can't say no to a possibly good white player, and have shown the ability to hide defensive sieves with coach Brad Stevens having Jedi powers. Portland is probably in the midst of a teardown, having just sent Nicolas Batum off to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, in other words, two guys that, unlike Batum, aren't going to be on the floor for a team that matters in a game that matters. And with NBA contract cap sizes poised to hit the hyperspace button fairly soon, Love's number shouldn't be a team breaker... especially because, well, he had the worst year of his career last year, he's going to be on the back nine of his career pretty soon, and there's a really good chance that's his true level on a good team, rather than what he put up in the Minnesota void.

What's striking about this, of course, is what Love said -- that he's going to be back in Cleveland because "he wants to win." If that's really the case, why opt out at all? If you think you are going to win, isn't your negotiating position going to be even better after you, well, win?

The answer is, of course, no... because in his heart of hearts, Love knows that being in Cleveland in the future is just going to be more of the same. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving aren't going to demand the ball less. If and when Anderson Varejao is back, Timofey Mozgov is for real, or Tristan Thompson gets paid, that's space and minutes that's going to be taken up, and James will wade in there as he gets older and more earthbound. So Love gets to wander out to the arc and shoot more big kid threes, which is to say, he'll be a three and no D guy, as well as the alpha on those regular season games that don't matter. He's useful because he helps to keep James' minutes down, but as he has no defensive position in the modern NBA, I really don't know that he helps you win games that matter.

Now, compare that to Portland, LA or Boston, where he'll never work past early May, go back to 20-10 numbers, and have lots of people saying he's a top three team kind of guy. Oh, and there's also the not very small matter of Not Being In Cleveland.

I'm not saying that Love is out of Cleveland as a done deal. De facto GM LeBron James has convinced a lot of people over the years, Love isn't making big See Ya waves, and there's no more sure way to play for the championship in June than to be on LeBron's team in the East. But if I'm James in Cleveland, I can think of better ways to spend my money than Love.

How? Well, Dwyane Wade seems to want out of Miami. If the lineup is him and Irving in the back court, with James, Mozgov and Thompson up front... well, then I've got four very good defenders, and two guys with multiple rings for when the games matter. We've also seen Wade assume a secondary role to James and succeed, unlike Love. And if you feel that Wade's health issues are too strong, then go for Monta Ellis out of Dallas, who gives you an option if Irving's hurt again, and you can move Iman Shumpert and JR Smith back to the strong bench roles where they would thrive.

Finally and most tellingly... the Cavs just got ran off the floor by Small and Good At Defense -- two things that Love is not. Swap him out for Wade or Ellis, and let Love go be the good numbers bad player that he may have always been. (Oh, and you could have also not done the trade for him in the first place, and have Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, who might have gotten you to Game Seven against the Warriors. GM James leaves some things to be desired.)

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