There are admittedly an endless array of working parts, but the Cavaliers winning a title could be a catalyst to Kevin Love getting out of Cleveland.
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By Tony Xypteras
There are hundreds, if not thousands of variables surrounding Kevin Love’s impending free agency. His questionable relationship with LeBron James, the creatively bankrupt Cavaliers offense, and his role in said offense are probably at the forefront, but do his free agency plans change if the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA Finals? Maybe.
The following is speculative by nature. I won’t pretend to know what Kevin Love or the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to do, but speculation? I can do that.
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Kevin Love’s dislocated left shoulder couldn’t have come at a worse time. It had been an up and down season for Love, to say the least. You could write a book about all of the veiled shots through the media, hilariously vague tweets, and questionable on court body language. The drama was palpable.
And yet, in Game 3 of the Cavaliers’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, Love exploded for 23 points on 6-10 shooting beyond the arc. The Cavaliers’ offense looked as dangerous in that game as it had all season. There was a collective “Oh, these guys may have figured this thing out” sentiment among NBA writers and fans.
Everyone knows what happened next. Six minutes and thirty-eight seconds into Game 4, Kelly Olynyk accidentally yanked Love’s shoulder out of place, and here we are.
The Cavaliers’ post-Kevin Love isolation-heavy playoff offense has been tough to watch. Don’t get me wrong: LeBron James is playing at an out-of-his-mind elite level right now. Is he settling for jumpers too often? You bet. Did he look mentally and physically drained after every win over the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals? Absolutely. But the fact that the Cavaliers swept the Hawks without Kevin Love or (at times) Kyrie Irving is impressive, to say the least.
Admittedly, I don’t expect the Cleveland Cavaliers to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. That is a larger conversation for a different time, but it is relevant to the argument I’m about to make, because this entire column is irrelevant if the Warriors are NBA champions.
Hot take incoming:
I don’t think Kevin Love returns to the Cleveland Cavaliers if they win the title. Whether or not a title for the Cavaliers is the direct reason for Love’s departure remains to be seen, but I do believe the outcome will be a Love-less Cavs team in 2015-2016 should Cleveland defeat Golden State. A Finals win would trigger a series of events that would ultimately lead to Love finding a home elsewhere.
How often do we hear a player say something along the lines of “I just wanted to feel wanted” when discussing their free agency? The Cavaliers are saying all of the right things right now, because they clearly need Kevin Love if the Warriors win. That is an extremely easy argument to make. “We didn’t have Love, and we lost. If we had Love, we would have won. We need Kevin Love!”
Their tune could change if they beat one of the best regular season teams in NBA history without him.
How much water does the “we need you” plea hold if you’re Kevin Love and the team that has misused you for a majority of the season wins the title without you?
In nine games as a starter this postseason, Thompson is averaging 11 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks on 58.5% shooting. His 96.0 defensive rating is no accident, either, and the Cavaliers have been markedly better with Thompson on the court.
Both Love and Thompson can or will be free agents at the end of the season. Can the Cavaliers keep both of them? Potentially. Would it be fiscally responsible to do so? Probably not.
Kevin Love has a somewhat minor injury history, but it is a history. Anderson Varejao is one of the more injury-prone players in the NBA, and the Cavaliers still have him on the books until the end of the 2017-2018 season. Timofey Mozgov will be a free agent at the end of next season, and he’s due for a major salary increase.
Tristan Thompson turned down a four-year, $52 million offer from the Cavaliers last offseason, which, in the interest of full disclosure, surprised me. Thompson made a bet on himself, and he’s going to cash in big time this summer.
The Cavaliers are going to have cap issues moving forward. That is the larger point. Thompson hasn’t missed a regular season game in three years, and that consistency is necessary for a Cavaliers team that has been decimated with injuries this season.
A majority of NBA insiders feel Kevin Love is leaving Cleveland regardless of how the Cavs play in the Finals. Under that lens, my slightly tweaked scenario isn’t all that far-fetched.
A Cavaliers title takes an already strained relationship and adds to it a layer of “we didn’t need you anyway.”
Love has obvious suitors in Los Angeles and Boston, but should garner interest from every organization in the NBA. He also strikes me as a player who wants to be part of something, and I can’t help but feel that sitting on the bench while a team he never really found a rhythm with wins a title will only push him further away. Provided the Cleveland Cavaliers can retain Tristan Thompson, a separation might be best for everyone.