Ain’t No Love
Well, that didn’t last long. Kevin Love took his talents to Cleveland in the hopes of finally getting the taste of the playoffs that eluded him during his tenure in Minnesota, and he got it with a first-round series against the Boston Celtics. The series is over, and now so is Love’s first postseason experience. With five minutes remaining in the first quarter of game four, Kevin Love and Boston center Kelly Olynyk raced for a rebound that had caromed off the backboard and toward the near sideline. With their arms tangled in the fray, Olynyk tugged Love’s arm and caused his shoulder to dislocate.
And thus, Kevin Love’s brief foray into the playoffs has likely come to an unceremonious end. After suffering extensive damage to his left shoulder, including a torn labrum, Love has been ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. As has been the case for most of the season, Love’s play in the postseason can best be described as inconsistent. He opened the series with a solid 19 points and 12 rebounds, though he struggled with his shot. His shooting woes continued in game two, going 1-of-5 from deep on his way to a paltry 13 points and six boards. Love seemed to find his groove in game three with a 23 point, nine rebound performance that included hitting six out of ten from downtown. Love’s presence will certainly be a big loss, but how big?
The Return of the King
After coming into the playoffs looking like a legitimate championship contender, the Cavs may not even be the favorites in their second-round matchup. With the Chicago Bulls looking likely to advance, the Cavaliers will face a deep, dangerous team with elite talent in the front court. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be rolling out Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. The front court was never a strength for the Cavs, but it’s become a glaring weakness in the absence of Kevin Love. How will the team respond?
Not surprisingly, a great deal of the burden will fall on the shoulders of LeBron James. After playing like an MVP candidate over the second half of the season, LeBron will need to raise his game even further if the Cavs are to remain contenders. He’ll likely see extended minutes playing the small-ball four, where he’ll be asked to guard the likes of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotić on defense while still serving as a scorer and distributor on offense. However, unlike his first tenure in Cleveland, James will have some help. Kyrie Irving has proven his chops as an elite point guard, and his scoring and playmaking ability should help to lighten the load.
No Love Lost?
When Kevin Love was traded to the Cavaliers, he came with the full expectation that a long-term deal would eventually be struck to keep him in Cleveland. However, after a long, awkward season in which he never quite seemed comfortable on or off the court, questions began to swirl about the likelihood of his return. Love struggled to adjust his game, fighting through injuries and shooting slumps that even saw him benched at times during the fourth quarters of games. Coach David Blatt also appeared to struggle with how best to use the talented big man. Now, with an early exit and a significant injury in the mix, the future looks more uncertain than ever for Love and the Cavaliers.
Kevin Love’s decision begins with his player option for the 2015-16 season. Picking up the option would keep him in Cleveland for next season at nearly $17 million, while declining it would allow him to test the free agent market for the first time. The Cavaliers remain confident in their ability to retain him, but the Lakers and Celtics have surfaced in recent weeks as likely suitors should Love decide to enter free agency. With a less-than-stellar season in the books and a serious shoulder injury that could leave teams hesitant to hand out a max contract, a third option has emerged. Love may ultimately decide to take his player option, preferring to enter free agency next year when the salary cap is expected to jump significantly. If nothing else, it would be a fitting end to a strange, uncomfortable season.