Thursday, December 2 2021
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As soon as Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2018, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that he wouldn’t finish that contract there. It was a move of desperation by the Cavaliers after LeBron James decided to leave for the Los Angeles Lakers in the same summer. Instead of entering a full rebuild when Love’s original contract was up at the end of the 2019-20 season, Cleveland tied itself to Love through the end of 2022-23.

Fast forward a couple years, and the Cavaliers find themselves in a tough position with Love, after an offseason of moves that signals the end of his time in Cleveland. By drafting forward Evan Mobley with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, re-signing big man Jarrett Allen to a multi-year deal and most recently trading for Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, the Cavaliers have a crowded — and significantly younger — frontcourt, bringing Love’s place in all of it in question. 

After trading for Markkanen last week, Love’s agent said the Cavs veteran is not interested in a buyout of the remaining $60 million left on his contract, which is surprising given it would allow him to sign elsewhere, perhaps with a championship-contending team. If he were to agree to a buyout, there would no doubt be a list of title contenders lining up to convince the five-time All-Star to sign with them. 

The Warriors were interested in Love back in mid-July when there was “growing sentiment” around the league that he would agree to a buyout with the Cavaliers. The Portland Trail Blazers were also tied to the versatile forward dating back to 2019 when that was his reported preferred destination as he grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Yet it was Larry Nance Jr. who was dealt to Portland in the three-team trade that landed the Cavaliers Markkanen, cutting out that option for the Cavaliers and Love. The Lakers likely would’ve been on that list, but they’ve reportedly zoned in on using their final roster spot to sign Rajon Rondo. The Brooklyn Nets also reportedly have interest if Love were bought out

Agreeing to a buyout would be the easier route for Cleveland, and it would ensure that the Cavaliers wouldn’t have to give up another asset to get off his contract. But if Love isn’t entertaining that idea, then that means the only other avenue is to trade him, either now or wait until the season starts and the trade deadline approaches. 

Love reportedly supports the idea of a trade, but Cleveland’s been trying to deal him for the past couple seasons and hasn’t found any trade packages it would consider. There’s several factors weighing into that, as Love’s a depreciating asset given his age (turns 33 in September), injury history and the size of his contract. Last season he was limited to just 25 games due to a calf strain, the same injury that forced him to withdraw from the 2020 Tokyo Games after being named to the roster. The Olympics would’ve served as an opportunity for Love to showcase to other teams and players in the league that he still had something left in the tank, but he ultimately decided he wasn’t 100 percent healthy. 

It was a missed opportunity for Love’s trade value to be boosted, leaving Cleveland at a disadvantage if it wants to trade him in the near future. Better offers could come in once the season starts, but that all depends on Love’s role with the Cavaliers, which by the sounds of it could be pretty limited entering the 2021-22 season, per The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd earlier this month.

“Love will turn 33 before the season begins and has acknowledged he’s no longer equipped to carry a franchise. The Cavs have already spoken to him about minutes and his role moving forward, according to a source. If he can ever get over this calf strain and get in true game shape again, the coaching and training staffs will have to closely manage his minutes [ideally under 25 a night] to try and keep him effective.”

That was written before the Markkanen trade, which means that 25 minutes a night could be dwindled down even further to perhaps 15 minutes. For context, Love has never played fewer than 25 minutes a night in his career, so that would be a significantly reduced role if it were to happen in Cleveland. If that’s a role he’s willing to take on, which he somewhat alluded to accepting reduced minutes back in July during an interview for Team USA, then it would be beneficial for both sides. If he excels as a reserve who could get you 10-12 points a night and four or five boards, that would give Cleveland a huge boost off the bench if it decided to keep him. It would also increase Love’s trade stock if the team went that route.

When he’s healthy, Love is still a consistent shooter, and can get you rebounds. If he’s able to remain healthy, and look like the player who dropped 30 points and 14 rebounds against the Celtics in his final game last season, then finding a favorable trade for him won’t be a problem.

The issue, though, is that in the past three seasons combined Love has played in just 47 percent of the possible games he could suit up for. Any team trading for him would be taking a risk not only because of his albatross of a contract, but because of his recent injury history. Teams would have to give up a considerable amount to take on the $30 million Love’s owed this season, and it could potentially be a bust if he isn’t able to stay healthy. 

While Love’s contract is certainly not untradeable, it comes down to what the Cavaliers are willing to take — and to an extent give up — in order to move him to another team. Lloyd reported that the Cavaliers “refuse” to attach another asset to get off Love’s contract, but if Love isn’t able to boost his trade stock it may take tacking on a player or draft pick to sweeten the pot for opposing teams. Otherwise, Cleveland will have a $30 million bench player, which isn’t ideal. 

For now, though, it appears that Love and the Cavaliers are playing a game of chicken to see which side cowers first. A game that could carry into the regular season if a trade doesn’t materialize or Love doesn’t agree to a buyout. 

Source: CBSSports.com

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