Sunday, December 5 2021
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Kevin Love’s last several seasons have been disappointing to say the least. The former All-Star big man has played just 107 games since inking a five-year contract extension following LeBron James‘ second departure from Cleveland. He joined Team USA this offseason in an apparent attempt to launch a comeback, but eventually bowed out due to the calf injury that limited him last season. Rumors suggested that he’d wanted to leave the Cavaliers for a winning team, but his near-max salary made a trade impossible and he himself was reportedly uninterested in a buyout. All of that combined to paint a fairly grim picture of Love’s NBA future. 

But Monday was a glimmer of hope. Love, who has returned to Cleveland’s rotation, played his best game of the season thus far by scoring 22 points in an upset victory over the Denver Nuggets. In the process, he showcased some of the skills that made him such a valuable player in his prime. He torches Monte Morris on this drive after managing to get Aaron Gordon switched off him. 

His basketball IQ was on full display on this cut. Jeff Green left him to pack the paint. Love notices and manages to cut right behind him as Green, unaware of Love’s position, backpedals back out to protect against a 3-pointer.

Offensive diversity like this is a rarity among big men. Love checks almost every box on that end of the floor. When healthy he’s a scoring and passing threat from nearly everywhere on the floor. For the past several years, he just hasn’t been healthy. 

He’s inching in that direction now, and it poses some very interesting questions about his future. The Cavaliers are a surprising 2-2, and Love has appeared engaged in their season. They are also heavily invested in three other big men: Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen. They’ve combatted possible rotation issues by starting Markkanen at small forward, but it’s unclear how sustainable that will be defensively. At a bare minimum, Love appears to be locked into a bench role for the time being. If the Markkanen experiment fails, he might lose even more minutes. 

Even if he plays as well as he did Monday for a sustained period, a trade remains unlikely. There just aren’t that many teams capable of absorbing a $30 million salary for a player with a spotty medical history and severe defensive weaknesses. But if Love was willing to take a buyout, he’s made a compelling case for himself as a role player on a contender. Love has a residence in New York City, so the Nets make sense as an option, and he’s former teammates with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook (in college), so the Lakers, sorely in need of a shooting big man, would be a fit as well. 

But for now, it’s just refreshing to see something resembling the old Kevin Love on a basketball court again. At the age of 33 and with a lengthy history of injuries, it wasn’t clear if that player would ever suit up again. 



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