When the Cleveland Cavaliers announced that All-Star power forward Kevin Love will miss approximately six weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, many questions were raised among both Cavs fans and reporters. Will he be 100 percent healthy once the postseason begins in April? Would the team add someone in a trade in response to the news? What even happened that he needed this surgery?
While all of these types of questions are legitimate, the biggest question doesn’t have to do exactly with Love, but the remaining two players of the Cavs’ Big Three: What does the big man’s injury mean for All-Stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving?
Even before Love’s injury, the amount of minutes that James had already played this season was quite a concern. At 37.6 minutes per game, he leads the league, tied with Raptors’ point guard Kyle Lowry. Having already made six-consecutive runs to the Finals while playing in 128 playoff games in those six seasons, James has essentially added one-and-a-half seasons of play in the last six years, along with all the minutes he has played in the regular season. Although he may not admit it, the 31-year-old has played too many minutes this season and that burden will unfortunately only increase in Love’s absence. James will say that he doesn’t want to sit out and isn’t playing too many minutes so far, but if this trend continues, his body could get tired by June, which wouldn’t be ideal.
“I’ll rest when I retire,” James said during Tuesday’s shootaround. “As long as I’m in the lineup, we’ve got a chance. We’re good. [Kevin Love] is out—Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R. has been out, but I’m in the lineup. I’ll be suiting up, we’ve got a chance against anybody. I ain’t worried.”
Without Love, unless the Cavs sign another big man, the wine and gold have just two legitimate players who can play “center” now: Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye. How does that affect James, you ask? If Thompson or Frye are having an off night and/or get in foul trouble, Lue will be forced to put No. 23 at center. Which means that James will have to guard the opposing team’s big man on defense, putting even more wear and tear on his body.
Throughout this season, head coach Tyronn Lue has managed to sit James in four games solely due to rest purposes. Those four games are much needed and could go a long way come playoff time, but can Lue afford to rest James in any more games with Love out? Cleveland has struggled when James has sat out. Now, if he sits out, the Cavs are left with just one-third of their Big Three in the lineup.
For Irving, outside of having to score more, the Love injury shouldn’t affect his playing time much. Although, being counted on to do more on the offensive side of the ball will put more wear and tear on his body. Luckily, he’s only 24 and can handle burden that at this point in his career.
“What a time to be doing it then [with] us gearing up for getting ready for an extreme journey,” Irving said following Tuesday’s win. “[LeBron is] really, really, really, really locked in. which I love. I’m just trying to be right there with him as best I can.”
The wine and gold currently have the top spot in the East, two games ahead of the Celtics and five ahead of Wizards. While some may argue that the Cavs have an easy road to the Finals no matter what seed they are come the postseason, getting the No. 1 seed is important. The best seed would give the team the easiest road to the Finals, which could turn into shorter series and more time to rest leading up to whoever they go up against in the Western Conference.
Replacing one of the best bigs in the league who averages 20 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 38 percent from beyond the arc in 31.9 minutes per game isn’t easy. In fact, it’s almost impossible. As James alluded to following the news, there’s not a single player that can replace what Love does night in and night out. Instead, it must be a total team effort.
Luckily, with the All-Star Break to begin following Wednesday night’s game, one-sixth of Love’s recovery time will be spent with the team essentially being off for a full seven-day period.