What would you do for a Klondike Bar?
Anyone who was around for the late 80s and early 90s surely remembers these commercials. The premise was simple enough. You go around talking to people on the street, and you ask them if they’d like a Klondike Bar. But there’s a catch. To acquire said Klondike Bar, you have to do something potentially embarrassing in exchange.
The idea here, of course, is that Klondike Bars are so tasty and refreshing that people would do almost anything to have one. “Wow, those people are making fools of themselves for a Klondike Bar. I’d like one, too, but if I go to the store and pay for them, I can enjoy them and I don’t even have to do anything embarrassing for them!” You put a super catchy jingle on top, and voila! You have yourself one of the more successful ad campaigns of its time.
If people would do almost anything for an ice cream treat, one has to wonder what they would do for $120 million. Almost anything, right? I’m sure you can think of many levels of depravity that you might find acceptable for that amount of money. But would you commit four years of your life and your professional career to a terrible company with horribly inept leadership, an unclear path for the future, and a high chance of failure?
If you’re Kevin Love, the answer is yes.
The biggest Cavaliers story of the year, of course, is LeBron James leaving Cleveland. Again. Many, if not all, of the other major stories of the year are a byproduct of LeBron. Including this story. Because if you want to talk about unlikely endings to stories, Kevin Love being the last of the Cavs’ once-formidable “Big Three” still wearing the wine and gold is certainly that. But what makes this story almost unfathomable is that even in a post-Kyrie and post-LeBron world, Kevin Love agreed to a long-term deal to stay in Cleveland.
If we want to take the low-hanging fruit and say there are 120 million reasons for Love to stay in Cleveland, we can. It seems like pretty sound logic. It also requires us to completely ignore the prevailing thought of the time when LeBron announced he was leaving. Again.
Indeed, the moment LeBron was gone (again), all eyes turned to Kevin Love. Surely, he would be traded, right? No way would Love want to stay in Cleveland through the rebuild. He would want to keep contending for titles while still in his prime. And trading him might make sense for the Cavs, as well. The quickest way to rebuild in the NBA is to tear it down and lose as much as you can. Keeping Kevin Love is antithetical to that approach.
If anything, Love was supposed to be the first one to leave. Kyrie Irving was drafted by the Cavaliers and was groomed to be the future. LeBron James was born and raised in northeast Ohio. This was home for him. It was different for Love. He was a west coast guy. Love was born in Santa Monica and raised in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He went to college at UCLA. He was the mercenary, the hired gun to come in and complete the trio with Kyrie and LeBron.
For much of Love’s first season in Cleveland (which happened to the last year on his contract), there were questions about Love’s fit and role in Cleveland. Was he happy playing in Cleveland? Did he fit with LeBron? Why were Love’s numbers down so much? It culminated with the now infamous LeBron James “Fit In” tweet:
Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2015
It was around this time that the rumors began to swirl. Kevin Love had been teammates with Russell Westbrook at UCLA and the two remained friends. Shortly after LeBron’s tweet, Love was asked who he thought should win NBA MVP that season. Love didn’t pick his teammate, instead arguing that Westbrook was having the better season. Rumors erupted that Love and Westbrook were plotting to team up in Los Angeles to play for the Lakers. For a moment in time, it felt like the Cavs’ “Big Three” was going to be over before it ever really even took off.
Of course, we know what happened next. Kevin Love got his first taste of the NBA Postseason with Cleveland that season and fell in love with it. He decided then and there that he wanted to stay in Cleveland and, as LeBron said in his tweet, be part of something special. Kelly Olynyk ended Love’s postseason early by yanking his shoulder out of place, but after a poolside meeting with LeBron in the offseason to clear the air, Kevin Love signed his first contract to play for the Cavaliers.
It would be a fruitful contract for all sides. Love would go to a couple All-Star games, have some highlight games and moments, and win an NBA Championship with the Cavaliers. He was an integral part of the team even if his fit wasn’t always natural. But nothing lasts forever.
Kyrie was the first to leave. Just one year after hitting the most important shot in Cavaliers’ history leading to the franchise’s only NBA Championship and the city of Cleveland’s first title since 1964, Kyrie Irving shook up the franchise by asking for a trade. One year after that, LeBron James decided he had done all he could for Cleveland and it was time for him to move on and finish his career somewhere else. Suddenly, Kevin Love, the one who was supposed to be the first to leave, was the only one left.
Immediately after LeBron’s departure, there was much speculation as to Love’s future. Few seemed to think Love would have any interest in staying in Cleveland now. Some fans wanted the Cavs to trade him right away to ensure the team finished in the bottom ten and thus kept their protected first-round pick. It was clear the run of Championship contention was over, so the only remaining question was really what to do with Kevin Love.
Despite so many assumptions that Love would want to be traded, or that Cleveland would trade him regardless, the opposite happened. There were rumors that Love wanted to actually stay in Cleveland, and then on July 24, 2018, Love signed a 4-year, $120 million contract to do just that. Kevin Love got his Klondike Bar. But at what cost?
Love, like other veterans on the team, was given assurances. Who knows what Love would have done without those assurances ($120 million is a lot of money), but Love said they were important to him:
“The only thing I didn’t want was I didn’t want to be a team that was going to tank or be not competitive. I’ve been a part of that for a couple of years (in Minnesota) and then we started to build something. I wanted this to be a building year and still be competitive. That was my only holdup about the whole thing. They had told me they didn’t want to take a huge step back.
I mean, obviously losing LeBron (James) you know what is going to happen with that, but I wanted to be part of something where we could continue to strive for all these banners up here and build something for the next several years.”
None of it turned out the way Love and the Cavs were hoping. Love would injure his toe in the preseason and that injury caused him to play at a subpar level to start the season before ultimately deciding to have surgery and missing the first few months of the season. After just two games, the Cavs’ front office pulled the rug out from everyone, demanding that veterans like Kyle Korver and JR Smith not be given as much time, making room for younger players to develop.
The team floundered and turnover was swift. Since Love’s injury, Smith was sent home, Korver and George Hill were traded, and Tristan Thompson has been sidelined for the next few weeks. The team Kevin Love returns to in January will be completely different from the one he left.
So what does that mean for his future with the Cavaliers? When Love signed his extension, it was a good feeling for the franchise. After being spurned by Irving and James in consecutive offseasons, it was nice for the Cavaliers to finally have an All-Star say he wanted to be in Cleveland for the long-term. Giving young players like Colin Sexton and Cedi Osman solid veteran leadership from Champions like Love and Thompson would ideally help to maintain the culture around the team and give the young players the support guys like Irving, Thompson, and Dion Waiters never had when they were rookies and second-year players.
On the surface, this was supposed to be a good thing. Instead, the season has blown up in everyone’s face and made it abundantly clear that tanking is the only option now. Which means Love’s future is once again up in the air. Love has already stated he didn’t want the Cavs to tank, so what will he do now?
Kevin Love signing an extension to stay in Cleveland was a big story for Cleveland and with good reason. It bucked the trend, it gave us an outcome few would have predicted in 2014-15. It gave the franchise a cornerstone to continue to build around from a leadership and performance perspective. For one day, while this franchise was still reeling from losing Kyrie and LeBron, Kevin Love gave the Cavs a feel-good day. There haven’t been many since.
The ending to this story is still being written. Love is slated to return in January and there will be much evaluation at that point in time. How the team looks with Love in the lineup and Love’s attitude will be major factors in what ultimately happens. They say you can’t eat your cake and have it too, but can Love eat his Klondike Bar and have it too?