It’s been an interesting week for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last Thursday we had the NBA Draft, of course, where the Cavaliers selected three young players to hopefully help turn things back around. Those three are Darius Garland (G, Vanderbilt), Dylan Windler (F, Belmont), and Kevin Porter Jr (G, USC).
For the most part, I was pretty happy with the Cavs’ draft. I liked that they didn’t worry about position and just took the best player available in Garland. I like the versatility that Windler showed at Belmont and I think he can be a glue guy that fans grow to love. Porter was a player who slid and the Cavaliers traded cash and a bunch of meaningless 2nd-round picks to be able to pick. Porter is another player who can shoot and unlike Garland and last year’s first-round pick, Collin Sexton, Porter has a little more size.
Despite being a rebuilding team last year, the Cavs were actually not particularly young. Sure, there were some G-League caliber players around getting some minutes and all, but really Sexton and Cedi Osman (and maybe Ante Zizic) were the only players that I would say were being developed for future roles with the team.
This season figures to be a lot different than last season. This time, the goal from the start is to rebuild. No pivoting after five games this time. Which brings us to Kevin Love and his future with the team.
Last year, after LeBron James left the Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers, there was a lot of thought around the league that Kevin Love would probably want to be traded and that the Cavs would likely want to trade him to start
tanking rebuilding. But both parties had other plans. The Cavs sold their vets on trying to make the playoffs again, and Love agreed to a four-year, $120 million contract extension to become the new face of the franchise.
It was a good day for the Cavaliers. Love signed his contract in front of workers who were renovating Quicken Loans Arena into Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. For fans, some of the bitterness of losing LeBron again and the Kyrie Irving trade request was softened by having an All-Star caliber player showing that he was willing to be in Cleveland independent of LeBron or anyone else. For a while, it made sense for both sides. Love would give Cleveland some legitimacy and provide leadership and culture for the young players.
Now that the Cavaliers are in the midst of a proper rebuild, though, the question is whether this arrangement still makes sense for both sides or not. Over the weekend, Channing Frye made some waves with a tweet about Love and his future:
I’m gonna be honest i had a conversation with friends and i think the best move for the Blazers would be to get Kevin Love. I think it would shake the whole western conference
— Channing Frye (@channingfrye) June 23, 2019
Obviously, with Frye and Love being such close friends, this got people connecting the dots. From the outside looking in, it sure looked a lot like a nice trade request via proxy. It’s hard to believe Frye doesn’t know what Love wants and that he would make this tweet out of the blue without knowing that Love is open to, and maybe even actively wants, a trade. For many Cavs fans, this tweet was a bit of a bummer, albeit not totally surprising.
The fact is, the Cavaliers are in such a different place than when Love committed to them. When Love agreed to stay, Ty Lue was still his coach. Veterans like Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Channing Frye, and George Hill were still on the team. The Cavs were saying they wanted to contend while developing Sexton and Cedi. Now, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova (re-acquired in the George Hill trade in the middle of the season last year) are Love’s only teammates still around from the 2016 Championship. Ty Lue is gone and replaced by a coach with a background in developing players. At Love’s age, he might want to still make a couple more runs at the playoffs while still in his prime, and it’s hard to fault him for that.
But make no mistake, losing Kevin Love would hurt. I still contend that there is serious value in keeping a guy like Love around both for what he brings on the floor as well as for his leadership off it. The Cavaliers are a bottom-five NBA team this year with Love. Without him? It’s could be really ugly. Worse than last season, even. And as we just saw in this draft lottery, there’s no glory guaranteed in finishing in the bottom five of the league. If we only look at this from the Cavaliers’ perspective and not Love’s, it makes all the sense in the world to keep Love. He helps keep fans engaged, he makes the team significantly more fun to watch, and his presence alone isn’t enough to keep the Cavs out of the lottery. In other words, rebuilding with Love on the team can definitely work.
However, if Love wants a trade, the Cavaliers should absolutely make it happen for him. And they should trade him to a contender. For all he has sacrificed for this franchise, the Cavaliers owe it to him to do right by him. Remember, in 2015 Love re-signed with the Cavaliers when he could have made more money waiting for 2016. He also could have walked away and signed elsewhere. But he committed with both feet in. He sacrificed his stats and his game, along with his body, to help the team over the four years with LeBron. He committed to the franchise last year even after LeBron left. Love will absolutely have his jersey retired in Cleveland someday. I would love nothing more than for Kevin to want to finish his career in Cleveland and forever be associated with this franchise. But this should be his call. And if he wants a trade, as much as it would sting, there should be no hard feelings. And the Cavaliers should do everything to accommodate his wishes.
From a development point of view, this next season should be more fun than last season. It was pretty miserable watching the Cavs stink while not really having much to develop. They were just a flat-out bad basketball team, especially while Love was out with injuries. This season, they’re still going to be bad, but at least there will be a lot of young players being developed. Larry Nance is still growing as a player, and then you have Cedi, Sexton, Garland, Windler, and Porter who will all be developing under coaches with a background in developing young players. We’ll be able to measure growth as the season progresses and there will be plenty to watch for and be excited about.
For a player like Love, though, this might not be the excitement he’s looking for. To be clear, there has been no formal trade request made as far as we know. Right now, there’s a bunch of speculation and a few media reports, but nothing concrete from Love himself. He’s still actively liking all the Cavs’ social media posts. There’s still a chance Love plays for the Cavaliers this season. In fact, even if he does want a trade, it probably makes more sense for him to start the year with Cleveland and then get moved to a contender around the trade deadline.
It’s going to be a long journey back to contention for the Cavaliers franchise. It would seem unlikely to happen while Love is still in his prime. Which is why trade rumors regarding Love are going to be swirling all year long. That part is nothing new for Love and the Cavs, but what is new is that this time, Love might actually welcome it.