Discussing Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers has not and will not ever be an easy, binary topic. It can never be fully described in 140 characters on Twitter. It is not something you can portray easily in a 10-second Snapchat video. It is something that is filled with nuance and uncertainty and ambiguity, and that makes it a difficult thing to process in our fast-moving 2016 minds.
The history of Kevin Love and the Cavaliers dates back all the way to 2012 or 2013. At the time, Cavs Twitter was eagerly thirsting over the idea of magically trading pennies on the dollar for the reportedly unhappy Minnesota All-Star. No such deal ever made sense for the Timberwolves and was never conceivably going to happen. But, the connection finally did work when LeBron James returned to Cleveland in summer 2014 and the Cavs won the Andrew Wiggins lottery.
Now, here we stand in June 2016. Tonight is Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. It's sorta surreal to think about, when you pause for the moment. The Cleveland Cavaliers were not at all a good basketball team for four long years. There was no way they could ever make a deal for Kevin Love. And then suddenly, they had LeBron James again, they had the long-sought-after Love, and they're in the freaking NBA Finals for a second straight season. That's incredible to consider.
Kevin Love was a legitimate All-Star with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Many well-regarded national NBA writers considered him a top-10 player in the entire league. The 2013-14 Timberwolves – the best-ever non-playoff team in NBA history, by margin of victory – were more than 10 points better with Love on the court. He was putting up massive statlines and easily making the most out of his subpar supporting cast. There was no way the Wolves should've been as good as they were.
Kevin Love remains only 27 years old. He continues to average regular season double-doubles. He had some fairly impressive production throughout this year's Eastern Conference playoffs. There is little doubt that he would again be producing incredible superstar-like statlines on nearly half of the teams in the NBA. He is, by definition, a top-30 or so player in the league. Good enough to lead a bad team. Not really superb enough to lead a great one. That's not too shabby.
And yet, here we stand on the night of Game 6 of the NBA Finals with easily a plurality of Cavalier fans wanting this series to be the end of Love's tenure in town. Since Day One, expectations have been unwieldy and unfair. Many people (including yours truly in the 2014-15 Cavs Zine) theorized that the trio of Love, James and Kyrie Irving might be enough for the Cavs to have the league's greatest-ever offense. Making the Finals was an assumption. Winning it all at some point soon, an implied thought.
Because of adjustments, injuries, a "fitting out" period, more drawn-out drama than your sixth grade lunch room, the astonishing growth of the Golden State Warriors and an assortment of whatever reasons you might want to state, that hasn't happened yet. And Love, because of his poor fit and goose egg performance against arguably the NBA's greatest team ever, looks to be the scapegoat for all of these unfulfilled hopes. Yes, Love played an aesthetic style of basketball in Minnesota. That hasn't transferred to Cleveland. Yes, Love is still a very good NBA player. But his reputation has been tarnished by an insanely difficult task alongside LeBron James.
I personally am not excited about the prospect of trading Kevin Love. It feels like an embarrassment of riches. It feels like a problem that is only a problem because we want there to be a problem. Kevin Love will be very, very difficult to replace. He's a very good NBA player who matches up very poorly against these incredible Warriors. Yes, perhaps his open market value now has decreased somewhat and there are few salary cap fits that could be exchanged for him directly. But again, Kevin Love would likely put up better numbers on just about any other team in the league. And the salary cap is rising precipitously, so his long-term maximum contract won't be that damaging to any team's books.
I personally hate when people on social media and on television try to analyze sideline body language. When has LeBron James or anyone on the team explained any on-the-record distaste for Love? Of course, that's incredibly unlikely to happen, sure. But it just annoys me when there is so, so much unsubstantiated rumor-spreading about a topic than none of us really know concretely. Who could know but the players and coaches in that locker room how well Love has "fit in" or "fit out" these past two years?
Unfortunately, something just seems amiss. The team seems to be straining itself so, so much on this Kevin Love issue, it's true. It's sort of like the opposite of the "If ain't broke, why fix it?" idiom. But in this case, it is: "If it ain't working, why waste precious moments of LeBron's remaining career trying to fix it?" Maybe an immediate clean break is necessary, sort of like the sudden firing of David Blatt in January. Sometimes it's just best for all parties to move on and acknowledge the reality that it's not working to everyone's benefit. Even if that breakup is difficult and not fun and is a major bummer after all these years of hope and promise.
Or, maybe all of this talk will go away in tonight's Game 6 and/or in a theoretical Game 7 at Oracle Arena on Sunday. Maybe Kevin Love has a monster bounceback game, his best against the Warriors all season. Maybe Kevin Love surpasses the expectations and delivers for the fans of Cleveland, who are yearning so desperately for greatness to be realized. Maybe this constant cloud of negativity can be erased. I'd love to see it. It'd be a true underdog, Cleveland story. It'd make this all so, so sweet. Here's to you, Kevin Love. I really want to keep believing in you. It'd be an incredible story.
Random links about Cleveland sports:
Robert O'Connell, VICE Sports: Watching Kyrie Irving, As Imperfect As Perfect Can Get
Tom Ziller, SB Nation: Why LeBron James can't always play 'like that'
Dave McMenamin, ESPN: Cavaliers' Game 5 wardrobe shift no accident
Chris Mannix, The Vertical: How LeBron James 'locked in' his epic Game 5 performance
Random links about national sports:
Bill Petti, The Hardball Times: Using Statcast Data to Predict Hits
August Fagerstrom, FanGraphs: The Most Bizarre Jose Altuve Stat
Doug Glanville, The New York Times: Who's On First? Who Knows?
Kevin O’Connor, SB Nation: Why traditional big men are the new running backs of the NBA Draft
Random links about O.J. Simpson:
Roy Firestone, The Huffington Post: My Regrets About How I Asked O.J. Simpson About Domestic Abuse
Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times: The (sort-of) regrets of Gil Garcetti: 'O.J.: Made in America's' reluctant star witness
Allen Barra, The Daily Beast: ‘O.J.: Made in America’: What ESPN’s New O.J. Simpson Documentary Forgot
K. Austin Collins, The Ringer: There Are No Winners in 'O.J.: Made in America'