Kevin Love’s first season as a Cleveland Cavalier has been far from rosy, leaving many to believe his first season in Ohio might also be his last. (Love has a player option for next season.) At 26 years old, Love is entering the prime of his career. Where he decides to play next will likely be where he spends most — if not all — of what should be the best years of his career. It’s a huge decision to be sure and one Love won’t take lightly. To help make sense of Love’s first season in Cleveland and to determine whether he should stay or go after it ends, I’ve made a tried and true list of pros and cons.
Playing Alongside Two All-Stars
In Minnesota, Love was the first option. He had to carry the team on a nightly basis. In Cleveland, things have gotten easier for him because of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. James remains the best player in the world, and Irving is one of the premier players in the NBA in his own right. While Love wants a bigger, different role than the one he currently has, he must realize that playing alongside two fellow stars makes his life much easier.
Best Chance to Win
As long as LeBron continues to play like the best player in the world and Irving continues to make significant strides on both ends of the court, the Cavaliers are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Role players want to play with superstars like James, so continuing to bolster the roster with solid supporting players won’t be an issue. Love must also consider that it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to find another team better set up for short-term success that will also be able to pay him what he’s worth during the coming offseason.
More Quality Shots
Defenses have primarily keyed on James and Irving this season, and they’ll continue to do so going forward. Playing with the dynamic duo has led to almost five less shots a game for Love this season (18.5 shots per game in 2013-14 and 12.9 in 2014-15), but the shots he’s getting are better looks for the most part.
More of Love’s shots have come from the perimeter this season largely because James and Irving need space to slash into the lane. All Love has to do most possessions, which he admittedly doesn’t enjoy doing, is spot up on the three-point line and knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers when the ball is kicked out to him. Additionally, teams can’t afford to double him when he does get the ball on the block like they could when he was in Minnesota, and that makes him even more dangerous in the post.
Less Exposed Defensively
Since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, Love’s notable flaws on the defensive end have been able to be significantly mitigated. Love’s defensive shortcomings will continue to keep him off the floor in some late game situations (he sat out the entire fourth quarter last Thursday in a tight game against the San Antonio Spurs), but having an anchor like Mozgov relieves a tremendous amount of pressure from Love in the post. Playing alongside LeBron, who’s capable of patrolling the entire floor and closing down open space in a hurry, doesn’t hurt either.
Most of Love’s issues in Cleveland have centered around his role. It has been tough for him to go from being a first option to a third option. It’s easy to understand why a player as good as Love doesn’t want to sit back and essentially be a glorified role player. He’s still an excellent player when reacting to the moves of teammates rather than them reacting to him, but that might not be what he wants. There are possessions when he’s wide open but gets completely overlooked. That’s a weird spot to be in for a guy considered a superstar and something he might not want to relive after this season.
Less Post Touches
Love is right. He’s not a stretch 4. Like he has stated, he’s a post player who can shoot. Love is tremendously talented in the post, and it doesn’t make sense why the Cavs continue to utilize him so little down low. Last season, Love averaged 7.2 close touches a game and 11.6 elbow touches a game. This season, Love is averaging 4.0 close touches a game and only 3.0 elbow touches a game. That’s a staggering drop off, and Love is understandably upset by it.
As one of the best face-up big men in the league, it’s borderline criminal that Love is averaging a mere three elbow touches a game. He has demonstrated the ability to pick apart a defense from that spot on the floor countless times over the course of his career. Love’s elite ability to shoot, put the ball on the floor and find open teammates all over the court makes him almost impossible to stop at the elbow. For the Cavs to win a championship this season and convince Love to stay in Cleveland for years to come, they must figure out how to integrate his interior game into the offense.
Possible Chemistry Issues
Head coach David Blatt, LeBron James, Kevin Love and others in the organization have worn emotions on their sleeves this season, and that could be a bad thing in the end. If the egos never mesh, bridges could be burned, and that will hurt a team every bit as much as not sorting out the roles on the court.
At the end of this season, Love will have to decide what he values more in his career in order to decide his next destination. If he values winning above all, it’s tough to argue against him staying in Cleveland. If he wants to go back to being the first option, then Cleveland is undoubtedly not for him. It all comes down to how he defines success.
If Love ever adapts to playing with two superstars and gets settled into a defined role like Chris Bosh did in Miami, then the sky remains the limit for him in Cleveland. That’s a big if though, and the time to figure things out is dwindling.