Kevin Love’s future is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest remaining offseason question
Everything has been calm on Kevin Love’s forehead for several weeks now.
Since Love, who will soon be 33, left the United States squad ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, he has not spoken publicly. It’s also been a month since USA Basketball chief executive Jerry Colangelo blew up Love, saying Love was out of shape.
Now, there is about a month left until the NBA training camps open and about two months before the start of the season. For Love and the Cavaliers, that means it still remains to be seen what its future looks like. As a reminder, Love has two more years on his contract extension which he signed in 2018. He is still the highest paid player in Cleveland and the last player on the team to leave the 2016 title-winning team.
Love is also in a complicated position on the list. The team recently drafted Evan Mobley and Mobley is expected to play important striker minutes early in his career. In the long run, he might end up being the best as a center once he adds muscle and adjusts to the physicality of the NBA. But right now, he weighs 215 pounds and has spoken openly since being drafted about the need to add muscle.
The Cavs also reportedly acquired Lauri Markkanen on Friday as part of a three-team deal that sent Larry Nance Jr. to the Trail Blazers. In the deal, Cleveland signed Markkanen to a four-year, $ 67 million contract that multiple league sources said only guaranteed $ 6 million last season.
Markkanen is eight years younger than Love. They share the same best skill – three-point shooting, something Cleveland desperately needs – and struggle on defense. It is difficult to imagine that they could play together successfully for a significant number of minutes. Add Dean Wade – who had a strong season last year as a three-point substitute, but whose pay is not yet guaranteed for next season – and there is a lot of overlap in the Cavs’ frontcourt. if Love is on the team.
In a vacuum, Love is probably even better than Markkanen. He’s a better passer in the half court and on live rebounds to kick off the quick breaks. Love is also a much better bounce, ranking in the 91st percentile last year versus the 47th percentile for Markkanen, according to Cleaning The Glass. Love, in fact, never made it into the top 10% for rebounds (at least in terms of raw numbers) based on his position.
What Markkanen has about love is youth and edge. He had a tough few years in Chicago, first under Jim Boylen, then under Billy Donovan, as he also faced injuries. (Love, of course, has also been unable to maintain good health since signing extra time. It is not at all clear what his health looks like now two months after the start of the season.) Cavs do with him is that they can help Markkanen improve in a new environment as he heads into what should be his best years. Love, by comparison, is entirely on the decline of his career.
So what exactly does Love’s future look like in Cleveland? If he stays on the roster at least to start the year, it would make sense for him to take on a smaller role and step off the bench. Compare that to Blake Griffin’s situation last season in Detroit. There Griffin played in 20 games, starting them all and averaging 31.3 minutes per game. With Mobley, Markkanen, and Jarrett Allen, there might not (and probably not) be as many minutes available for Love. Does he agree with that?
A buyout, you might think, would make sense to everyone. (An exchange seems impossible at this point given Love’s contract and injury issues.) But can the parties meet somewhere around the middle? When Griffin was bought out, he returned $ 13.3 million of the $ 75 million he had left on his contract, or just under 18% of his contract. Love still has $ 60.2 million on his two-year contract. If he were to give back 18%, that would mean sacrificing $ 10.8 million.
Maybe he’d be willing to give up $ 15 million or so to get to Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or Portland or wherever he wants to go. But he has no real obligation to do so – the Cavs signed him to this deal and he owes every penny. As of now, sources say the two sides have discussed a buyout, but nothing is imminent. If that happens, it can carry over into the Griffin-style season.
So what happens next? It’s unclear. It might not be clear until the next time love speaks.