The Cleveland Cavaliers were only a few hours into the NBA All-Star Break when news broke via The Athletic‘s Shams Charania that veteran forward Kevin Love is finalizing a contract buyout with the team. Action Network‘s Matt Moore was the first to mention Love being a possible buyout candidate and becoming a mid-season free agent. Now all sides can work through the next steps and give Love the freedom to choose his next team with sources confirming the Miami Heat as a favorite to land him along with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.
Nevertheless, considering that Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said a week ago that he didn’t anticipate Love and his management team requesting a buyout, this news still comes as a bit of a surprise. Sure, Love wasn’t a part of the rotation with recently extended forward Dean Wade getting Love’s minutes instead. Wade is part of the team’s future plans while Love, unfortunately, isn’t. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared that it was a difficult conversation and decision to have with Love but it was clear it was for the better of the team long-term overall.
Not only that but, considering that Love is dealing with a nagging thumb injury and isn’t the same Sixth Man of the Year caliber player he was last year, the decision became a bit easier. Cleveland couldn’t afford to sit by and let Love find his rhythm again all while acting as a traffic cone on defense. But, considering Love’s status within the organization and as a future Hall of Famer, it was hard to watch him from afar rack up DNP’s while still physically healthy, especially whenever Wade falters as he has of late. But, the decision had been made before that and, at this point, there’s no going back from it. The Cavaliers have to continue rolling with Wade, despite his struggles, and not turn back on what they decided with Love.
With that said, sources say that Love still desires to play. Since he’s not getting that with the Cavaliers, that’s what played a part in him approaching Cleveland’s front office about buying out the remainder of his contract. Love could strike while the iron’s hot and try and latch on with a team currently in the playoff hunt. There’s a real chance that if Love signs with the Heat, he’ll face the Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs as well. Plus, Love could also reunite with his former college teammate Russell Westbrook in Miami as well, making a possible matchup with Cleveland even more fun for him.
But, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, it’s the end of an era for both Love and the Cavaliers. Again, he’s a future Hall of Famer and, more importantly, was the last-standing member of the 2016 NBA Championship squad. Considering that Love was in constant trade rumors from the moment he arrived with Cleveland, it’s somewhat impressive he lasted this long with the Cavaliers. In nine years (his most with any NBA organization) Love averaged 15.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 28.6 minutes per game. In his four playoff runs, which exclusively came with Cleveland, he averaged 15.3 points 9.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 31.1 minutes per game.
Sure, some years were more injury prone than others, but he was still able to appear in 489 regular season games and had 63 postseason appearances as well. All that time spent with the team has placed Love second all-time in three-pointers made and taken in franchise history. Love is third in defensive rebounds grabbed and sixth in total rebounds. Love set the NBA record for most points scored in the first quarter with 34. His role might have been minimalized offensively at times playing third fiddle to Kyrie Irving and LeBron James but Love adapted to his circumstances and learned to fit in rather than fitting out.
From just a statistical standpoint alone, his status within the team is titanium. But, Love also had one of the most important plays in the franchise’s history which ended a nearly generational title drought. It just further crystalizes that at the end of the day, Love’s number should be taken out of circulation by the team and, eventually retired as well. The organization has done a great job connecting with former franchise legends in various roles within the team like Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao. For Love, there could be an opportunity as well, especially when he found his true calling in life when he decides to hang it up.
Almost five years ago, Love opened up through The Player’s Tribune about his mental health and the day-to-day struggles he deals with. It started with a panic attack in a November game against the Atlanta Hawks, which soberingly showed him that mental health is something that impacts everyone. In time, Love decided to use his platform to advocate for those who are struggling like him and learn that it’s totally okay not to be okay.
It was a conduit for change and, in turn, Love found his calling off the court. He launched the Kevin Love Fund, whose goal is to affect the next generation in terms of mental health and end the stigma associated with it. It wouldn’t happen overnight, in a week, in a month or over the next several years. But, Love was determined to provide resources to those who need them the most and, more importantly, make long-lasting change for good.
So, again, when the time comes, perhaps Love can become an ambassador for the Cavaliers and work with the organization to end the stigma associated with mental health. But, that could still be some time away and, for now, it’s the end of an era for both Cleveland and Love. Over his nine seasons here, Love has been part of the highest and lowest points in the franchise’s recent history and now it’s a shame that he won’t be able to make the playoffs with a team and culture he helped build from the inside. Instead, he’ll get a chance to do it with another team for the remainder of this season and possibly beyond as well. But, even as he goes, Love will forever be a Cavaliers franchise legend.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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