The Cleveland Cavaliers are heading down the back stretch of another dreary season, hurtling toward their fourth straight year of picking in the top 10 of the draft. Though they’re still stuck on the lottery treadmill in search of an actual star to tie the team together, there are some reasons to be hopeful. Collin Sexton looks like a worthwhile NBA starter, the John Beilein experiment is mercifully over, and the roster finally features some actually intriguing young players. They have coherency. Oh, and also Kevin Love is still there. The 19th-highest paid player in the NBA hasn’t made much news this season, but that changed last night when he did this:
That’s Love just sort of pawing the ball to the Raptors, helping them stretch a six-point lead to nine. Love had just been knocked into the basket stanchion, and was frustrated with referee Brandon Schwab for not calling a foul. That context doesn’t make the clip any less damning, though, and it doesn’t seem to have appeased his teammates. Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported on what he termed the “Kevin Love situation,” writing that Love apologized to the team and that he could be fined. “You’ll have to ask Kevin,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said after the game. “We talked about it. He apologized to his teammates for it and we’ll move on.” Love didn’t take the court for the rest of the game, and left for the locker room before the game ended.
Even if Love was really just mad at Schwab, who the league has reportedly received complaints about from players all year, this sort of oopsie doesn’t tend to happen on teams really trying to win. And the Cavs are definitely not trying to do that, which makes Love’s protracted presence on this team a real outlier. He is halfway through a four-year, $120 million extension, and through his three seasons with the rebuilding, post-LeBron version of the Cavs, he has played in just 96 of a possible 208 games thanks to a heap of injuries. That unfortunately includes the team’s best stretch of ball in three years, when they started this season 10-11 and got so confident Collin Sexton “posted” a blog on the Players’ Tribune claiming the Cavs were “back on the map.” The Cavs immediately lost 10 straight, and have gone 11-29 since then and 4-12 since Love returned to the team after a calf strain.
Love’s talked about embracing his role on the team as a mentor figure and leading veteran, though he’s also called spending years marooned on a rebuilding team a “mindfuck,” which really makes sense, since he transitioned immediately from playing in the Finals every year alongside the greatest player of all time to watching every other veteran (well, every worthwhile veteran: Matthew Dellavedova is still there) leave for greener pastures. Had he been healthy and productive, he probably could have gotten traded, but instead he’s here in a situation he probably didn’t quite sign up for. There is no way that’s an easy transition. Even if Love hasn’t been a good or relevant for three years, he’s still a competitor and is being compensated like a star. I can see the outlines of a retooled version of Love excelling at some point in the future, just not in Cleveland, and not as a top-tier star. Maybe all that uncertainty is wearing on his teammates, who want something he can’t or won’t give them.