It’s clear that Kevin Love will be the alpha for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the foreseeable future, but nobody can say how long he will be the face of the franchise. Unless LeBron James returns to the Cavs for a farewell tour, it’s likely that this year’s departure was his last. Love will have to carry the bulk of the scoring load for the team for the 2018-19 season. Luckily enough for Cavs fans, he has some experience.
Love was selected with the No. 5 overall in the 2008 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies out of UCLA. He was a consensus first-team All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year in his lone season with the Bruins. Love played alongside Russell Westbrook and was considered a versatile big man that could play power forward or center.
He averaged 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and recorded 23 double-doubles as a freshman, but this wasn’t enough to stop him from being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a blockbuster deal on draft day. Love was traded with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Cardinal so the Grizzlies could acquire O.J. Mayo, Mike Buckner, Antoine Walker and Marko Jaric.
Mayo was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and was considered a surefire All-Star by most. However, the Timberwolves got the better and of the deal, as Love went on to earn five NBA All-Star selections. Mayo never got one.
Kevin Love was the centerpiece of the Timberwolves for the better part of six years. The development as a shooter helped him become a deadeye threat from beyond the arc, natural rebounder and top tier scorer inside. While he wasn’t able to lead his team to the playoffs, he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 37.6 percent from deep in his final season with the team. Love was clearly among the league’s most talented players, but needed to be surrounded by better talent.
The Cavs signed the 30-year-old Love to a four-year $120 million extension this year. By the time it’s done, he will be approaching 34, and will likely be on the decline. However, even without LeBron, this Cavs roster he has now is better than any team he had in Minnesota.
To make matters better, he won’t have to compete in the Western Conference like he did back then. Since arriving in Cleveland in 2014, Love has continued to be a consistent double-double threat on a nightly basis. Last year, Love struggled with injuries, but he still averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting over 40 percent from deep. More production will come with a higher workload this year.
With his current contract, Love will remain with the Cavs until 2023. 2018 first-rounder Collin sexton is signed to a standard three-year rookie deal that extends through 2022. Cedi Osman’s is signed through 2020, but that could easily change depending on his production this season.
These two are the brightest spots in the Cavs’ future right now. If Ante Zizic can make himself serviceable and Larry Nance Jr. continues to develop his skill set, Love’s decline can be curtailed, allowing him to be the leader of the team for the next four or five seasons.
During the Kyrie Irving era in Cleveland when LeBron left for Miami, the Cavs only won 97 of 215 during a four season stretch. However, Sexton will likely emerge as the spiritual leader of this team that will relieve some of the heavy load Love will be expected to carry.
Eventually, he will assume-the-mantle from him. Until then, Cavs fans should be excited for a real demonstration of the traits that make Kevin Love an NBA All-Star.