As soon as LeBron James announced he was joining the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason, the future of Kevin Love with the Cleveland Cavaliers was questioned. Would the team blow everything up and start over by trading Love, or would they attempt to compete for a playoff berth with Love as their focal point?
A four-year $120 million contract extension answered that question pretty clearly, although the end result of the 2018-2019 season wasn’t close to what the Cleveland brass originally had in mind.
Love played the first four games of the season, but was clearly not himself. He averaged 19.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, but shot just 32% from the field and 29% from three-point range, and turned the ball over 2.5 times per night.
He would miss the next 49 games due to a toe injury that had hampered him from the preseason, that eventually required surgery. Love was eased back into the lineup starting on February 8th, playing on a minutes restriction and usually sitting out the second night of back-to-backs.
Love finished the season averaging 17.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He shot 39% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. He played in only 22 games total, so it’s hard to really take much away from his performance, considering the talent level around him and the fact that he was probably never at 100%, either because he was playing hurt or he hadn’t had enough time to get up to speed.
Without James or Kyrie Irving taking touches from him, Love’s usage rate of 27.4% was his highest mark since his last season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, when he hit 28.8% in 2013-2014. Despite this 2.3% increase from last season, Love took only 0.5 more shots per game, and his free-throw attempts rose by 0.7. His attempts were barely higher than his first season in Cleveland and significantly lower than in 2016-2017.
He played just 0.8 minutes per game fewer than last year, so playing time isn’t the reason for this. His odd numbers were likely due to a combination of his injuries, changing lineups, and lack of a consistent offensive system. If Love is healthy next season, he should be back to playing at an All-Star level, regardless of who the Cavs end up selecting in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Depending on how big of an impact that rookie is able to make, and how much Collin Sexton improves over the offseason, it’s entirely possible that Cleveland is able to contend for the playoffs in 2019-2020, just as the team wanted to this season.
Since Love was out for so long, he had to fill his time with something. Over the past few years, he’s begun to come out of his shell, and now has earned a reputation as one of the more fun and jovial members of the team. Following his antics related to Channing Frye’s retirement tour was truly a joy.
Love has also become an advocate for mental health, encouraging people to address their struggles and to seek help. This advocacy began last season when he suffered a panic attack during a game, and since then, Love has been a major positive influence in many peoples’ lives. He talked about mental health in an article for The Players’ Tribune last March, and is at least partly responsible for players like DeMar DeRozan speaking out about their struggles.
Ever since he was traded to Cleveland in 2014, Love has been the model teammate. He has been through a lot; his role had marginalized, he wasn’t getting near the amount of touches as he was in Minnesota, he was blamed for the Cavs’ losses throughout the regular season and the playoffs, yet he never complained once. Both James and Irving are now gone, and yet Love, who arguably had the most to be dissatisfied about, is still with the Cavaliers, leading a young team through a rebuild, and acting as a positive influence for many.
He is a true professional, and should be a member of the Cavs until he retires. Kevin Love has done pretty much everything the right way, and that’s admirable.