Kevin Love is in it for the long haul.
Some people will say they knew it all along, while others will admit they weren't quite sure what was going to happen once the clock struck midnight on July 1st, 2015. A few short hours after word leaked that Love was set to have a free agency meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers, he announced on The Players Tribune that he was officially returning to Cleveland, the terms being 5 years and $110 million. The drama died when Love signed the dotted line, and finally, for the love of Pete, he and everyone else could stop answering questions about the future.
Well, one aspect of his future was cleared up, anyway; what's left to answer are a few x's and o's basketball questions, but I think Love would be the first to tell you he prefers those to last season's circus of wild speculation and endless insinuation that he would bolt Cleveland in free agency. His future on the court is still a bit of a mystery, mostly because it remains to be seen if he'll be used differently in the coming years than he was during his first go-around with the Cavs.
Per game numbers aren't the best indicator of value, but Love's averages dipped so dramatically (from 26/13/4 with the Wolves in 2013-14 to 16/9/2 in wine and gold) that it's fair to wonder whether David Blatt really maximized his considerable talents during their first season together. When three dynamic offensive players come together on the same team, sacrifice is to be expected, but LeBron's usage rate last season was actually higher than it was during his final year in Miami, and Kyrie's usage dropped just two percentage points. Love's dipped a whopping 7.1 percent
No details have been discussed publicly, but LeBron's comments about Love "getting back to what he used to do in Minnesota a little more" seem to suggest that the team's best player (and, let's be serious, chief decision-maker) is sympathetic to the idea that Love needs the ball in his hands a bit more often. Love's size and shooting ability make him the quintessential stretch-four, a dangerous weapon who bends opposing defenses, opening up driving lanes to the hoop and sucking defenders away from the paint. But what made him a top-10 player in the league during his final couple of seasons in Minnesota wasn't just his perimeter shooting, but initiating offense from the elbow, a facet of his game that all but disappeared in 2014-15. In case you didn't see much of Love in Minnesota, it looked a lot like this:
Now imagine him throwing those passes to finishers like LeBron and Kyrie, with J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert spacing the floor a bit. Sounds pretty cool, right? It probably shouldn't be the main staple of the offense, but with all the mileage James has racked up over the past few seasons (well, his whole career, really) and Irving's injury concerns, perhaps a few more possessions like that are preferable to having LeBron or Kyrie constantly create off the dribble. It would keep Love more involved, and help keep the Cavs' two best players a bit fresher. Win-win.
Will it actually happen, though? There were 17 players who used more post-up possessions than Love's 295 in 2014-15, despite the fact that he was the league's sixth-most efficient scorer in those situations. He'd often get an early touch or two down low, then Cleveland would go away from it. Love's elbow touches fell all the way from 11.6 per game during his final season with the Wolves to just 2.9 per game in his first season with the Cavaliers. Again, it'd be unwise to call for a facsimilie of Rick Adelman's 2013-14 offense (for one thing, it completely broke down in crunch time) but there has to be a compromise between 11.6 and 2.9. Here are a few other players who averaged approximately the same number of elbow touches per game last season:
That's obviously not an apples-to-apples correlation, but take a look at just how great Love was in the half-court during his final season in Minnesota, when elbow touches were one of the main ingredients to his game:
Love can carry the Cavs' offense for stretches, if they let him. And given Kyrie's injury issues and the need to let LeBron take it easy until ramping up for the playoff run, David Blatt should let him. Will he? That remains to be seen.
On the other side of the ball, Love's situation is just about ideal. His two main weaknesses on defense are rim protection and switching on pick and rolls. Timofey Mozgov provides the first, and Tristan Thompson (whenever his deal gets done, and for the sake of everyone's sanity on social media, I hope it's done soon) provides the second. A Love-Varejao front court pairing might be the weakest the team can muster, but if it's only a part-time situation, it's not so bad.
At this point of Love's career, he is what he is: fine, though unspectacular, decent, but unimpressive on the defensive end of the floor. His one true skill, rebounding, has slowly atrophied, thanks in part to his own place in the offense (often near the perimeter) and to the league's three-point metamorphosis, meaning he is defending players further from the hoop than he once did. And believe it or not, he's a fine one-one-one post defender, ranking in the 73rd percentile among players in this category according to NBA.com's SportVu data.
The other big question mark for this season is Love's health. The fact that he is scheduled to play on Sunday versus the Raptors is a very encouraging sign. Most of his injuries have been bone breaks (hand in 2012 and 2013) or sprains (our own Trevor Magnotti broke down the Olynyk-caused injury here) that shouldn't morph into chronic issues. The only one to really watch is his back; Love dealt with spasms on numerous occasions last season, and dealt with them from time to time in Minnesota as well.
As long as he can stay on the floor, he should be poised for a big second season with the Cavs, especially now that he's comfortable in the system and secure in his future.