There was the monthlong state of limbo prior to his arrival, a sharp decline in the number of touches coming his way, whispers of discontent, late-night meetings with David Griffin that Miles Plumlee wanted to avoid, odd subtweets from LeBron, continuous questions about whether he'd exercise his Early Termination Option and explore free agency (the idea of playing for a certain Los Angeles team kept coming up, despite, you know, years and years of DIRECT REFUTATIONS of that rumor), nagging back injuries that never truly went away, and a freak (dirty? reckless?) play by Kelly Olynyk in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs that ended his season.
But there were also moments of genuine levity, declarations that he just wanted to be part of winning team, no matter the terms, a consistent message of commitment through all the adversity, entire weeks where he couldn't seem to miss, an increasing feeling of comfort as he settled into his role, consistent play as the Cavaliers became an unstoppable juggernaut, more victories in a three month period (34 of them from January 15th through April 15th) than he'd experienced in five of his six seasons in Minnesota, and a pair of splendid playoff performances during his first foray on the NBA's biggest stage.
In other words, Kevin Love's first season in Cleveland had a little bit of everything. Maybe too much of everything; it was exhausting to follow at times. It certainly wasn't a smooth ride, nor did it end the way anyone wanted, but good news arrived yesterday via The Players' Tribune. We found out Kevin Love's first campaign with the Cavaliers wouldn't be his only one, as the 26-year-old power forward agreed to a 5 year, $110 million extension to remain with the wine & gold.
It's a satisfying move on several different levels. First and foremost, the Cavaliers will have the opportunity (hell, several more opportunities) to see what their 2014-15 core can accomplish together, up to and including winning a title (or two, or three). Secondly, as referenced above, it took awhile for everyone to settle into their new offensive roles during year one of the LeBron-Kyrie-Love era, but Love had the most dramatic changes to make. As time goes by, the chemistry will only improve - a scary thought for the rest of the NBA. Thirdly, Love has long-term security and the max-level contract he's coveted for years. And finally, from the Cavs' perspective, it's a savvy move to lock up Love at $22 million per season when the cap is set to skyrocket in the coming years. They're going to have to pay LeBron all of the maximum monies, so having both Kyrie and Love locked in to contracts that will be bargains (believe it or not) in a few seasons is just icing on the cake.
By traditional statistics, Love's 2014-15 season was a disappointment. He had the lowest offensive rebounding rate of his career, lowest total rebounding rate of his career, averaged the fewest points per-36 minutes since his rookie season, and had nearly half the assist rate he did during his final season in Minnesota. Speaking of his last season with the Timberwolves - in 2013-14, Love recorded 65 double-doubles, reached 30 or more points 25 times and notched five or more assists 32 times. In 2014-15, those numbers dropped all the way to 38 double-doubles, two games of 30 or more points and just four games of five or more dimes. The Cavaliers gave a max deal to a guy who averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists on 43% shooting for them a season ago; to the untrained eye, that looks like a mistake.
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that nothing about the way David Blatt and the coaching staff utilized Love in the offense was "traditional." You can take that last paragraph and strike the whole thing out, because easily digestible parameters for evaluating a player like the new Love don't really exist yet. Ten years ago, taking an elite rebounding big man away from the basket to shoot five threes per game would've been unthinkable; nowadays, just about everyone (with a few notable exceptions) covets that kind of spacing, no matter what position it comes from. In the modern game, and in the Cavs' system, he's worth every penny of his new deal. Love's value comes from the way he bends the floor, pulling defenders like gravity towards him, providing extra space for Kyrie or LeBron to drive to the hoop. His mere presence forces defenses into a tough spot: sag off to guard the paint, risk being burned by the three ball, or stay home on the perimeter while Kyrie and LeBron beat you off the dribble.
During the Cavs' 34-9 run to end the season, everything started to click. They scored 118.8 points per 100 possessions and allowed 98.8 for a plus-20.0 Net Rating, which is bonkers. Love's individual numbers from this timeframe don't exactly jump off the page - 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 56% True Shooting while hoisting 5.7 threes per game. The collection of pieces around him reaped the benefits of his presence, from LeBron and Kyrie to J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and even Timofey Mozgov.
All that being said, it might not be the worst thing for Love to get a few more elbow touches in the coming seasons. He was magical facilitating from that area in the past, and it would be a simple way to ease some of LeBron and/or Kyrie's burden, especially when one or the other is getting some rest on the bench. Should it be the foundation of the Cavs' offense? Certainly not. But as well as beautiful as the results were in Year 1, it still felt as though Love's considerable skill set was slightly underutilized. Clearly, Love is either a) comfortable that the Cavs' coaching staff will do just that, or b) is truly comfortable sacrificing his own numbers for the good of the team. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have re-signed so quickly.
The craziest, scariest, most beautiful part of Kevin Love in Cleveland is that last season was a bumpy ride, the team's roster was constantly being tweaked, and everyone was trying to get used to one another. What's it going to be like next season, or the year after, when the players are comfortable with their teammates and the coaching staff has years of experience to draw upon? What can Kevin Love accomplish? What can he help the team accomplish?
Cavs fans cannot wait to find out.