Kevin Love has slowly chipped away at the negative attitude fans have had towards him since his arrival over three years ago. Controversy has circled the Cleveland Cavaliers since before the offseason even began and Love has been the one member of Cleveland’s ‘Big Three’ whose name we have yet to hear.
Love’s 2016-17 season in Cleveland was his third and his most successful since his younger days in Minnesota. He didn’t put up up the same monster numbers of 26 points and 13 rebounds per game like he did as Timberwolf, but he was incredibly reliable and his stats were up across the board. Love averaged a double-double for the first time as a Cavalier last season, posting averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. He shot 37 percent from three and had one of his top two or three seasons as far as efficiency goes. His touchdown passes to LeBron James used to be fun for the highlight reels, but now Love has turned it into a legitimate weapon that opposing teams are forced to stay alert for. His play in the NBA Finals has drastically improved and there is no chance the Cavaliers have their first NBA title without him. He’s comfortable in his role in Cleveland, it would seem, and it’s nice to see some stability there.
In the playoffs, Love has displayed exactly why he’s so valuable. He shot 45 percent from three in the 2017 playoffs while posting averages of 17 points and 10 rebounds . Even against the Warriors — a team that he has notoriously struggled against in the playoffs in prior seasons — Love still excelled. He maintained his scoring and was consistently taking Draymond Green one-on-one with high effectiveness. I’ll even go as far as to say that Love outplayed Green throughout last season’s Finals and it’s not a stretch to think so. Love was just that good, not solely in the playoffs, but all season long. He was just (understandably) overshadowed by two of the best 15 players in the world.
What amazes me about the Love spectacle is just how far he’s come in his three seasons. If someone had said three years ago that Love would be content and Kyrie Irving would be the one trying to force his way out, people would have thought it was crazy. But, here we are. Love has shed himself of the criticism that haunted him during his first two seasons. The same criticism that had fans demanding he be traded, to the point where there were people convinced that trading him for Carmelo Anthony would somehow work in the Cavaliers favor.
As it would turn out, Love is the only star that the Cavs are sure to keep. Love is locked in for at least two more seasons - with a player option for the third - during the prime of his career. A team surrounded by question marks, Love has been the one player that his teammates will able to rely on throughout the season.
Depending on what happens with Kyrie Irving, Love could be looking at the possibility to post numbers even better than last season. Irving is a ball-dominant guard and if he is moved elsewhere and is traded for another point guard who doesn’t need the ball as much him (which is practically all of them), that opens more doors for Love. Love deserves more touches, especially in the paint where he still has the likely advantage despite the game moving more towards beyond the arc. Taking the ball out of Irving’s hands and putting it into Love’s could reignite some flashes that we’ve seen from him before.
We know how good Love truly is. Remember when he had 34 points in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers last season? When granted the opportunity and given the green light, there is still much to be seen from Kevin Love. Even if Irving does stay with the team and Love doesn’t see more touches, he’s still one of only a few players in the entire NBA who can average a double-double on a nightly basis. There is still a slight possibility that the Cavaliers are left without Irving AND LeBron James by the time next season begins which at that point means Love becomes the guy… Again.
No matter who takes the floor when the new season begins, Love is guaranteed to be one of them, and once again he’ll likely become the afterthought. Which is perfectly fine. When Love isn’t in the news, that means he’s playing great. He doesn’t have the personality of players such as DeMarcus Cousins or Kristaps Porzingis or Joel Embiid but you don’t need it in order to play high-level basketball.
As long as he continues to play his style, Love will thrive in the current system he is under. Three years ago, Love’s future in Cleveland was constantly in doubt. Now, it would appear he’s the team’s most valuable constant.