After John Beilein resigned, Kevin Love was the Cavs’ player envoy to the media. Love praised Beilein, saying he “respects the hell out of him and noted that the players could have better.
“We gotta do a little check on ourselves too,” Love said Wednesday. “We gotta look at ourselves in the mirror too. I was talking about passing that mirror test. Definitely myself — I’ve been a s—thead at some points this season. I let losing get the best of me and nobody likes to do that.... it’s really just looking at ourselves and finding out how we can get better. And from there, trying to put it all together.”
When Love calls himself a s—thead, he’s referring to a number of moments. There was him arguing with Beilein, reportedly telling Koby Altman to fine him, getting visibly frustrated with Collin Sexton on the court, sharing a “Joker” meme to his Instagram and smacking a chair on the sidelines during a game in Toronto. The effort level hasn’t been full tilt, particularly on defense, where often is just kinda hanging out. There have been maybe a handful of games where he’s actually trying his best and asserting himself at his max. It is almost jarring when he really tries at this point because it happens so rarely.
“Us players, in some ways — really, in a lot of ways — we could have been a lot better,” Love said. “Naturally we have a lot of young players on this team. As veterans, we’re trying to figure out ways to help young fellas, as well as the coaching staff. When you look at things in their entirety and as an accumulation, that’s when you start to see the story. It’s really not just one man.”
He’s right in saying it’s not one man. But as the best player on the team — or second best, depending on what your opinion of Andre Drummond is — he can do more. His offensive production this year — 17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.7% overall and 38% from three — is fine. Sets where he gets the ball on the baseline are still when opposing defenses react to the most. Sexton drives to the rim or Darius Garland floaters or any other Cavs attack don’t draw nearly the same reaction. Love operating as a spacer helps everyone too.
And yet, it feels like he could be more. It’s a different set-up than Bradley Beal with the Wizards because Love’s reliant on being passed the ball. But Beal is the template for a star in a bad situation. He should have been an All-Star this year — just ask his fiancée — and has dragged the Wizards to a borderline top-10 offense. The Cavs, meanwhile, are bottom five on both offense and defense.
Beal, like Love, signed a massive new contract with a team he knew could be bad this year. Love is a smart guy — he had to know some version of this was a possibility, even if he was in fact promised otherwise. And yet their experiences could not be more different. For Beal, it’s been about making the most of a season because he’s Bradley freaking Beal. It’s not that he hasn’t been publicly frustrated — he has — but it hasn’t led to him not being himself. For Love, it’s been not-so-subtle hints that he’s unhappy and non-peak play.
But Love is supposed to be the leader on this team. Or, at the very least, a co-leader with Thompson who, despite a public annoyance with Beilein and also wanting out, has played harder more consistently all year. He’s also not made his frustrating so glaringly public. Even if he is (rightfully) frustrated, Love should be better. Perhaps it was a play to force his way out that (obviously) did not work.
This isn’t all on Love. Sexton seems to be frustrating to play with as a lead guard since he misses some often passes. Darius Garland, despite flashes of competent passing, is still learning on the job. Beilein, by all indications, was in way over his head and lost the locker room to a point where he wasn’t reaching anyone.
Maybe the coaching switch leads to a better version of Love and maybe the offense leans on him more. More sets that start with the ball in his hands, for instance, should help everyone and unlock the parts of Love’s game that have somewhat dissipated. That should help Drummond and Sexton and Garland and everyone else. It should make the Cavs more competitive, something Love says he wants.
How the rest of the year plays out is unclear. It’s possible the Cavs limit his minutes. He might not play in back-to-backs, at least not consistently. It doesn’t seem likely that this is the moment where he decides to go all-out every night. And it’s entirely possible that he’s in the final stretch of his time with the Cavs. Come the summer, a trade might ultimately be the best for both parties. Love can get to a new situation, the Cavs can move on and maybe get something better than salary relief.
The best way for that to happen will be for Love to be the best version of himself over the last 28 games. It will help him and help the Cavs. Continuing to be s—thead won’t help anyone.