Grading Kevin Love's decision to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers as an unrestricted free agent.
LeBron James's championship-caliber cast in Cleveland is secure.
Unrestricted free agent forward Kevin Love announced Wednesday that he was re-signing with the Cavaliers after opting out earlier this summer. The three-time All-Star will sign a five-year, $110 million contract with the Cavaliers, according to ESPN.com.
"I'm going back to Cleveland," Love wrote on ThePlayersTribune.com. "After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, that’s when it really struck me. Sitting on the sidelines, I never wanted to play in a game more than that one. I had dreamed of playing in the NBA Finals and I just wanted to help my guys win. I couldn’t have been prouder of them as they poured their blood, sweat and tears onto the court. ... It was clear Cleveland was the place for me. We’re all on the same page and we’re all in."
Love, 26, averaged 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 2014-15, his first year in Cleveland after arriving last summer in a trade with Minnesota. The 2008 lottery pick's return solidifies a "Big Three" with James and All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and furthers the Cavaliers' status as the early favorites to come out of the East in 2016.
Although Love struggled to find his role at times during the regular season and then missed most of Cleveland's run to the Finals due to a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in the first round, his inside/outside versatility, high-volume rebounding, and all-around scoring instincts made him one of the most attractive names in this year's free agency class. SI.com ranked Love at No. 8 on its "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list.
This agreement, reached within 24 hours after free agency opened, answers one of this summer's biggest questions: "What type of contract does Kevin Love prefer?" He was in position to receive whatever he wanted, as Cleveland is both desperate to win now and unable to target a comparable replacement because it is capped out. There were lots of options on the table: this type of long-term deal, a short-term deal that would let him reenter the marketplace once the salary cap rises in 2016 and 2017, or offers of varying lengths from outside suitors prepared to make him their No. 1 option.
In the end, Love took the old-school approach, bypassing flexibility and the possibility of greater riches in summers to come and instead signing for the largest amount of money possible right now. It's hard to say no when a blue-chip contender is able to offer you nine figures, especially after spending six seasons in NBA Siberia with the Timberwolves. Love's history of health issues might have also been a factor: it's easier for a player with James's durability to bypass guaranteed money than it is for Love, who has undergone multiple surgeries since entering the NBA.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his team's fans should be elated by this deal. A Love defection would have been very hard to swallow so soon after trading away Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick and 2015 Rookie of the Year. Had Love left, Cleveland would have been able to fill his minutes with Tristan Thompson and others, but an offense that ranked No. 1 in the league after Jan. 21 would have really missed his firepower. Now, the Cavaliers enter next season ready to put the James/Irving/Love growing pains behind them and take the league by storm. They also bring a frontline rotation of Love, Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao that's capable of playing big or small, pound or spread, depending on matchups. Look out.
Barring another major injury, the 26-year-old Love should represent good value throughout the duration of this contract, making him a potential trade piece down the road if the chemistry never quite develops, or if his defensive limitations are too much to overcome. It's best to save that speculation for some other time, as Wednesday's focus should be set squarely on just how loaded the Cavaliers are set to be in 2016.