Kevin Love is ultimately getting what he wants in his return to Cleveland.
We’re sorry, Kevin Love. We’re sorry for not believing you. We’re sorry for thinking you might be being disingenuous when you insisted in interview after interview, in comment after comment that Cleveland was where you wanted to be. We’re sorry for thinking you could be lying for steadfastly asserting you preferred a Cavaliers uniform over one of the Knicks and the Lakers, that you would rather spend your winters in the Rust Belt over Manhattan or sun-splashed California.
Well, I’m not. Personally, I never thought Love was going anywhere. And when you think about it, you should not have either.
Love’s decision to re-sign in Cleveland—announced via a short post on The Players' Tribune—was always the most logical. He's returning on a five-year contract worth $110 million, according to an NBA source. Yes, Love’s statistics suffered last season; he averaged the fewest points (16.4) since his second year and fewest rebounds (9.7) since his first. Yes, he failed to get an All-Star invite for the first time in a fully healthy season. Yes, his relationship with David Blatt was a little rocky. And yes, he took a jab to the chin from LeBron James on social media early in the season.
There were plenty of superficial reasons to think Love would consider leaving. But there were also far too many real ones to know that he was going to stay.
Consider Love’s history: In 2012, Love was immersed in what would be his fourth straight losing season in Minnesota. The Wolves had some decent young talent, headlined by Ricky Rubio, and a strong head coach in Rick Adelman. But Minnesota was also comically mismanaged, with then-GM David Kahn bungling draft after draft, supplying a roster with the top-five talents of Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams instead of Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and Enes Kanter. Yet when it came time to talk contract, Love sought the financial security of a five-year deal; the Wolves, inexplicably, pushed for four, providing an early dose of poison to an eventually toxic relationship.
So why, in Cleveland, would Love seek anything less? The promise of future television money? Guaranteeing yourself an annual salary of $20-plus million coming off a statistically subpar season that ended with a nasty, season-ending shoulder injury—an injury that was preceded in previous years by hand, hip and knee issues—is a pretty good reason to worry about collecting some of that TV cash another day.
Besides: It’s Cleveland. It’s not sexy, at least not compared to Manhattan Beach or Broadway, but it is the city that will likely host three or four NBA Finals during Love’s tenure with the team. Thus far, the Cavaliers are having an A-plus offseason. They re-signed Love and are reportedly near an agreement with Tristan Thompson on a five-year, $80 million deal. They still have Brendan Haywood’s non-guaranteed $10.5 million contract and the taxpayer exception—about $3.5 million—to play with to fill out the rotation. The Cavs are, in almost every possible way, a super team.
That matters. Love is 26, and before this season never played for a team that finished above .500. So as alluring as L.A. might be—and Love did spend his brief college career at UCLA—would a shorter contract with the rebuilding Lakers be worth it? New York has Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks have not been truly relevant this century.
Love admits: Being in the Finals—even as a spectator—had a measurable impact.
''After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, that's when it really struck me,'' Love wrote. ''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 won’t be a seamless return to Cleveland for Love, but then he probably knows that, too. Thompson’s performance in the playoffs has earned him a more substantial, possibly even starting role next season. Blatt will have to figure out a Love-Thompson-Timofey Mozgov rotation and ways to appease the two that sit when James inevitably shifts to power forward in some situations. Love may not average 20-points per game, may not play 35-plus minutes, and may not reestablish himself as the best power forward in the game.
But he will get paid and he will get a chance to win. Which, ultimately, is what he wanted.