Everything is going exactly as the Cleveland Cavaliers planned. They’re playing their best basketball of the season while entering the NBA Finals.
The only part the Cavs didn’t see coming? They’d be doing all of this without Kevin Love.
Love has a $16.7 million player option that he’ll make a decision on this summer. If I’m Love, I’m triggering the option for two reasons. 1. That’s great money, and I can wait for the cap to go through the roof in 2016 and try and sign a bigger deal elsewhere. 2. I’m returning to the Eastern Conference champs (maybe NBA champs) with a chance to actually contribute to a ring next season. It doesn’t get any easier than playing with LeBron James.
If I’m the Cavs, I’m STRONGLY trying to convince Love to do otherwise.
There’s a reason Cleveland is playing its best ball of the season … his name’s Tristan Thompson. Since Love’s injury, Thompson is playing 39 minutes per game, averaging nearly a double-double while shooting 57 percent from the field. Although he’s not a huge scoring threat, nor does he possess the range of Love, Thompson’s defense and efficiency simply makes him a better fit.
The Cavs are outscoring the opposition by 10 points per 100 possessions with their new secret weapon on the floor — proof of how effective Thompson is despite his lack of scoring. Prior to the season, Thompson declined a pretty strong extension offer of 4-years/$52 million (even more than Jimmy Butler was offered at the time). But Thompson is looking pretty smart just a few months later. It’s easy to forget that Tristan was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft after the Cavs took Irving with the top pick (a pick they got in a trade from the Clippers for Mo Williams … Ouch). It looks like he’s finally living up to his potential of a top-5 pick.
Aside from the emergence of Thompson, there are plenty more reasons that Love’s just no longer a fit in Cleveland. Timofey Mozgov was acquired mid-season to give the Cavs a rim protector, and has fit in nicely. A shot blocker with the size of Mozgov is another position that is very helpful to have alongside LeBron James … probably more helpful than a player like Love.
And let’s not forget that the whole reason the Cavs traded for Mozgov was because of the season ending injury to Anderson Varejao — who is under contract until 2018. The Brazilian big has a lot of the same intangibles to offer as Thompson, which makes Cleveland an even more dangerous team by keeping both — there just aren’t many high energy, dirty work players like these two to go around in the league.
Of course, letting go of Love in favor of three bigs sacrifices shooting … right? Wrong. With JR Smith (player option) and Iman Shumpert (qualifying offer) both potentially returning, the shooting that they added to surround LeBron mid-season has proven more than enough to stay alive during the playoffs. We just watch JR can eight triples in a conference finals game …
When it comes down to it, you can see why Cleveland took the gamble, but Love and the Cavs just aren’t a match. Hopefully (for the Cavs’ sake) Love recognizes this is the case.
But either way, Cleveland is looking pretty silly when you consider that they let the Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, slip through their grip … but that’s a story for another day.
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