Remember the headlines about Kevin Love returning to form after the Cleveland Cavaliers fired David Blatt and promoted Tyronn Lue to head coach?
Those were good times.
Love certainly caused some to flirt with the idea of his return to form, that form that had him as one of the Association’s most sought-after free agents. He was a mid-market guy who boosted the Minnesota Timberwolves to relevancy and deserved the max because he’d put a contender over the edge and—let’s just stop there.
Few expected Love to take control of the Cavaliers in complete fashion with LeBron James around. Even fewer expected this, though. In his last season with the Timberwolves, Love posted averages of 26.1 points and 12.5 boards. His first season with the Cavaliers? Just 16.4 and 9.7, respectively.
And while Love averages a double-double this season at 15.9 points and 10.1 boards, it’s beginning to look like the UCLA product is simply a terrible fit in Cleveland. It’s that or he leveraged his stock at its absolute highest and the Cavaliers fell for it.
Michael Rand of the Star Tribune summed up the situation well:
As I’ve concluded before, Love leveraged himself into a place where he was traded at peak value, and his opt-out threat and subsequent trade for Andrew Wiggins might prove to be one of the best things to happen to the Wolves. Without it, they obviously don’t get Wiggins and they probably don’t bottom out enough to get Karl-Anthony Towns.
Nearly two seasons later, Love is still struggling to find his form and role in Cleveland, while the Cavs look destined for no better than a return trip to the NBA Finals and another dispatching at the hands of a better Western Conference foe.
It’s deserved criticism for all involved. Some nights, Love plays like a mad man, such as a win on February 21 against the Oklahoma City Thunder when he posted 29 points and 11 rebounds. More often, though, his performance looks like Monday’s win against the Indiana Pacers, when he went 4-of-14 from the field with 13 points and eight boards. Then there’s lowlights such as this, captured by SLAM Magazine:
Otto Porter with the monster block on Kevin Love https://t.co/gBHXwZYfk8
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 28, 2016
If Love and the Cavaliers haven’t figured it out by now, when will they? The team has lost two of its last three and three of five, escaping the aforementioned Pacers by just four points. It’s not going to get easier, either, not with games against Boston, Miami, Houston, Atlanta and more still on the schedule and the coaching staff needing to think about rest periods for James and others ahead of the playoffs.
Love has been a controversy magnet since joining the Cavaliers. Failing to meet expectations on the court plays a large part in this. After Lue’s promotion these questions turned into praise when everything seemed to click, but once again the Cavaliers are back to where they started.
Lue and his staff need to find an answer in a hurry—Rand isn’t wrong about these Cavaliers in their current state getting walloped by a better team from the Western Conference. That means making Love, for the first time since joining the team, a good fit in the lineup.
Whether Lue can pull off this feat with Love will not only decide whether the Cavaliers can contend for a title, but just how controversial the summer surrounding the franchise will be.