“So you know now Kevin Love is really screwed. They’ve put him in an awful situation. Now what happens if he comes back Friday? Do they start him? They have hung Kevin Love”. Those were the words from your truly Sir Charles Barkley after Cleveland Cavaliers necessary 120-90 win over Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The controversial Hall of Famer, never one to shy away from saying the rarefied was making his submission after Cleveland breathed life into a series which looked one-sided for most parts in Oakland. Power Forward Kevin Love missed the must win game with a concussion suffered from an elbow from the soon to be restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Love’s absence meant Coach Tyronne Lue went with a small lineup that had LeBron James at Power Forward, Tristan Thompson at Center, Richard Jefferson at Small Forward as J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving manned the backcourt.
The tinkered starting lineup matched Warriors intensity on the boards and defense outside the paint. Despite signing a five year contract worth in excess of $100 million dollars, Love’s name has been a constant feature among players likely to join Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics; teams with personal connections to the 6 foot 10 inch Power Forward and the right assets and room to absorb his massive contract respectively.
Looking ahead to Game Four, convention wisdom dictates Lue stick to his Game 3 winning side particularly seeing how Golden State fared better when it subbed out Andre Bogut. Should Cleveland win to even the series without Love in the starting lineup, it becomes more apparent he will be shipped off to another city. Should he return to the lineup and Cleveland go on to lose, he will be shipped out of Cleveland all the same which leaves Cleveland in a pretty weird situation.
Doing away with Love come with benefits no matter where he lands in the league. The NBA’s glamorous franchises Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are the forerunners in the “ghost” chase for Kevin. In Boston’s case, Cleveland’s management led By David Griffin can request for Celtics number three pick in the 2016 Draft, a younger version of Love in Kelly Olynk and Marcus Smart. For the Lakers, nothing short of a combination of the second overall 2016 Draft pick, Jordan Clarkson and Anthony Brown or Larry Nance Jnr would do. Either way, the Cavaliers are sure to receive a dearth of young developing players who add more quality to a solid side.
Moving Love gives the team the logical chance to move LeBron to the Power Forward position which he has thrived in since moving to Miami. The self proclaimed King’s elite athleticism is ebbing; never mind the monster alley oop he slammed on Steph Curry and company. Once a headlining act in All NBA Defensive teams, James has not featured in the best defensive bracket since 2014 and he has signaled his waning interest in chasing younger, fresher legs on the wings.
On the offensive end, James broken shot means stationing him outside the paint decreases his efficiencies – has converted 23 shots from 70 beyond the arc-but playing him closer to the rim reverses the effect. A perfect example how the positional switch can benefit his team lies in his first and second years with the Miami Heat.
In the 2011 Finals, Dallas Mavericks forced James to take many shots far from the rim and went on to win the series. The following season, not forgetting a summer under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon, James willed Miami to its second title as Chris Bosh partner in the front court. Cleveland adopted a similar strategy and reaped the immense benefits of James as a Power Forward against Golden State on Wednesday.
Keeping Love on the roster also compromises Cleveland’s defense further since the former UCLA (University of California-Los Angeles) product is mediocre on that end. His eight year stint in the league has rested on his ability to knock down three point shots and rebound at a high rate. But playing defense is equally important but time and time again, Kevin Love’s input has been mute on that end. In Game One of the finals, he registered 17 points and 13 rebounds (cute) but got toasted by Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson when the Warriors attacked.
On the other hand, letting go of Love in return for a boat load of players operating on rookie contracts stirs up another problem for Cleveland’s title ambitions presently and in the immediate future. LeBron James is everything to the Cavaliers. He is the sun and everything in Ohio revolves around him but the superstar turns 32 close to the midpoint of next season which in turn narrows his title window. Any missed chance at equaling Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan’s haul of trophies-five and six-hurts his chances of being touted as the best player ever.
Surrounding a soon to be 32 year old with lots of mileage on his legs and back, with young inexperienced players doesn’t bide well for LeBron or Cleveland’s mission to end a 52 year title drought. But in Love, the Wine and Gold do have a go to guy more than capable of closing out a playoff series. Plus as good as Kyrie Irving is, he is still young and has some learning to do meaning Kevin Love who is in his prime is the viable option for an aging James to win championships.
Love is also the best shooter among the Big Three since James efficiency outside the paint is waning and waning fast enough to need help from inconsistent shooter Irving and in some cases the streaky J. R. Smith to complement him. Love’s powerful arsenal from outside the arc coupled with his interior scoring ability makes him a solid piece to build on.
On the court, Cleveland is in a fix just the way team executives are off it.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah