The Cleveland Cavaliers are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They have virtually secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference, aligning them currently with a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics. LeBron James appears to be happy, Kyrie Irving appears to be happy, and Cavaliers fan base is happily awaiting the beginning of the playoffs.
It’s almost as if the internal turmoil and locker room angst that existed at the beginning of the season didn’t occur. LeBron James has effectively replaced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom helped James win two championships in Miami, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and is somehow positioned to reach the NBA Finals. Again.
The big difference, however, between James’ first Big Three and his presently constructed Big Three is that the third wheel hasn’t been adjusting to his newer, less utilized role fast enough. And he may never adjust, unless Cleveland wins a championship this season.
Kevin Love hasn’t played in the fourth quarter a whopping 12 times this season. In those games, the Cavaliers are 10-2 and have crushed their opponents by an average of about 21.4 points per win. The teams they have demolished in that collection of Love-less games include six that are playoff-bound.
Not only is Kevin Love being alienated by not being allowed to play in the fourth quarter, but his teammates, namely James, have selected to not include him in many post-game picture opportunities, mostly which are posted on social media. Love shrugged off the non-invites, simply stating, “I’m sure he’ll have me in the next picture.” For context, Timofey Mosgov, who has been a member of the Cavaliers for only a few months, was seen in one of those pictures posted on Instagram.
If this discordance perpetuates throughout the playoffs and the Cavaliers end up losing in the Finals or even to the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Love has a “Get Out of Jail Free card” waiting for him. He’s able to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, which would enable him to become an unrestricted free agent. The next two years have possibly the greatest field of free-agents the league has seen in a while, including LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, ect.
Popular opinions suggest that Love will return to his home state in California to play with Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers in Bryant’s final year. Granted, this would place him back into the Western Conference, in which he has yet to reach the playoffs after six seasons with Minnesota. Although, because they were unable to sign a marquee free-agent in the 2014 offseason, the Lakers do have roughly $20 million in cap space to sign Love to a max contract, which he has stated he desires.
In all seriousness, Kevin Love’s best possible destination, aside from remaining in Cleveland, would be the New York Knicks. The Knicks have roughly $30 million in cap space, which puts them in the driver’s seat in terms of signing marquee free-agents to max contracts. The Knicks play in the Eastern Conference as well, which would make it easier for Love to play in the postseason. Also, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, who will hopefully return to the team 100% healthy next season after recovering from knee surgery.
The question remains whether Love and Anthony can coexist and take the Knicks to the playoffs next season. They do have some history playing together in the 2012 Summer Olympics, where the USA Mens National Basketball Team won the gold medal. The immediate concern for most would certainly have nothing to do with offense, as both players can easily average in the mid-20 in points per game. In terms of defense, there’s much to be desired.
Anthony is already known as being a player that doesn’t play hard on defense, which is understandable because of the workload he maintains on the offensive end. However, if Kevin Love were to suit up alongside Anthony, it would create an enormous defensive deficiency in the paint that guards would essentially have a free pass to the rim. Although, with the offense that Kevin Love has proven to produce while playing for Minnesota, Anthony can take less burden in terms of scoring, which may allow him to be more effective and focused on the defensive end.
It may seem like a situation akin to the Anthony-Stoudemire tandem that was assembled and unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. The key difference between Stoudemire and Love is in pure basketball skill. Stoudemire gained offensive prowess in the post while he was on the Knicks, after working with Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason. He was never the player to step out on the perimeter and shoot three pointers, which is exactly the type of player Kevin Love is.
Love’s addition would not only space the floor on offense because of his ability to knock down shots from long-range, but it would immensely bolster the Knicks in terms of rebounding. Let’s not forget the savage game he played against the Knicks a few years ago, when he dropped a 30-30 mark.
In his last season with the Timberwolves, he averaged 26 points per game and 13 rebounds per game. At the moment, Love is averaging 16 points per game and 10 rebounds as the THIRD option on the Cavaliers, which is a slight drop off from his Timberwolves days but still extremely impressive considering the scoring machines Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are.
Phil Jackson has so many fantastic options to choose from this offseason that it would be hard for him to go wrong . Let’s not forget the Knicks will have a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft as well, where explosive guards such as Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell will be available. Obviously, pairing up Anthony and Love would be nice, and possibly enough to scrape into the playoffs, but the Knicks desperately need a defensive presence in the paint, which could be acquired through the services of Marc Gasol. Combining Anthony, Love and Gasol, with Gasol being solely for defense, the Knicks could become an instant contender.