On the first day free agents were allowed to agree to contracts, Kevin Love did so with the Cavs, re-upping with a five-year, $100 million deal.
This ended any speculation there was that Love would spurn Cleveland after a full season of verbal commitments to the team through the media.
Throughout the season Love remained steadfast in his commitment to the Cavs for the future. Even though there was a report saying he would visit the Lakers, it never happened. Love always came back to the idea of a return with the Cavs, and a poolside meeting with LeBron set that in stone.
Love’s first season with the Cavs, as cliché as it sounds, had its ups and downs.
He had a healthy-ish year, playing in 75 games in the regular season. The caveat here is he dealt with a nagging back injury for much of the year. And then, just as he was experiencing playoff basketball for the first time in his career, Kelly Olynyk dislocated Love’s shoulder in Game 3 of the first round, forcing him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
This was his first non-All Star season in which he played at least 60 games. This is also the first time he played with two other All Stars and wasn’t the number one option on offense every single night.
His role from his days with the Timberwolves changed, that’s for certain. He was asked to shift his focus from doing almost everything on offense – especially whenever Ricky Rubio was hurt – to be asked to essentially be a decoy for much of the time.
Was this change for the better? Maybe not for Love’s statistics and All Star status. But for the Cavs, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Last season there was a narrative that Love was being misused by the Cavs. As I wrote, this wasn’t the most accurate way to put it. Certainly Love wasn’t sniffing the individual success he did in Minnesota. But the Cavs’ offense for much of the season, especially after LeBron got healthy and two key trades were made, was humming like no other team in the Association. A big part of this was due to Kevin Love’s unique ability, even if he wasn’t scoring 26 points per night anymore.
In that post from late February, the passage that sums up most how I felt about the theory of Love being misused is this:
“Even so, the Cavs have still been winning, coming out on top in 16 of their last 18 games. Which ultimately leads me to believe that, even if the Cavs aren’t using him enough, I don’t think they’re necessarily misusing him.”
Most would argue that not having Love operate at the high post is a “misuse” of his talents. But I would argue Love wasn’t misused because he is a really good shooter for his position. Keeping him outside the arc forces guys that, for the most part, are used to guarding in the post move into unfamiliar territory. But mainly, it creates more space for guys like Kyrie and LeBron to drive and give them less resistance on the way to the rim.
Part of Kyrie Irving’s jump in FG% at the rim from 53.8% in 2013-14 to 58.2% in 2014-15 was because of the decrease in help he had to face on the way to the rim.
With all that said, year two is the time to get Kevin Love more involved. Using the same focal points of a successful offense the whole season in year one of an accelerated rebuild is fine. But with Love cemented as a Cav for at least four years (fifth year player option), year two should be used to throw some more wrinkles into the offense.
David Griffin talked about Kevin Love when he was down in Las Vegas for Summer League. Griff let the media know that the important members of the Cavs organization think that Kevin could be utilized more in the offense.
“I think [Love] and Coach have had a lot of conversations about that. He and Bron have had conversations about that. Kevin enables us to have somebody else carry the mail when LeBron sits down once in a while… I think we have the ability to put him at the elbow and run offense through him a lot more than we did – some of the things he did really well in Minnesota.”
Griffin also brought up another good point that will probably be even more relevant this year. When LeBron wasn’t playing, the Cavs didn’t really veer much from their typical philosophy of really stretching the floor and keeping Love outside on the wing when LeBron wasn’t playing.
This may come into play more this year considering these Cavs have a year under their belt and will feel confident giving a guy like LeBron nights off in the regular season. With James out, it would be a good idea to lean more on Love to run some offense.
As he showed in Minnesota, Kevin is really good at playing at the elbow. We know his shooting range effectively stretches all the way out to the 3-point line. A unique feature about Love is his ability to see the floor and make the proper passes to make the offense flow.
The Cavs didn’t completely ignore this idea this season. One game in particular that I go back to was Kyrie’s 55-point game against Portland, one in which LeBron did not play.
On two of the last three possessions, Love was used at the elbow so Kyrie could operate off the ball; the first play leading to a huge shot.
On the second play, Batum is able to get over the pick, forcing Kyrie to drive. Portland also shows good help defense on the drive.
Nonetheless, Love, on the first play, was reason 1b why the Cavs were able to tie the game up in crunch time.
This is exactly what the Cavs could use whenever LeBron needs a breather, is off that night, or is just flat out having an bad game. This is also why the Cavs went after Mo Williams in free agency.
More variance in the Cavs offense makes the team that much scary.
From January 13 (the day LeBron came back from his two weeks off) to the last regular season game on April 4, the Cavs had the highest Offensive Rating in the NBA. Yeah… better than Golden State.
With more variation in how they use their All Star stretch-four, teams will be more on their heels than last year. Get ready fo(u)r more (years of) Love in Cleveland (sorry, had to).