Kevin Love May Need Partnership with Cavs as Much as LeBron and Co. Need Him

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Kevin Love May Need Partnership with Cavs as Much as LeBron and Co. Need Him
Steve Mitchell/USA Today

Supply and demand can skew any market. That's not the only reason Kevin Love suddenly looms, with his dark beard and his translucent skin and his quiver filled with three-pointers and rebounds as some Nordic god emerging from the frozen north to decide who sits on next season's NBA throne, but make no mistake: It's a big one.   

It's also a bit much. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in the NBA, the last player of any repute still on the market is the scale-tipper. Or so it is being portrayed.

I take no pleasure in poking holes in the idea that Love is one of the league's top-10 players or its best power forward or that wherever he lands, an NBA title is sure to follow. Love arrived in the NBA with the tag that his lineage (his dad, Stan Love, had a four-year pro career), his IQ and the world's greatest two-handed chest pass would have to overcome his limited athletic ability for him to be a serviceable NBA forward.

He wasn't labeled a big white stiffjust big white stiffish.

All of that irked and fueled him to be so much more. He reshaped his body, honed his shooting range and became a rebounding savant without having to leap. The combination has resulted in three All-Star appearances, a Most Improved Player Award and a rebounding title in six seasons. How do you not admire all that?

The problem enters when his rank statistically is used to place him among the league's best players in general. While his rebounding and scoring and efficiency are truly impressive19.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 36.2 percent three-point shooting for his careerwhat nags at more than a few general managers around the league is that those numbers have never produced a record better than .500 or a single playoff appearance.

"Are they winning numbers?" asked one assistant GM. "They haven't been. And that has to make you wonder."

Fernando Medina/Getty Images
Kevin Garnett reached the playoffs eight times in his 12 seasons with the Timberwolves.

Yes, the talent around Love in Minnesota either has been ill-fitting or injured or both, and he's been derailed by injuries himself, but I couldn't find a top team architect who viewed Love as a No. 1-type player who simply has been handicapped by too little around him.

And wouldn't a top-10 player or the league's best power forward have to be, at the very least, that?

Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph and, to a greater extent last season, Blake Griffin, are all power forwards whose teams play through them; all made the playoffs. Are they downgraded because they happen to play on teams that are more balanced and don't necessarily provide the same opportunity for gaudy box scores?

"He's a great player, but he's not a No. 1," said one Eastern Conference GM. "He has to be a No. 2 or No. 3. I'm not even sure who the No. 2 is between him and Kyrie [Irving]. I think his numbers are a little inflated, and as a defender he's just kind of fair. He's Kevin Garnett in Minnesota or Paul Pierce in Boston or Chris Bosh in Toronto. Those weren't No. 1 guys. Great players, but not No. 1s."

None, of course, put up some of the historic single-game performances that Love has. And yet to KG, Pierce and Bosh's credit, they all dragged mediocre teams to at least one postseason appearance as their team's lone All-Star. Whether it was through leadership or execution in the clutch or affecting the game at both ends, they found a way to put their team among the first eight in the conference.

Pool/Getty Images
Kevin Love's integration with LeBron James may take time to yield a championship, say a number of NBA executives.

That said, not one executive I spoke with doubted that once Love gets to Cleveland—and all indications are that is a matter of when, not if, at this pointhe can be a core piece to a championship run. Just not right away.

The idea that Love and Irving somehow represent a better tandem to go with LeBron James than Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade ignores the fact that Love and Irving have zero postseason experience between them.

It ignores that it took Bosh, Wade and Jamesdespite all their separate experiencea year to figure out how to win it all. Or that the Heat had an architect (Pat Riley) and a coach (Erik Spoelstra) who already knew how a title team looked and acted. Or that only when the Heat won the battle of the benches did they win rings.

The Cavaliers have none of that.

Even the most optimistic of opposing GMs believe that it will take a year for Cleveland to figure out what is missing from its championship equation and then find a way to acquire it.    

"Love is a much better version of David Lee," said one league executive, referring to the Warriors' power forward who at one point was trade bait for Love. "They are empty numbers. He absolutely can be a major contributor on a playoff team, but you're going to need other pieces."

Start with a center. Anderson Varejao, the Cavs' presumptive center, could be the most suitable big man Love has had next to him. His agility and defense are the perfect complement, assuming that Varejao can stay healthy. That, though, is a big if, Varejao having played 31, 25, 25 and 65 games over the last four seasons, respectively.

Former NBA forward Frank Brickowski, who watched Love grow up as a neighbor, admits to being biased but turns the argument on its head. How, he contends, can you question what Love is capable of doing in the postseason simply because he's never been there?

"He just hasn't been given the chance," Brickowski said. "When he gets there, I have to believe he'll be as good as he has been everywhere else. Hasn't he met expectations every time before?"

Actually, he's exceeded them. Just not right away.

It took him three years to become an All-Star and a league-leading rebounder and a 20-point scorer. Let's give him that to be part of a title-winning equation in Cleveland. The Nordic God is coming. The routine double-doubles may translate into something more yet. Like, say, a tipped scale or two.

 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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