At long last, Kevin Love is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his days with the lottery-crossed Minnesota Timberwolves officially over, his time beside LeBron James finally beginning, his well of excuses scorched dry.
Months of rumors, anticipation and anxiety—all borne out of waiting—came to a merciful end when the Cavaliers announced Love's acquisition, confirming what became common knowledge yet couldn't quite be accepted as fact.
This is the ending Love has wanted from the beginning, since May, when Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first relayed his intent to leave. It's perhaps what he's wanted for a while now, since the days of David Kahn, when Love wasn't deemed good enough, or important enough, for a five-year extension—the same commitment Minnesota would inevitably make to Nikola Pekovic, he of lesser importance and status.
Indeed, this breakup between devalued player and tumultuous team has been brewing for years. The outcome—this outcome—is fairly new. It's the concept that's old and timeworn.
If and when Love left Minnesota, it would be for a winner. And the more the Timberwolves lost, the more likely it became that his future lied outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Only recently did the Cavaliers qualify as an upgrade, their meteoric transition from clown to contender further compounding an already complex and delicate situation for Love.
Goodbye, Safety Net
Leaving the Timberwolves would always increase the pressure Love was facing. That's what happens when a superstar jumps ship.
Pressure amounts. Safety nets are pulled. Excuses evaporate.
But it could have been different for Love.
Where there was resentment for Carmelo Anthony, spite for Dwight Howard and reluctant acceptance for Chris Paul, there would be sympathy for Love. Six years without a playoff berth justified his aim. The very postseason drought often used to diminish his individual standing was actually his license to leave. The Timberwolves were the culprits; Love was the victim.
"Their power plays made them villains, in their home markets and beyond," Bleacher Report's Howard Beck writes. "But Love might be the first trade-demanding, franchise-hopping superstar to walk away unscathed, unvilified. Love's motives seem pure, his rationale unimpeachable."
Acceptable though Love's intentions are—or rather, were—the armor shielding him against outside criticism and impatience has been removed in one fell swoop. Forcing his way off the Timberwolves and onto the Cavaliers exhausts Love's last bit of goodwill.
The Cavaliers are unlike any other team Love could have gone to. Pressure would have existed wherever he went, but not like this. There would have been grace periods in Boston and Chicago. More time would have been afforded to Love if he waited until free agency and journeyed to Los Angeles or New York.
Life in Cleveland is a different animal.
Playing alongside James drains Love of most excuses. Catching passes from—and throwing touchdown outlets to—the NBA's best player has that effect.
Competing next to the freshly maxed-out Kyrie Irving and numerous James trucklers—Mike Miller, James Jones, Shawn Marion, etc.—is gravy. It's talent complementing talent, rendering Cleveland the league's newest superteam.
And as a superteam, like ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton (subscription required) discusses, the Cavaliers' success is viewed as a formality:
The Cavaliers' window to win is now, while James is the league's best player, and Love's versatility makes him one of the best possible offensive complements for the four-time MVP. Further, it's hardly like Cleveland is sacrificing its future by dealing for a 25-year-old player. Health aside, Love is a sure thing, which is something that can't be said of Wiggins.
Forget the endurance James' return essay highlighted. The Cavaliers aren't in the business of rebuilding and waiting anymore. Instant results are the standard.
"I don't even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ," James said of Love before the trade was official, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. "His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had the opportunity to spend 32 days with him in the 2012 Olympics. He was huge for us...he's a great piece."
Love is the sidekick James—who spent four years alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—never had. More importantly, James is the sidekick Love has neither had nor even sniffed; he's a sidekick unlike any other.
Meshing with anyone else would have been a process, but because of the clout James carts as a champion and active legend, Love can no longer hang his hat on progress. His new teammate is so good, so talented, he basically negates the line of credit Love established while playing on a team that ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh found curbed his potential with the absence of a consistently strong supporting cast:
Few will show empathy for Love's past—and future—now. Such is the cost of playing with James. Such is the cost of, well, what Love cost.
Being seen as the perfect complement to James is different when the risk is marginal. But the Cavaliers traded away a No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins, a projected All-Star once heralded as the second coming of James himself.
Love is, without question, more of a sure thing. He's proved to be a top-10 superstar worthy of relocation. Sacrificing potential for guaranteed production was just part and parcel of his scenery change.
Even so, Love has only increased the burden upon his shoulders by costing that much. Teams don't trade No. 1 overall picks. It just doesn't happen.
That Love was complicit in Cleveland matching the bounty Minnesota placed upon his talent only raises the bar of expectations. And he was complicit.
Does this deal get done, do the Cavaliers trade Wiggins if, as reported by Wojnarowski, Love doesn't provide assurances—or whatever you want to call it—of his return after next season? Perhaps, but it's less likely James and the Cavaliers endorse Wiggins' departure if the return could be a one-year rental.
Except Love apparently isn't going anywhere. He went from showing what ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan described as having no interest in playing with the Cavaliers, to purportedly committing the next six seasons—2014-15 plus a five-year contract—to their cause, further depriving himself of any excuses.
Picking His Own Path
It's not like the Timberwolves are sending Love somewhere he despises. Cleveland isn't Los Angeles or Chicago, New York or Boston, Oakland or Houston, but it seems to be Love-approved. The factors that spawned his approval are almost irrelevant.
If we're being led to believe that Love's long-awaited free agency is now a non-issue almost one year before it takes place, it stands to reason that Cleveland is where he wants to be. And if Cleveland is where he wants to be, the clock starts ticking like it never did in Minnesota.
Promising the next half-decade or so to the Cavaliers is the equivalent of Love publicly endorsing the Timberwolves as championship contenders. Had he ever done that, the clock would have started ticking in Minnesota, too.
Once a player shows that he believes, the moratorium period is over. Once they gain control of their future and make a decision, displacing blame becomes impossible.
No remorse will be shown for Howard if he doesn't win in Houston or Paul if he doesn't succeed in Los Angeles. They chose to walk their paths. So, too—assuming reports are accurate—has Love.
Criticism will be dispersed accordingly if Love, James and the Cavaliers fail. Their fate is not on Love alone. It's on everyone, from James and Love, to Irving and head coach David Blatt, to the second unit and front office. Like the 2010 Miami Heat before them, these Cavaliers will fail or succeed together.
On an individual level, though, Love's standing has never been more indeterminable.
"If Love is really a winner, contrary to all previous evidence, it will be revealed very soon," our own Kevin Ding writes.
Ending his career-long playoff dry spell no longer qualifies as success. Escaping the excuse-heavy Timberwolves for the pressure-packed Cavaliers is but a small victory. The real victory—or loss—will be in how Love fares with his new team.
Individual production will no longer be his safe haven. The Cavaliers have plenty of it. The absence of help will no longer be his saving grace. He has plenty of assistance in Cleveland.
There are only mandatory expectations—for him and Cleveland—he's never faced before. He and the Cavaliers will be tasked with doing things he's never done and going places he's never been.
Thrive or flop, Love's reputation is truly on the line for the first time. Cleveland is giving him what he wants and needs, without the comfort of legitimate excuses.
All of those are back in Minnesota.