While appearing on The Dan Patrick Show, Love was asked whether Westbrook or James was having the better season. Citing time spent on the court, specifically James' two-week sabbatical at the beginning of January, he sided with his former UCLA running mate, Mr. Westbrook.
Per Northeast Ohio Media Group's Joe Vardon:
They're both having an MVP-type season, but I'm going to go with Russell Westbrook because he's, every single night you're looking at his stat sheet, they're fighting for a playoff spot, with Serge Ibaka going down now, Kevin Durant potentially being out the rest of the year and him still going out there and fighting for his team, and winning, and fighting for that seventh or eighth spot in the playoffs. I think Russ is arguably having the better season.
UPDATE: Tuesday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Both Love and James responded to the former's comments from Monday.
“Kev has his own opinion who he believes is MVP,” James said, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd. “No one should fault him for that.”
It's worth noting that the question Love answered didn't ask him to pick an MVP. Rather, it was about which player is having the better season. The MVP comments were made unsolicited and didn't really come off as him choosing any one player.
“If you choose to get the little three or four second clip of my whole answer, I said LeBron could very well be the MVP, Steph Curry, James Harden,” Love said, per Lloyd. “Those are guys you all talk about and you know very well all of them could be the MVP.”
Translation: Rest easy, Cleveland. Your team isn't about to implode over some misinterpreted comments.
---End of update---
NBA players are nothing if not aware, most of the time.
This is not one of those times.
Though Love, again, preceded his comments by emphasizing time spent on the court, seemingly inoculating his answer against between-the-lines reading, such an approach doesn't fly. Westbrook has appeared in fewer games and logged nearly 400 minutes less than James this season.
Still, this is not big a deal—or rather, it shouldn't be a big deal.
But Love also appeared on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike on Monday and was asked about his relationship with James. His response made it seem like he and James are about as close as Kobe Bryant and 99.9 percent of anyone he's ever played alongside. From ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
It's fine. You know, we're not best friends, we're not hanging out every day, but we see each other every day, whether at the practice facility, whether on the road or going to a game. I think our relationship is also evolving. I can say the same with each and every coach, Coach Blatt and each and every player on the team. But that's part of the NBA.
Allow us to sound the alarm on any and all alarm-sounding.
At no point in either of these interviews did Love sound resentful. Patrick even offered him a hypothetical mulligan on leaving the Minnesota Timberwolves for Cleveland, to which Love admitted he would do the "same thing" in the "same way."
More concerning than anything—if there's anything to actually be concerned about—is James' role in this soap opera. As CBS Sports' Matt Moore writes:
James has always been deeply invested in building close relationships with teammates. And he's developed into a phenomenal leader since his time in Miami. But it does seem like, based on Love's body language and the on-going peripheral sense that pervades the conversation about the team, that maybe they could use a clearing of the air between them.
Not that Love's potentially awkward relationship with James is the reason he chose Westbrook. Perhaps Love is simply an advocate of the truth.
After all, he's not exactly lying.
In terms of the league's MVP race, Westbrook is now the Oklahoma City Thunder's last line of defense against the lottery. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are both sidelined for the foreseeable future, and if not for Westbrook, Oklahoma City wouldn't be in line to earn the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
That's what a more meaningful season reads like.
Sure, there's still plenty of basketball left to play. James could find a way to gain some momentum that would force Love to reconsider. The Cavaliers are 2-9 when the four-time MVP doesn't play, so he is no doubt indispensable.
But this isn't necessarily about James' performance. Like the rest of the world, Love is focusing on circumstance. No matter what Cleveland's record is without James, he still has two other superstar sidekicks in Kyrie Irving and Love himself. Westbrook has it worse, and that won't change.
Nor should James or anyone else want it to.
Let's not forget that James is the one who recruited Love on behalf of the Cavaliers this past summer, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. There's some obvious on-court warts to work through, but to imply that bad blood exists between the two is a stretch.
Besides, the Cavaliers are winning. They have the NBA's best record since Jan. 13, are locked into the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed and have only the Atlanta Hawks to fear. Their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals is essentially punched.
James, then, should have no problem getting over this justified slight—especially given everything else Love said. He had plenty of opportunities to gripe in both of the aforementioned interviews but only talked about winning, about the playoffs, about the "greater good."
About remaining in Cleveland no matter what.
Pressed to comment on his upcoming free agency and whether a championship would make him more likely to stay, Love told Patrick, per Vardon: "I plan on being a Cavalier either way."
Well, I'll be. It sounds like Love's opinion of Westbrook's season is more about Westbrook's season than his make-believe disdain for James. Go figure.