Take Note, Superteams: The LeBron-Kyrie-Love Breakup Has Been a Disaster for All

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMarch 12, 2019

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 and Kyrie Irving #2 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers pose for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

CLEVELAND — For Kevin Love, now the star of the Cleveland Cavaliers and only remaining member of the Cavs Big 3, postgame conversations have changed.

March in Northeast Ohio was recently filled with talk about potential playoff opponents, new pieces brought in at the trade deadline and the inevitable clash with the Golden State Warriors. Now sitting at 17-50 overall and officially eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in five years, Love and the Cavaliers can only serve as postseason spoilers.

"We've got to find something to play for, that motivation every single night," Love said after his Cavs knocked off the Orlando Magic for just their 10th home victory all season.

"It's been a tough season for us," said head coach Larry Drew. "We've acknowledged that." 

Motivation wasn't hard to come by the past four years, as the combination of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love meant championship or bust. Anything less than a trip to the Finals would be a failure.

Now on either side of the country, Love's former teammates are each going through their own struggles as well.

James' Lakers aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but at 30-36 overall and 7.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth seed, coming back now would be more difficult than a 3-1 Finals hole.

Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, two of the players James needed the most, are now out for the remainder of the season with injury. Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo and other key rotation players have missed time as well.

This will be the first time in 14 years James will have missed the playoffs, the last coming as a 20-year-old sophomore with the Cavaliers in 2005. This Lakers team could very well finish as the worst James has ever played on in his 16 seasons, rivaling the 35-47 Cavs in 2003-04 when he was a rookie.

There was no trade for Kawhi Leonard last summer. No deal to be reached for Anthony Davis when he asked out of New Orleans in January, either. The best team president Magic Johnson and company could provide James with was Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala at the deadline, after electing not to re-sign Brook Lopez and Julius Randle in the offseason despite his coaches' pleas.

James is having another marvelous statistical season (27.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists), even with the organization around him mostly crumbling.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Irving will be the only member of the trio to taste the playoffs, even if his Boston Celtics may do so as a disappointing fifth overall seed.

Turmoil has plagued the Celtics for much of the season, from Marcus Morris' claim that the team didn't have attitude, toughness and weren't having fun to Jaylen Brown stating that the team environment was "toxic".

This all comes on the heels of Irving saying that he doesn't "owe anybody s--t" when it comes to his impending free agency.

For enjoying so much collective success between them (three Finals trips and a championship in three years), life is now much different for the Cavs' former Big 3.

Let this be a lesson to current superteams everywhere.

Things may not be perfect, but don't take for granted what you have. The Golden State Warriors will watch Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins all enter free agency this summer. The Philadelphia 76ers will be tasked with re-signing Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. Even the Milwaukee Bucks will need to convince Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic to come back. For free agents like these, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker and others, there's a lesson to be learned.

The grass, it ain't always greener.

After forcing a trade out of Cleveland, Irving has since changed his tone when it comes to his perception of running a championship-caliber team.

"I had to call [LeBron] and tell him I apologized for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold," Irving said earlier this season, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people."

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Irving experienced postseason success much earlier than most, hitting the three-pointer that ultimately won the Cavaliers a title at age 24. With James 31 and Love only 27 at the time, it seemed like this core could grow together for the next six-to-seven years, especially with James claiming he wouldn't test free agency ever again.

While he joked in his Sports Illustrated essay in 2014 that coming back to Cleveland and playing with the young Cavs would make him the "old head" at age 29, that's exactly what he's become to these Lakers now at 34.

"You have to be very patient," James said, via Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll. "They haven't experienced a lot of this game, there's a lot of things that's new to them. They have to learn it on the fly, but I think the best teacher in life is experience. It's challenging, but I kind of knew what I was getting myself into."

One can claim that James left Cleveland for the business opportunities in Los Angeles. Or the weather. Or the giant piece of roster clay that could be molded and shaped around him. Few could have predicted a first year as miserable as this, however.

With Irving the first domino to fall, his departure likely opened the door for James to follow.

"Everyone knows that when Kyrie got traded it was the beginning of the end for everything. It's not a secret," James told Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

"To be perfectly honest, when he did make the decision, I wasn't completely shocked," Drew, then the associate head coach under Tyronn Lue, told Bleacher Report earlier this season. "I know everyone was hoping that he would return. I didn't feel there was anything we could have done."

James, Irving and Love were good enough together to win a championship. With Irving gone, James and Love still made the Finals. Individually now, two won't reach the postseason while the third may not even make it out of the first round. 

Looking ahead to this summer, Love will begin a four-year, $120 million extension he signed with the Cavs last offseason. Still in the prime of his career, Love may be forced to stay on a rebuilding Cleveland team if no team wants to trade for someone with his injury history and that lucrative of a contract.

James is at the mercy of the Lakers front office yet again, although the team does have a max contract spot available. Still, which big name will want to commit to Los Angeles after the season it just endured and given the fact James will turn 35 later this year? 

Irving carries the most leverage, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent. Does he still want the spotlight of running his own team, or has the weight of this season made him want to join a top-level player as a sidekick yet again? Irving could conceivably sign with the Lakers and reunite with James, a partnership it's clear he abandoned all too early.

It's hard to win in the NBA. To build a team that can truly compete for a championship? Only a few franchises can make that claim every year.

Before some of the top free agents jump ship this summer and try to line up their next location and teammates, they need to take a good, hard look at the situation they'd be leaving.

Despite being champions, these Cavaliers weren't perfect. Love was reduced to a spot-up shooter far too often. Irving wasn't the playmaker or defender he is today. James could be passive-aggressive toward teammates with his use of social media.

Looking back, how much of that matters now?

James, Irving and Love fell apart far too early. Other superteams shouldn't make the same mistake.

      

Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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