CLEVELAND — Kevin Love's 6'10", 250-pound frame was no match for the Big Kahuna, a tenacious rapid on Wyoming's Snake River that can reach a Class 5 level.
The rapid is normally navigated by a raft full of passengers combining both experience and enough weight to stay grounded. But Love and girlfriend Kate Bock opted for a private tour, resulting in a rag doll-like thrashing with serious consequences. "It sent me like I was 90 pounds," he confessed.
After a trip to the ER that left Bock with staples in her head, Love shook off the accident, professing that the pair would eventually return.
Much like his rocky first five years with the Cleveland Cavaliers that have mixed joy with a great deal of pain, Love is coming back for more. Like on the raft, he's mostly alone.
He is the only All-Star on a Cavs roster that mustered just 19 wins a season ago, and he's one of only three players (Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova) remaining from the 2016 championship team. His best friend on the Cavaliers, Channing Frye, used to refer to this group as "the last of the Mohicans." Now even Frye is gone, sailing off into retirement last spring.
As has been the case with Love's career in Cleveland, the "T" word seems inevitable.
"There's always going to be that noise," Love said, looking visibly irritated whenever someone brought up his name and the word trade. "I think that's going to continue this year, next year. I have four years left on this deal. Because we do have a young team, we have a new coach, we have a number of new players.
"I think there's always going to be that idea to restart and go younger. Until that time comes, or if it ever comes, I'm just going to continue to be me and play great, stay healthy and try to get the best out of myself and the other players on this team."
Love's name has been thrown into trade rumors ever since his first season in Cleveland, when he failed to click immediately alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as the team's third option. It only intensified as he struggled in Finals matchups against the smaller, faster Golden State Warriors.
The Cavs were close to trading Love to the Denver Nuggets in 2017 in a deal that would have brought in Paul George from the Indiana Pacers and sent Gary Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, per ESPN. Indiana eventually backed out.
After hearing of James' departure last summer, Love could have become a free agent himself in 2019, but instead, he agreed to a four-year, $120 million extension. In what began as a playoff-hopeful season, Love injured a toe in Cleveland's first preseason game and missed 60 games following surgery.
Following an offseason where they wound up with three rookies in the first round and made no significant free-agent signings, the Cavs are fully in rebuild mode.
So where does that leave the 31-year-old Love?
A trade would seemingly make sense for both sides. Love, who once grew tired of losing on a dreary Minnesota Timberwolves team, would fit well as a floor-stretching power forward in any contender's starting lineup.
The Cavs have a collection of young big men in Larry Nance Jr., Jarell Martin, Ante Zizic and Dean Wade, who all need minutes to grow. Trading Love would also bring some serious salary relief from the $120 million he'll collect over the next four years.
As many reasons as the Cavs have to finally move the five-time All-Star, their rebuild may actually depend on keeping him.
"Kevin's going to make everyone a better player," second-year guard Collin Sexton told Bleacher Report. "Teams are going to be scrambling on different rotations. You have to rotate to him. You have to play him honest. He's going to help get shots for everybody on the team—not just myself. I can't wait to have him back on the floor."
Sexton, the No. 8 pick of the 2018 draft, made noticeable improvements in the 22 games he played alongside Love last season. Having a veteran like Love to use as a go-to scorer meant far less pressure on Sexton, leading to better efficiency and overall numbers.
Sexton had a net rating of minus-12.5 without Love, averaging 25.4 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 turnovers per 100 possessions while shooting just 42.6 percent from the field.
With Love, Sexton's net rating rose by 6.8 points while his per-100-possession stats increased to 26.2 points, 4.7 assists and a 45.1 percent shooting mark. His turnovers dropped to 3.1.
A healthy Love also means putting more guys in their natural positions.
Second-year pro Cedi Osman was forced to play 55 percent of his minutes at power forward, despite spending the majority of his rookie season at shooting guard and small forward. At 215 pounds, his body took a beating, as the Cavs featured no reliable backup 4 behind Love last season.
"When Kevin was hurt, we really had problems because I was playing at [power forward] 50, 53 games," Osman told B/R.
"After Kevin got back, I believe that everyone was happier. He's just another weapon offensively, an All-Star player. Having him on the team is great for us as young players; we just have a lot of things to learn from him. When he came back, we won a couple games, and we saw how important he was for us."
Cleveland was a respectable 7-9 when Love played at least 15 minutes after his return from toe surgery, a sign the Cavs' return to competitiveness may not be as far away as it's perceived to be.
New head coach John Beilein made two trips to New York City to visit Love at one of his residences this summer, wanting to connect with the player who gives the 66-year-old his best chance at early success.
His plan is to use Love at both power forward and center and continue to grow the 11-year veteran's game.
"With him probably the biggest thing is being able to play both positions well and be able to guard both positions well, because we are going to need him in both areas," Beilein told B/R. "He's a nightmare for another 5 to guard. At the same time, he's also got some ability where he can take advantage of some smaller 4s."
Given his injury history, Beilein admits there's "a very real possibility" the Cavs choose to rest Love occasionally throughout the regular season. As Beilein notes, "We have to do whatever we can to lengthen his career and lengthen his season."
To help with this, Cleveland hired Dr. Mark Kovacs as Senior Director of Sports Science and Health. A former professional tennis player, Kovacs previously served as the director of the Gatorade Sport Science Institute and was most recently CEO of Kovacs Institute. Beilein claims Love is "as healthy as he's ever been."
Everything the Cavaliers have done this offseason points to keeping Love both on the court and in Cleveland, no matter what contender comes calling.
There's also no guarantee a trade offer for Love would be that substantial, given his injury history and hefty figure remaining on his contract. Cleveland has no reason to want to simply salary-dump him, given the Cavs will open up nearly $67 million of cap space this summer with the expiring contracts of Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Dellavedova and John Henson.
Young franchise pillars like Sexton have already proved to be more successful when sharing the court with Love, something we're likely to see again this season with rookies Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler.
As long as Love is still happy in Cleveland, there should be little reason to move him. Unlike with the Big Kahuna, his journey down the Cuyahoga River could be far from over.