CLEVELAND — Following years of success that resulted in four NBA Finals trips and a championship, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers are reaching a breaking point.
Sources around the Cavaliers told Bleacher Report that Love's rising frustrations revolve around the lack of growth by the young core and his limited role, even on a rebuilding team for which he's the lone All-Star. In a league where some franchises like the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder have rebuilt on the fly after losing superstars, the Cavs look years away from reaching the postseason.
Maximizing Love's value may be a priority for general manager Koby Altman, but he should trade his disgruntled star as soon as possible. One more major injury like last year and Love would become completely untradeable this season, leaving Cleveland with an unhappy $30 million player who's unable to help on the court and has become a distraction off it.
With 18 seconds left in the first half during Saturday's loss to the Thunder, the 6'8" Love had a favorable matchup against 6'1" Chris Paul in the paint.
Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton stood just inside half court, dribbling out the remaining seconds and only becoming aware of Love's situation when the five-time All-Star raised his arms in the air out of frustration. Love then proceeded to walk, not run, all the way out near half court toward Sexton, clapping at the 21-year-old to give him the ball.
Love finished the play by rifling a two-handed rocket at small forward Cedi Osman on the wing before turning his back and trudging toward the paint.
If there was one sequence to describe Love's current relationship with the Cavaliers, this was it.
Less than two hours before, Shams Charania and Joe Vardon of The Athletic reported that Love "had an emotional verbal outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman" after shootaround that morning and "was screaming in front of teammates and Cavs coaches and front-office members that there was 'no feel here.'"
The Cavaliers are 10-26, tied with the New York Knicks for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
While it's been a frustrating 2019-20 season for all involved, this wasn't the team Love originally agreed to sign an extension with just 18 months ago.
An Extension Gone Wrong
While Love agreed to that four-year extension with the Cavs weeks after LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018, it was done with the promise that Cleveland would try to remain competitive. After going to the last four NBA Finals and about to turn 30, he wasn't interested in a rebuild.
Love could have declined a player option and became a free agent in 2019. But with so many other star free agents hitting the market at the same time, he chose to accept the Cavs' four-year, $120.4 million extension.
"This is where I wanted to be. I've said that all along. There were some tough times where potentially I would have been traded and my name came up in rumors every few months. But hopefully that ends now," he said at the time.
The extension meant even more financial security for a player with a lengthy injury history, as well a familiar face to put in front of a franchise that was beginning a massive $185 million arena renovation and needed to keep fans engaged following the second loss of James.
The Cavs also believed they could get back more for Love in a trade if he wasn't on an expiring deal, with the expectation that his numbers would climb back to Minnesota Timberwolves levels.
While the Cavs' goal was to compete for the playoffs sans LeBron, it was ironically Love's broken toe, suffered four games into the 2018-19 season, that ultimately led to a rebuild with the trades of veterans George Hill, Kyle Korver and Rodney Hood. Love missed 60 total games, and the Cavs fell to 19-63 overall.
Rebuilding and Role
This past summer, Love traveled the world and seemed open to embracing a rebuild, so long as growth was being shown.
"We have that balancing act of trying to be patient with the young guys and bring them along as quickly as possible," he said on media day. "Those guys know exactly what we want. It's going to move a little bit faster than some people would expect us to."
Except, it hasn't.
While Love has shown frustration over his lack of offensive involvement in the past, the Cavs had peacemakers in then-general manager David Griffin and veteran teammates James Jones and Channing Frye who would smooth the situation over. All are now gone, with Fyre recently calling the Cavs a "s--t show."
Love was primed to see a huge increase in usage during his first healthy season without LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, but he is instead a distant second to Collin Sexton in shot attempts (15.7 to 11.9), scoring (18.5 to 16.4) and usage (26.9 percent to 22.9 percent).
While Love spent seven seasons playing with gifted passers like LeBron James and Ricky Rubio, the Cavaliers guards are all primarily shooters in head coach John Beilein's spread-it-around offensive system. On a team for which Love should be getting the most touches, four players are averaging double-digit shot attempts. Jordan Clarkson was a fifth such player before he was dealt to the Utah Jazz.
Cleveland is dead last in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.29), and the starting backcourt of Sexton and rookie Darius Garland is averaging a combined 5.5 assists and 4.6 turnovers.
The Cavs system isn't set up to highlight Love's strengths, which is hurting both his production and trade value.
Why a Trade is Needed and Why It May Not Happen Immediately
While both parties seem to welcome a trade, the Cavs have been holding out for a significant offer that may never come.
Love's body language is quickly eroding, and Beilein, without mentioning Love by name, admitted he's had to have "a lot of individual conversations" about players showing negative emotions on the floor.
The Cavaliers want to maximize Love's value, especially given the weak 2020 free-agent class. Players once thought to be available on the trade market no longer are, such as Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams, who are suddenly important pieces to a 20-15 Thunder team.
While teams may balk at the three years and $91.5 million Love has left on his deal after this season, there may be few other ways to add All-Star talent. The Portland Trail Blazers have been mentioned as a possible suitor, and the Phoenix Suns sit just a game out of the playoffs with James Jones as general manager.
As one NBA scout previously told Bleacher Report regarding Love: "I don't want him [at that contract]. I don't like it. If he were making $21 million, $22 million or even $23 million, sure. But not $30 million. That's a max player. He's not a max player. He's not a franchise player. He's probably the third guy on a really good playoff team. I doubt he would have gotten that contract from anyone else. He's a really good player, but I don't like it for $30 million."
Looking past the money, the Cavs and Love need to salvage what's becoming a toxic relationship. Cleveland and Irving ended on negative terms, and his No. 2 jersey was given away to Sexton without a hint of retirement consideration.
For a franchise that's celebrating its 50th anniversary and inviting back players like Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Nance for appearances, preserving a relationship with Love and other members of the 2016 title team is extremely important to the Cavaliers' future.
Cleveland did right by Irving to send him to a successful Boston Celtics team, as it did by dealing Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks, Korver and Clarkson to the Utah Jazz and Hood to the Portland Trail Blazers. It's time to do the same for Love.
By waiting to trade the 31-year-old, the Cavs have little to gain and a whole lot to lose.
After five-plus years, four Finals, two All-Star nods and one championship together, it's officially time for the Cavaliers and Love to go their separate ways.
NBC Sports Boston and Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix returns to The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss David Stern, highlights from the 2010s and freezing-cold takes and predictions for the 2020s including Player of the Decade, Team of the Decade, LeBron James, age limits, NBA expansion, and the New York Knicks.