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NBA AM: Does Kevin Love Have A Future In Cleveland?

Would losing Kevin Love to free agency be a bad thing in Cleveland?… C.J. McCollum is figuring things out in his sophomore season… Jameer Nelson is just trying to stay professional.

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No Love Lost?:  The elephant-in-the-room expression is about avoiding the obvious, with the notion that if there was an elephant in the room, everyone would see it so it’s unavoidable. In the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Love is absolutely the elephant in the room, because as much as everyone in the equation has tried to say everything is OK, repeatedly throughout the season it’s been clear it’s not even close.

So let’s start from here. Kevin Love is having fun in Cleveland. He is winning games. He is seeing more national TV time and exposure than he ever saw in Minnesota even as a multi-time All-Star. His team is in the hunt for a championship. What’s not to like right?

The problem is Love isn’t even close to a meaningful part of the team. He has missed games to “rest,” he is often sat down in the fourth quarter because his defense is lackluster – to say it nicely. He is posting near career-lows in almost every category and his team has struggled to find a real full-time use for him. From time to time he’ll post a solid game, and the next day it’s a big deal and that should illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

Shouldn’t Love post 21-point, 14-rebound games every night? Isn’t that who Love is as a player?

On the season, Love has scored 20 or more points in 22 of 67 games. On the flip side, he’s scored 15 or fewer points in 28 games in the same span. To contrast those numbers to last season, Love scored 15 or fewer in just seven games last season and posted 20 or more points in 57 games, putting in 30 or more 25 times and 40 or more six times. He’s not getting anywhere close to those kinds of games in Cleveland.

So enters the elephant in the equation. Love is winning more games than he ever has in his career, but he’s not a critical factor to the process and that’s creating more and more doubt about his long term future in Cleveland.

Earlier in the season, in a calculated move, Love made a proclamation to the media that he would be staying in his current contract and staying in Cleveland. This was done despite the fact that he’d lose money staying his current deal or that his camp had already talked about what a new future long-term contract would need to look like before he was traded to the Cavaliers.

Love wanted the noise to stop, and making a proclamation such as he did was absolutely about trying to quell the rumors and in many ways it has, because when it starts to get loud, someone points back to the proclamation and the noise dies down.

The problem with the proclamation is it’s not binding, and as much as some want to make sound like he’s all the way in, Love is only all the way in until the end of the season. From there, things will take on a life of their own.

Love likes winning. He likes the bright lights that come along with being on a team poised for a championship. For the marriage to be longer than this season, a lot of things are going to have to be resolved. The biggest is finding a way to get Love back to being an All-Star-caliber guy, because as much as being on a winner matters to Love, being one of the primary guys on that team matters too and that’s where the elephant pokes his head into the equation.

It is far from decided what Love will do with his option. No one in the process believes he’ll stay in his current deal. There is a debate to be had on whether the Cavaliers should pony up the close to $100 million deal it will take to lock Love into the Cavaliers for the long-term. There is an even bigger debate on whether Love would sign on for four more years of “why doesn’t Kevin play?” questions.

Some will question the long-term wisdom of trading away Andrew Wiggins to land Love, especially if he walks away in July, but the truth of the matter is if the Cavaliers win a championship this year, it was a draft pick well spent, especially for a franchise that wants a championship more than almost anything.

Winning a championship might make everything that follows worth the trouble, even if that means Love walks to another team.

The Second Year Better Than The First:  When healthy, the Portland Trail Blazers are a stacked roster. The problem is they haven’t been healthy very much this season. For second year guard C.J. McCollum, things are becoming a little more predictable and that helping him find a rhythm to everything going on around him.

“It’s always a process,” McCollum said. “I’m in my second year now and I don’t even know if I’ve played 82 games yet in my career, but I’m learning everyday and just enjoying the process of being an NBA player.”

McCollum has played in more than 82 games in his two years, but not many more logging time in his 87th game this week. McCollum’s time on the floor has been up and down, as his team’s desire to compete for a championship often trumps McCollum’s need for floor time, but the big picture isn’t lost on the second-year player from Lehigh.

“It definitely gets easier as you get more time on the court and as you get further into your second season, it gets easier,” McCollum said. “You start to get used to the travel and knowing what time you get to go on the court and shoot. You try and do the same thing before every game and try to get your habits in place for the rest of your career.”

“I feel like I’m fitting in pretty well and feeling pretty comfortable off the bench. I think guys are pretty comfortable with me and where I’m going to be at. Obviously we have a lot of great players on this team so it’s easy to pick your spots and try to knock down open opportunities. But at the same time we have LaMarcus [Aldridge], Damian [Lillard], Nicolas [Batum] and a lot of other guys who can create and score for themselves so just doing the little things is what the team needs.”

McCollum and Lillard are often competing for the same minutes, which could breed frustration, but both understand how much they need each other. It helps that they’ve been friends since before their NBA days.

“I talk to Damian every day and we are pretty close,” McCollum said. “Our lockers are beside each other. We sit next to each other on the plane and stuff. I’m constantly picking at his brain to try and get better and trying to learn the different ins and outs of the NBA on and off the court. I think we are progressing well and as we continue to play alongside each other more and more, we will get more comfortable.”

The Trail Blazers have hit a rough spot in the season, having lost four straight games and five of their last 10. The bad news got worse on Friday when both Aldridge and Batum went down to injuries and their status for return is still very much up in the air.

If the playoff started today, the Blazers would have the fourth seed in the West. However, with 14 more games remaining on the schedule, the next three weeks could be tough and that’s not lost on McCollum either.

“I can’t look too far ahead,” McCollum said. “We just need to take this time and sharpen the tools in the shed to find a little rhythm before the playoffs and once that comes, I think it will take care of itself.”

If the postseason started today, the Blazers would match up against the L.A. Clippers and have home court in that series.

Trying To Be A Professional:  When it comes to Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson, I am a little bit jaded. I have been with him his entire career, most of it spent in Orlando. We’ve talked more than 300 times and we’ve shared many locker room jokes and funny stories. Nelson is one of the genuinely good guys in the NBA and he is a heck of a teammate.

When Nelson left Orlando, many of the young guys in the Magic locker room felt like they’d lost a big brother and some were incredibly vocal about it, not understanding how any team could let a veteran like Nelson go.

In free agency, Nelson choose the Dallas Mavericks, feeling that situation gave him the best chance to chase a championship. But as happens a lot in the NBA when a players signs a low-dollar contract, they become the packing peanuts that make big trades happen. In Nelson’s case, he was sent with other assets to Boston in order to land Rajon Rondo in Dallas.

The Celtics in turn traded Nelson to the Nuggets. Nelson for the most part jokes about his situation, understanding that it’s the nature of the beast.

“It is part of the business,” Nelson said to Basketball Insiders. “You know when you sign up to be a professional athlete you always have a chance to get traded two, three, four or five times. The fortunate thing for me was that I was in one city for 10 years so it’s not like I’ve moved my entire career, it just happened this past year.”

Nelson has tried to stay in his routine as a means to adjust to the changes.

“It’s a little weird but when it boils down to it, it is just basketball,” Nelson said. “You try to fit in. You have to just be who you are because I’m never going to change who I am or what I do no matter who I’m playing for.”

“[Just] continuing to work by getting in the gym and lift weights and staying active. It’s easy to shut down and say I’m not ‘going to do this’ and do that, but we have guys on this team that try to get in the gym as much as possible because misery loves company.”

Nelson has the option to re-set the clock in many ways as his contract next season is a player option. While Nelson likes the situation he finds himself in with the Nuggets, he’s not sure what will happen this summer.

“I wouldn’t mind staying here,” Nelson said. “I’m not ready to make that decision just yet. I’ll make that decision with my agency and my family first and foremost when the time comes.”

The irony of Nelson’s situation is that the Nuggets actually drafted him back in 2004 and traded him to Orlando, where he spent the bulk of his career.

The Nuggets players and staff rave about Nelson as a leader, a teammate and a friend – something that’s not at all surprising for those of us that knew him in Orlando.

Nelson is the consummate glue guy that brings everyone to the center. It’s not a surprise that his team is having success. What Nelson is, is a big part of what Denver was missing.

Time will tell if Nelson stays in his $2.85 million player option. The smart money says he’ll be shopping for a new team, which would be his fifth team in 12 months.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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