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NBA Daily: Kevin Love Unlikely to Justify Contract Extension

The Cavaliers took a big risk signing Kevin Love to a massive contract extension before knowing if he can recapture his superstar form, writes Jesse Blancarte.

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It was perfectly reasonable to expect the Cleveland Cavaliers to initiate a rebuild once LeBron James opted to take his talents to Los Angeles. The Cavaliers’ front office squashed that idea when they signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million extension. By signing Love to such a massive extension, the Cavaliers’ ownership and front office are signaling that they have every intention of competing for the playoffs this upcoming season and re-tooling the roster on the fly.

The Los Angeles Clippers made a similar type of decision last year when they signed Blake Griffin to a five-year, max contract after trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. Though Griffin is a very good player, the concern was that he could not lead the Clippers past the second round of the playoffs. Mid-way through the season, the Clippers determined that moving Griffin was in the team’s best interest and opportunistically traded him to the Detroit Pistons (along with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson) for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and a 2018 first-round draft pick.

The Cavaliers move toward next season with the hope that Love can justify this massive extension by becoming the well-rounded superstar he was earlier in his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In the 2013-14 NBA season (Love’s last with the Timberwolves), Love averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from three-point range. Love was a dynamic offensive player that could scorch opponents with his jumper, in the post and by facilitating easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. Love sacrificed several parts of his game when he joined the Cavaliers, allowing James to control the ball and facilitate the team’s offensive attack.

Love never truly thrived in his secondary-star role with James and often stood on the perimeter as an expensive spot up shooter. There were times when Love would be utilized as more of a playmaker and facilitator but those periods were limited and infrequent. One issue with this deal for Love is it seemingly assumed that he will recapture the productivity and effectiveness of his years in Minnesota, which he hasn’t proven to be capable of yet. Additionally, there was no urgency in getting an extension done considering that Love is under contract for this upcoming season. However, there is a benefit to getting this deal done now since Love will be trade-eligible at next year’s trade deadline.

This raises the question of whether the Cavaliers are primarily interested in Love as their franchise star player or in reviving his trade value and moving him in a deal for younger players and perhaps draft picks, which is what the Clippers achieved in the Griffin trade. If Love can prove himself to be a dynamic offensive force again, while demonstrating that he can be at least a neutral defensive player, he could find plenty of suitors in the trade market. But that isn’t a guarantee considering that teams are more defensive with trades for star players and are less reluctant to give up young assets in any deal. The Clippers were fortunate in that the Pistons believed they were a star player away from getting into contention in the Eastern Conference. There is no guarantee that another opportunity will present itself for the Cavaliers and Love if that is the team’s actual goal with this contract.

The other significant issue with this extension is the fact that it kicks in next season and will cover Love from age 31-34. Love is already limited defensively and is best suited to guard opposing centers. Opposing teams have and will continue to try and target him by forcing him to switch and guard ball handlers and wings on the perimeter in pick and roll situations. Love is unable to guard these sort of actions consistently now and will presumably struggle even more as he continues to age. It is imperative that any team that has Love pair him with another big man who can anchor the rim and cover up for Love’s defensive shortcomings.

There are reasons to support this contract and view it favorably. However, if Love is unable to recapture his Minnesota form and declines defensively as he ages, this deal could ultimately prove to be an albatross for Cleveland.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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