By Joel Deering
Remember when the Cavs had a big three? LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Well now only one member of that big three remains after Kyrie Irving requested a trade a year ago and LeBron James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Love is the last man standing in Cleveland.
The moment LeBron James left, everyone seemed to know the Cavs wouldn’t be making the playoffs next season. Rumors were Kevin Love was even going to be shipped somewhere else, which would leave Cleveland with a bunch of role players and recently drafted rookie Collin Sexton. Well Kevin Love is still on the Cavs roster, and as of right now he’s their best player. Because Kevin Love is the best player for the Cavs right now, the responsibility to lead this team back to the playoffs falls on him. Can Love lead this team to a spot in the playoffs?
After looking over the rosters of Eastern Conference teams, I see most of the playoff spots in the conference being locked up already. Teams I have as a lock to make the playoffs are the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Indiana Pacers. No that’s not in any particular order. I have six teams taking up playoff spots already, and those six teams are all teams who made the playoffs last season. That leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat spots open.
Many probably think Miami will be in the playoffs again. I think they can make the playoffs and most likely will, but I wouldn’t call them a lock. The reason why they’re not a lock is because they don’t have a star player and Hassan Whiteside could be on his way out. If you look at the teams I listed as locks, not only did they make the playoffs last year, but they all have at least one guy you could consider their star. The Raptors have DeRozan and Lowry, Boston has a starting lineup of stars or stars in the making, Philadelphia has Simmons and Embiid, Milwaukee has the Greek Freak, Washington has Wall and Beal, and Indiana has Oladipo.
Anyway, back to Kevin Love and the Cavs. Outside of Miami, who are they in competition with for those two remaining playoffs spots? Well we’ve got the Pistons, Hornets, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Magic, and Hawks. There’s some potential here for a surprise team or two, but overall this is a weak group the Cavs are competing against. So can Kevin Love lead the Cavs to the playoffs? The answer is, possibly.
First we have to go back to when Kevin Love was the lone star for the Timberwolves. In six seasons with the Timberwolves, Kevin Love averaged 19.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. His best overall season with the Timberwolves came in 2013 when he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Kevin Love put up stats with the Timberwolves, but the problem was he never led the team to the playoffs. The best record he led his team to in those six years was 40-42. We do have to keep in mind that Love was playing in the stronger Western Conference, but still, he didn’t make a single playoff appearance.
After not making the playoffs for the first six years of his career, Love came to the Cavaliers and has now made the playoffs four years in a row. Not only has he made the playoffs four years in a row, but he’s been a member of a team who’s gone to the NBA Finals four years in a row. Kevin Love has won a championship. In four years with the Cavs, Love has averaged 17.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists. His best season came in 2016 when he averaged 19.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. Obviously Love’s numbers have been down because he played with LeBron and Kyrie. Despite lower numbers, he’s been in the playoffs every year he’s been here.
Kevin Love has seemed more effective as a second or third star rather than the go to guy, but now he will be the go to guy again. I expect Love’s stats to go back up. He’ll have the ball a lot more often, meaning he’ll get a lot more shots, more points, and probably assists. Remember that Love was in the Western Conference all those years he didn’t make the playoffs, and now he’s in the weaker Eastern Conference. Love is also a more experienced player who has won a championship and has plenty of playoff experience. Will that make a difference? I can see this going one of two ways. First, I can see the Cavs being just like everyone expects and being one of the worst teams in the NBA. Second, I can see this team being a surprise competitor for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
What do you guys think? Will we see the Timberwolves Kevin Love who puts up big numbers and doesn’t make the playoffs, the Cavs Kevin Love who puts up decent numbers and makes the playoffs, or a combination of the two? If you think the Cavs can make the playoffs being led by Kevin Love, what’s highest seed you think they’ll get?