Cavaliers coach David Blatt on Kevin Love: 'Kevin's not a max player yet'

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"And then, on January 25th in 2012, you signed a ..." (Getty Images)

Coaches are not supposed to talk about how much money a player is making.

Coaches are not supposed to talk about how much money a player could make, as a potential free agent, or has made in the past. Even if the team’s coach is also its ostensible head of player personnel – as is the case with Stan Van Gundy in Detroit or Flip Saunders in Minnesota – this is an area that coaches should stay out of, especially on record with the media.

There is too much room for tampering. Coaches can rule a player’s potential finances by denying them minutes or shots, and all manner of uneasy feelings (to put it mildly) can sprout up between a coach, the player, his player representative, a general manager, and the rest of the player’s teammates.

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Cleveland Cavaliers rookie coach David Blatt went there late on Sunday night, and the NBA world reacted with an expected and well-deserved bit of hand-wringing:

Some context, here.

The question posed to Blatt – on the idea that the Cavaliers are still losing game after game even with All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the roster – is a fair question. NBA coaches usually aren’t peppered with all that many “fair” questions before and after games, because reporters understandably don’t want to play a “gotcha” game with the humans they’re charged with covering for an 82-game season.

This is why Blatt took offense and got a little chippy. From SB Nation:

"Kevin's not a max player yet, is he?" Blatt said, via Sactown Royalty's Blake Ellington. "I mean what does that mean?" When the term was clarified as meaning one of the best players in the league, Blatt responded with a simple "OK," later adding that Cleveland's five-game losing streak "can happen to any team."

Kevin Love, technically I suppose, is not a max player. The Minnesota Timberwolves, in a move that doomed their relationship with him, signed him to a four-year extension (with a player option for the fourth year) some three years ago, as opposed to the five-year fully-guaranteed extension 29 other NBA teams would have tripped over themselves to be able to offer. This is why Love is on the Cavaliers right now, and this is also why former Wolves general manager David Kahn will never run another NBA team.

That’s one technicality. The other way of looking at this is to move in with the idea that Love, who could be a free agent this July should he opt out of his contract, has not yet signed the massive maximum contract extension most expect him to with Cleveland yet.

This is the NBA, though, and some close to the situation think that Love will actually sign a one-year deal or play out the final year of his contract at $16.7 million next season. From Akron Beacon-Journal beat writer Jason Lloyd:

Love is unlikely to sign long term this summer because of the salary cap. He is expected to opt out of his current contract at the end of the season for cap purposes, but he might only sign a one-year deal to line up for what is expected to be a significant cap spike in the summer of 2016.

Love has said all the right things about re-signing with the Cavs this summer and the Cavs continue to insist he’s here long term. Executives around the league, however, continue to believe Love could leave Cleveland at the end of the season. We’ll see. There is still a long way to go.

Whatever the impetus, and mindful of his frustration, this is still a bum move from the rookie coach. You could try to argue it away so as not to join in with the chorus of critics, but coaches just shouldn’t be discussing player finances, no matter how innocuous the comment, no matter the provocation.

In light of what is actually happening with the Cavs, this is very poor timing for Blatt to have a little snip-fest.

Love dropped 25 points and pulled in 10 rebounds as his Cavs were demolished by Sacramento on Sunday. Only three of those points came in the fourth quarter, as Kevin was pulled from the blowout with nine minutes left in the game; but that particular stat is telling. The Cavaliers routinely ignore their All-Star big man late in games, relegating him to that of a first-quarter star rendered benign from forces within. That’s on Blatt – Love has to be featured more often, consistently.

The Cavs have lost eight of nine. J.R. Smith (27 points on 23 shots on Friday, 2-15 from the floor in two combined games surrounding that gem) has been frustratingly J.R.-ish, and the aging Cavs helpers just aren’t helping.

To the optimist, though, this is the absolute perfect time to have a low point. And make no mistake, Blatt’s dismissive and ill-considered discussion of Love’s paycheck is a low point.

Cleveland is three games away from the season’s mid-point, and the team is stuck at .500. LeBron James went through a strenuous practice on Monday with designs on returning from his knee and back woes on Tuesday against Phoenix. The squad is a full seven games in back of the Central-leading Chicago Bulls and 10.5 games in back of the rampaging East-leading Atlanta Hawks, but regular season records were never the point with this club.

The point was to hit April on a high, healthy note, and dominate the matchups in a best-of seven setting. This franchise still has three months to suss that end of things out.

The Cavaliers did well to play the martyr with LeBron James out. They clearly didn’t expect to win much without him and the (1-8) results are telling. The group is not playing defense and it is not moving into its offensive sets with any sort of alacrity. The team may very well have a championship-level roster with its new additions, and with Love an offensive focus and James healthy, but these on-paper breakdowns haven’t exactly done much on the court this year.

Comparing the crew to Erik Spoelstra’s first season coaching LeBron James is pointless. Spoelstra’s James-led 2010-11 Miami Heat were never this bad, they never showed as little focus with or without LeBron, and Spoelstra never went on record saying anything close to what Blatt tried on Sunday.

With the eyes of the sporting and even NBA nation focused elsewhere, the Cavs still have a chance to get it all together. Good thing, because this stuff needs to end. Now.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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