A day after the Cleveland Cavaliers parted ways with the coach who led the franchise to its only NBA championship, they will likely lose the best player remaining from that title team for a month or more.
Five-time All-Star forward Kevin Love, who signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension over the summer, could miss significant time in order to rest the nagging toe injury that cost him all but one game in the preseason and the last two games of the regular season, according to multiple reports.
The New York Times’ Marc Stein first reported the possibility of Love’s extended absence.
Love will meet with doctors this week to consider shorter-term remedies, but with the Cavs 0-6 so far, playing through pain may not be the most prudent option, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst. Love is undoubtedly Cleveland’s best player in the aftermath of LeBron James’ departure, leading the team with averages of 19 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in four outings.
In other words, the Cavaliers are preparing to enter full-blown tank mode.
Do the Cavaliers own their 2019 first-round pick?
As a result of their January 2017 trade for Kyle Korver, the Cavaliers owe the Atlanta Hawks their No. 1 pick if it falls outside the top 10 in the 2019 draft, meaning they have added incentive beyond the customary allure of a top pick to careen down the standings. Cavs big man Tristan Thompson actually thought they were Eastern Conference favorites even without James, and some prognosticators figured Cleveland could still compete for a playoff spot in the shallow East, but not without a healthy Love.
What will the Cavaliers look like without Kevin Love?
The Cavaliers have slotted Channing Frye and Sam Dekker into Love’s starting spot during his two-game absence — a pair of losses to the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. Both have the ability to space the floor, but neither represents the sort of inside-out presence that Love has been during his 11-year career. Even with Love, Cleveland ranked 29th (trending towards dead last) in defensive rating, and neither Frye nor Dekker does anything to remedy those woes. This is not going to be pretty.
Cleveland’s projected starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta — one of the teams the Cavs will be competing with for lottery odds in addition to the team that benefits most from their success — will feature George Hill, J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood, Thompson and either Frye or Dekker. U-G-L-Y.
Considering Love missed most of Game 6 and all of Game 7 in the conference finals with a concussion this past May, it is all the more remarkable that James and the Cavaliers emerged from those two games victorious. Cleveland, by resting Love and replacing Lue with interim coach Larry Drew, are all but conceding that the roster they built around James last season is one of the league’s worst teams.
How badly has Love been bitten by the injury bug?
The injury to Love also raises some concern about the future of Cleveland’s franchise beyond this season. An extended absence this season would mean Love has missed significant time due to injury in six of his 11 seasons, five of the past eight and each of the last three. While many of those injuries — fractured right and left hands, left knee surgery, left shoulder surgery and persistent back problems — are seemingly unrelated, they raise some concern about the 30-year-old’s ability to fulfill his max contract in good standing, to say nothing of the handful of concussions he has suffered in his career.
Is a Cleveland fire sale coming?
As long as owner Dan Gilbert is comfortable entering full-blown rebuild mode, something he has staunchly stood against in the past, the Cavaliers would be best served to consider their trade options for Love and the rest of their veteran contributors. Korver and Smith could help shooting-starved playoff contenders like the Philadelphia 76ers. Hill is interesting, if only for his $19 million expiring contract. There are plenty of teams that Love could help, especially the Oklahoma City Thunder.
How soon the Cavs start their fire sale may depend on Love’s official diagnosis early this week.
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