If I’m Kevin Love, I’m embracing this moment. I’m welcoming a new role with open arms. I’m smiling, bouncing, and ready for tonight. Because Love’s tumultuous and star-crossed tenure in Cleveland may have just unintentionally turned into a magic carpet ride.
For two seasons Love has been the easiest of whipping boys, pointed to as the reason the Cavs couldn’t accomplish what the city so desperately needs them to. He wasn’t fitting in with LeBron James, he wasn’t assertive enough on the floor, he wasn’t committed enough on defense. Every day was another barb his way. “They could be great but Love’s a bum.”
Now we have an awkward situation of a $20M a year player potentially being demoted to bench duty because the team may be better without him. But while many believe this will irritate and emotionally disrupt Love, he personally has the ability to make it work. Yes, any star worth his salt in the NBA will have an ego. And telling that star the team may function better without him won’t sit easily. But that’s where Love has the opportunity to become beloved.
Not accepted. Not endured. Beloved. Right now he’s an easy target, low-hanging fruit after missing Game 3 with a concussion while the Cavs soared to a 30-point victory. But what if Tyronn Lue just found his secret sauce? What if the Cavs now have planted seeds of doubt in the Warriors, and proved to themselves they can dominate the champs? Last year Cleveland was only a toenail better than Golden State in its two wins. Maybe Wednesday opened their eyes at how good they really can be. If this is the turning point, Love should roll with it. Rising tides lift all ships.
Cleveland is probably better suited starting the quicker Richard Jefferson, moving LeBron to power forward, and having a smaller lineup to cut and move and attack the Warriors at their own game. That leaves Love on the outside of the party, looking like an expensive and unnecessary luxury item. The optics are bad for him.
Let’s give him this, though: These two injuries have been freakish at best. How many players have their arms yanked out of its socket in the playoffs one year, then take a sharp elbow to the back of the head the next? Some have called Love “soft.” He might not be Ronnie Lott, but the guy has also had some tremendously bad basketball luck.
Either way, Love’s confidants, family, and friends should point out this could be the best thing that ever happened to him. If the Cavs figure out a way to finally win the city’s first championship since color television, every person on that roster will be a walking deity in Northeast Ohio for the rest of their lives. Ask the ’04 Red Sox how it feels to be the ones that finally delivered a fan base from its misery. Papi, Pedro, and Manny walk on water. Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon never have to buy a drink in Boston again. Dave Roberts is a god. Yes, that guy in the Dodgers dugout who usually looks like he’s thinking about how the light turns off in your fridge when the door closes. God.
And even better, if Love becomes the dangerous sixth man, the quarterback of the second unit, he can live in history. The Bad Boys are an iconic team in Detroit. Isiah was the man. Dumars was a star. Laimbeer and Rodman were the quirky tough guys. But Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson is loved. Seriously loved. His energy and scoring off the bench made him perhaps the most popular player on the team. The ’86 Celtics are considered the best of their decade of excellence. Larry Bird is a living legend. Parrish and McHale have plaques in Springfield. But Bill Walton’s smiling, fun-loving, back-slapping role as brilliant big man off the bench on that squad makes him adored in Boston.
Love’s game is actually perfectly tailored to packing a huge punch as a reserve. He has good outside range, can crash the boards (like he did with authority in Minnesota), and create matchup problems for the Warriors second unit. If he dumps in 12 to 15 points per game, grabs a few important boards, and helps win a title by keeping the Cavs energy going while LeBron and Kyrie are on the bench he will become a cult hero.
The elbow to the back of Love’s head seemed to be just the next low in his rocky time in Cleveland. But if he looks at it a different way it could be his gift from above. The most dramatic turning point in the city’s cursed history? It’s all in how you look at it. Love should embrace the moment.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.