The Cleveland Cavaliers may have lost LeBron James for a second time, but they secured a hefty consolation prize by re-signing Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million contract extension. A five-time All-Star and still just 29 years old, Love is often defined by what he can’t do instead of what he can do.
While his deficiencies include poor individual defense and some playoff woes, Love offers one of the NBA’s most important skill sets. In an age of sweet-shooting big men, few are more deft at extending defenses than Love.
The former UCLA standout and Minnesota Timberwolves star is coming off perhaps his best year as a Cavalier, averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point territory — the second-best clip of his 10-year career — and a career-best 88 percent from the free-throw line.
Post-LeBron life offers a slew of challenges for the Cavs, not the least of which include maintaining competitiveness in the East and filling Quicken Loans Arena, which is undergoing a $140 million renovation.
Rookie point guard Collin Sexton flashed a brilliant first step and fearlessness on both sides of the ball during summer league, drawing praise in Las Vegas from scouts and executives, who highlighted his toughness and swag. It’s also a bit ironic that the Cavs — who could not find a trustworthy point guard last season after trading Kyrie Irving — appear to finally have just that in the former Alabama star.
Although Sexton is hardly a reliable perimeter shooter, it will behoove the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft to have one of the premier pick-and-pop guys in the league in Love. Why? More space for Sexton to drive, put pressure on opposing defenses and showcase his creativity while further developing his jump shot.
And for his part, Love seems to understand his role.
“When I first came to Cleveland, I came with a long-term mindset,” he told reporters in Cleveland on Tuesday after inking his extension. “I came here to win. We developed a culture here that reflects that. I’m super excited and I couldn’t be happier.”
Roughly $250M in career earnings headed to Kevin Love. #Cavs never wanted to trade him. Why? Because his pick-and-pop ability = boon to Sexton’s development and bec Koby Altman believes there is tangible value in young players – Nance, Jr. inc – learning how to win post-#LeBron. https://t.co/JVqwsurMYB
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) July 24, 2018
General manager Koby Altman offered his insight to building around Love in a statement: “Kevin’s talent and character are both at a very high level and he has earned his role at the center of what we want to do moving forward.”
There is no blueprint to rebuilding a roster in the wake of LeBron leaving town. That much we do know. But losing games and tanking hardly guarantees future success — just ask the Knicks about that. The Cavs are admirably in no hurry to lose games, at least not yet.
Now the challenge for Love — who has endured knee and back injuries throughout his NBA tenure — will be to reignite his role as a No. 1 option, which he excelled at in Minnesota but was never asked to do in Cleveland. And he will be 34 by the time his contract expires, the same age James will turn during the upcoming season.
My how things come around.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.