I’ve seen enough: The Cavaliers have to bring back Kevin Love

Kevin Love, Miami Heat. Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Kevin Love, Miami Heat. Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images /

Watching the NBA Playoffs from home has turned into a humbling experience for the Cleveland Cavaliers and this scribe. There were high expectations after an outstanding regular season. But the team wasn’t ready.

Every year, there is a reminder not to place too much stock in the first 82 games. The Los Angeles Lakers showed that by becoming the first Western Conference Play-In group to win a round, then take out the champs. In the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks proved it in round one when they made the Cavaliers walk the plank following five matches. And then there’s the Miami Heat, a band of misfits and castaways that survived the Play-In Tournament and the next two rounds.

But there’s a dark cloud hanging over the Cavaliers. The outfit made an error buying out Kevin Love’s deal as a result of him being moved out of the rotation; Love was the last remaining piece of the 2016 championship squad. And now he just helped his new friends in Miami defeat the Chicago Bulls (Play-In), Milwaukee Bucks and Knicks en route to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat won 44 games in the regular season. It’s now the second eighth seed in NBA history to advance to the Conference Finals after the 1999 Knicks. Love was instrumental in getting there.

In round one, Love converted 43.3% of his deep shots and pulled down 7.4 rebounds a night. In the Conference Semifinals, his outlet passing was a difference-maker in game one to start the second half, but as his shot went cold in the series, he affected the outcome by always keeping the ball moving, screening and crashing the glass. How is that for unexpected?

Reality can be as sobering as a heavy backhand to the jaw. In this case, the Cavaliers’ hard dose of truth is that they didn’t appreciate what they had in Love – an elder with invaluable playoff experience and tread left to burn.

The first place Love’s absence was felt was in the locker room. He was still in the team’s group chat nearly two weeks after his first game as a Heat player, and Jarrett Allen said he missed him in a story by reporter Kelsey Russo of The Athletic (subscription required).

The Cavaliers greatly missed Kevin Love in the playoffs, and they have to bring him back in the offseason.

One offseason priority should be bringing back Love, feasibly with some of the Non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (roughly $12 million), so he finishes his career in Wine and Gold like he wanted. Cleveland’s final diagnosis of his game in February was wrong. He could have assisted the outfit in pushing the pace against the Knicks, as he did for the Heat. The Cavaliers were sent home as the third-slowest team of 16 in the NBA Playoffs. Playing slow doesn’t work when the opponent hammers 41 extra rebounds over your head.

Deep postseason runs don’t happen without the right veterans in the locker room. Every season Love has made the playoffs, his teams have advanced to the NBA Finals. Regardless of how the Heat’s quest for gold ends, I suspect its front office will try to bring him back. Management will have a solid case with Love too. He feels appreciated. It’s tough to beat that.

One way the Cavaliers possibly can is by apologizing for their miscalculation and offering him the position of team captain, as Udonis Haslem is in Miami.

The concept of someone who doesn’t play as often as the marquee guys being in charge of the locker room is bizarre to some. Yet, in Miami, it’s worked. Haslem is respected because he trains as hard as anyone and has sacrificed his role so the team can roll out the right combinations.

Some people might not understand the value of a player like Haslem, but they are fools. After Miami’s Game 3 loss to Boston in the 2020 ECF, Jimmy Butler spoke to me about UD’s counsel in the locker room. Butler said Haslem told the guys to be the “scrappier” and “nastier” team.

The morning the Heat lost to the Celtics in Game 7 of the 2022 ECF, Max Strus told me the following about Haslem.

Love is an NBA champion, but most importantly, a good dude. He has enough clout to command in the highest leadership role. He likely won’t spout a profanity-laced motivational speech as Haslem did for the Heat on the sidelines of the 2020 NBA Finals, but he’d be there instilling confidence in his troops when setbacks occur.

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For now, the Cavaliers must hope he’s not too charmed by the arms of another team.