USA TODAY Sports
It’s been a long, strange trip for Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. For most of the regular season, he struggled to find his niche as the third banana on a team that featured LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and just as he was starting to navigate his way out of the doldrums, his post-season debut came to an abrupt end when he got tangled up with Kelly Olynyk and dislocated his shoulder against the Boston Celtics in the first round.
He’s expected to be out 4-6 months following surgery to repair his torn labrum, but his future beyond that is as nebulous as ever. Love can exercise a player option on his current contract and enter unrestricted free agency this summer, and rumors have been swirling all season about the possibility of him jumping ship on the Cavs and signing on with Boston.
The basketball intelligentsia cooled on that idea, of course, after the incident with Olynyk, which Love characterized as a “bush-league play.” To complicate matters further, reports surfaced last week that Love had thus far refused to accept multiple calls from Olynyk, who was eager to apologize for what happened.
However, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Love has apparently softened his stance against Olynyk and, by proxy, the Celtics:
“Yahoo! Sports reported last week that that injury at the hands of Kelly Olynyk may have cooled Love’s interest in playing for the Celtics next season. My experience has consistently been that anger subsides as dollars increase, and I’m told authoritatively that Love holds no long-lasting ill will toward either the Celtics or Olynyk. Boston can offer Love a max deal a second after midnight on July 1, an opportunity to again be the focal point of his team, lead an emerging surrounding cast and play for a terrific young coach.”
Love has to be at least a little bit intrigued by the prospect. The Celtics have a nice young core to build around for the future, which includes Marcus Smart, Olynyk, and a 5’9 fireplug named Isaiah Thomas, but Love would get the opportunity once again to be the face of a franchise instead of a glorified utility player. Plus, the Boston Celtics happen to play in the Eastern Conference (unlike the Timberwolves) and were able to parlay what was supposed to be a rebuilding year into a post-season appearance against the Cavs, even with the way the roster is currently assembled.
This is all in addition to the fact that Danny Ainge has been stockpiling assets the past few years and will have a pair of first and second round picks in this summer’s NBA Draft, not to mention a whole slew of imminently tradeable contracts that can be flipped to fill out the roster. They also have a savvy young coach in Brad Stevens who has more than proven his worth to the organization.
Love’s decision will likely hinge on what happens to the Cavs during these playoffs. His injury immediately knocked Cleveland down a few rungs as title favorites. He’ll also have to decide whether he’ll be able to – or even wants to – withstand another season of relentless media scrutiny or whether he would prefer a fresh start in a new city where he gets to be the focal point. Now that he’s had a few weeks to recover, he at least appears to have let go of some of that resentment he harbored toward Olynyk and the Celtics, and that might just be the first step.