For an NBA All-Star who played under one of the league's worst coaches (Kurt Rambis), worked for the league's worst GM (David Kahn) and played with the league's worst supporting cast for multiple years (the 2009-13 Timberwolves), it's rather a shock that this would be Kevin Love's strangest season. Finally traded to a quality squad in the summer, Love has faced questions about his heart, future and ability to fit in. Now he and the Cavaliers get to deal with one more question because of a dislocated shoulder that will keep him out of the second round of the Cavaliers' playoff run.
He finally makes the playoffs and gets his shoulder taken out of its socket in Game 4 of a sweep. That fits all too perfectly with Kevin Love's star-crossed NBA career.
Chances are that Love will have to decide whether to continue to rehab his shoulder and attempt to come back for a later postseason round -- assuming Cleveland survives -- or have surgery to repair the damage. Given that there appears to be serious ligament damage, one of those opinions might be for Love go under the knife as soon as possible, which would put a real damper on Cleveland's title hopes. From the sounds of it, Love won't be returning for the rest of the playoffs.
The twist, of course, is that Love can become a free agent in the offseason. Thankfully, shoulders don't carry the baggage that knees or feet bring. There's little chance that Love wouldn't get a max contract offer from the Cavaliers or another team this summer, no matter what happens to his shoulder.
If he bows out for surgery and doesn't play again this postseason, he can opt out and sign a maximum contract without question. If he opts to attempt to play with it in two weeks and re-injures it, requiring offseason surgery, he'll likely still get a maximum offer if he opts out. Remember that Cleveland gave up Andrew Wiggins to get Love. Letting him walk in free agency isn't in the cards, even if he's damaged goods.
Love's potential free agency affects this all in another way, too. The second round will be a nice little test for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers went just 3-4 in games Love missed in the regular season. Given the team's shallow frontcourt, Cleveland seems destined to use small units with LeBron at power forward in Love's absence. (This makes J.R. Smith's idiotic swing at Jae Crowder even more harmful since the wing rotation is going to be stretched while he's suspended for Games 1 and 2.)
If the Cavaliers get past the Bulls or Bucks with ease without Love, the narrative on the burly power forward is going to get strange. Well, stranger. If the Cavaliers fail without Love, it'll reinforce his value as a floor-stretcher, shot-maker and reliable rebounder. It's entirely possible that we'll derive more about Love's value in his absence than his presence.
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We'd be remiss to ignore the mere possibility of a storybook ending to a far-from-storybook season for Love. He has really never done anything wrong in his NBA career, and as such, he doesn't require redemption in the sense we typically perceive it.
What a strange coda this could still be. That after all the drama, the subtweets, the passive-aggression, the waste of using an immensely talented player like Love as a spot-up shooter, a season filled with all of that, could end with Love battling through a nasty injury to help bring Cleveland its first championship in 50 years ... Well, that'd be something else, wouldn't it?
For so long Love was a beacon of light in the dark of Minnesota basketball. Perhaps the opportunity for eternal glory can be Love's light over the next few weeks.