Kevin Love’s redemption effort in Game 7 of the NBA Finals raised more questions about his future in Cleveland.
Critics predicted Love would be traded after the Cavaliers were finished off by Golden State in the finals for the second straight year. Love’s toughness, defensive ability and consistency were stomped on and then kicked again and again throughout the series. He was the easy scapegoat.
The only problem, the Cavs and Love rallied to win three straight games and an NBA title. Love found a way to produce and played a major role in the Game 7 victory at Golden State.
So what will Cleveland do with Love? A quick recap of the past two years argues that the Cavs’ “Big 3” experiment has been a success. They’ve won back-to-back Eastern Conference championships and have one NBA title. Why mess that up?
Love, the former Timberwolves star, was one point shy of a double-double in Sunday's finale with nine points and a team-high 14 rebounds. His plus-minus was a whopping plus-19, meaning the Cavs had a 19-point advantage when Love was on the court. By contrast, LeBron James was plus-4 and Kyrie Irving plus-10.
The biggest moment of Love’s Game 7 effort helped secure Cleveland’s first major professional sports title in 52 years. Golden State, trailing by three points in the final minute of the game, forced the matchup of Love on Curry beyond the three-point line. Curry tried to shake Love for an open look at the basket, but couldn’t shake him. After 12 seconds of trying to create space, Curry threw up the shot and missed.
Love emerged as the defensive hero during Golden State’s biggest possession of the game. Watch the sequence:
The postgame celebration centered on Love and James embracing one another in the moments after the final buzzer.
ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said “Love played big tonight,” when the Cavs needed him most.
Love honored James by posting a photo of their celebration on his Instagram account with the caption “LONG LIVE THE KING.”
CBS Sports tried to predict how the Cavs front office will consider what to do with Love:
Two rules of NBA management are going to come into direct conflict when the Cavaliers assess whether or not to keep or trade Kevin Love this summer.
1. You cannot afford to be complacent, especially when you have a matchup issue that is glaring.
2. You should not disrupt a championship team. Never break up a great squad.
ESPN Insiders mostly believe Love will stay in Cleveland:
Amin Elhassan: [Will the Cavs trade Kevin Love?] Probably not. Although he had his struggles against the Warriors in the Finals, he was an integral part of their success in the rounds leading up to it, and while his Game 7 performance wasn't exactly virtuoso level, he definitely made an impact with his offensive rebounding.
Tom Haberstroh: Yes, and I think they should. I overestimated Love's defensive potential when he came to Cleveland, and it's clear he needs to be on a team with a defensive center where he can flourish as a top option. Boston, Utah and New York should be blowing up Cleveland GM David Griffin's phone with text messages.
NBA.com’s Steve Ashburner also concludes that Cleveland’s front office might not want to break up a championship team:
But it remains hard to be the third wheel in a three-star system and Love might never reach his potential while trying to fit himself around James and Irving. That's not just about individual aggrandizement, either -- Love as an asset might be able to bring back greater help in new faces than his production is worth to the Cavs. He could dominate per his best Minnesota days, on many nights for a differently constructed team.
It's possible that, having won, the Cavaliers will fall in love with the current crew and make minimal changes for 2016-17. Then again, even defending champions need to sharpen their edge -- that's one more thing we learned from these Finals.
Whatever happens, Love and the Cavs achieved their goal and won a championship ring.