In the wake of his imminent departure there is little evidence of Kevin Love sorrow. His exit from Minnesota has evolved into a spirited debate centered around who is coming in rather than Kevin Love leaving. Kevin Love who was drafted by Memphis and traded for O.J. Mayo on draft night never won anything in Minnesota. He never delivered a playoff berth. He managed to get his points and his rebounds but was never known for leadership or sacrifice. His offense will be missed. But after six years he is just one more California guy on the move seeking more money, more prestige, more pressure, more criticism which has him living in another dreary city with a lake.
Kevin Love will sign a 5 year deal north of $120 million which is the point of all of this. Minnesota will receive unproven players and more time in the lottery. It’s how the NBA does business at the top end and how players like Kevin Love traffic their talent for financial immortality.
There is no arguing that Kevin Love’s offensive numbers can be extraordinary for a player that doesn’t play above the rim. He is a non explosive player who makes jump shots, rebounds and passes beautifully in the open court. But after the Kevin Love romance dies down, and all romances do, remember this: Kevin Love has never had to deliver under pressure.
In 2015 he will be paid Kobe Bryant money yet he has never played a meaningful game in his NBA career. For six years, playoff pressure has been someone else’s problem because Kevin Love has watched the playoffs while at home.
The closest Kevin Love came to pressure was when he was in the Final Four in 2008 and then he had a miserable last game. UCLA was a #1 seed and playing Memphis, also a #1 seed who had Derrick Rose. It was a Final Four matchup. But the Bruins could not sustain much of anything. Kevin Love had 12 points and the Bruins lost by 15.
But he was a freshman then, his ineffectiveness was excused which would follow him into the NBA. Kevin Love criticism has always taken the long route often passing him by in favor of players such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. But the visibility of his new team and the size of his new contract means it is Kevin Love’s turn. Hiding in Minnesota the last six years bought him privacy. He could get his points and get his rebounds and no one would really care until it was contract time.
But the rare air of the $120 million dollar club means he will be unfairly judged and fairly excoriated and expected to outperform his contract (like every other high paid athlete). Kevin Love will be paid superstar money without having delivered a superstars resume. If he deserves credit for anything it is that piece of magic.
They say blue diamonds are the rarest gem on earth. NBA superstars are next in line, not quite the holy grail but in terms of sports relevance they are the basketball version of the talented tenth. What they inherit is genius and what they are saddled with are expectations and what they thrive off of is pressure. They alone can carry an average team beyond what a normal person could. If healthy they get their team to the playoffs (at the very least). They carry the Smush Parkers of the world or the Ira Newbles of the world to places they should never go. They are two way players that guard the other’s team’s best player even as they absorb the pressure of carrying their own team across the finish line. This they do night after night after night, never a day off which is just how they want it.
Kevin Love is not a superstar. He fails the basic standards or the golden rule. He doesn’t make players better. He has never made the playoffs. He doesn’t commit himself to both ends of the floor. Kevin Love is no different than Pau Gasol a few years ago. Then, Pau, as the best player on his team in Memphis, could not get very far, he never won a playoff game. Kevin Love’s Minnesota career is worse than Pau’s despite Kevin Love’s aggression to score and rebound. He makes jump shots from the perimeter. He grabs every rebound in sight, he plays hard. But he can never be a team’s best player. His defense is pretty lackluster bordering on not really trying. He doesn’t block shots or protect the rim. Kevin Love beats you by scoring and even as spectacular as he can be some nights no one drives 45 miles in the blinding rain to see Kevin Love hit jumpers.
Beginning in 2015 Kevin Love will make the same as Kevin Durant, more than Russell Westbrook, more than Kawhi Leonard, more than Tony Parker. All of them have been to the NBA Finals.
This is the managerial class of the NBA drawing a line in the sand. Again. It began when Joe Johnson was awarded his $120 million dollar deal in Atlanta and pretty much everyone was aghast. Except for Mark Cuban. He defended the deal using owner’s logic which meant he never argued the merits . He conceded that sometimes a front office is forced into a financial corner. To keep the ship running in smooth waters you have to overpay the crew, the ones keeping the ship from sinking.
Kevin Love’s resume does not entitle him to highest paid considering he could not carry a team to the eighth seed of the playoffs. He is a six year veteran with a post season drought that is other worldly. No previous NBA player has left his non playoff team and become one of the highest paid players in the NBA. If he is nothing else, Kevin Love is a magician.
Kevin Love is being compared to Shaq in the sense that they left their team a year after they averaged 25 and 12. But Shaq carried his team to the NBA Finals. Shaq dominated on offense and defense. And Shaq also played with Lebron James.
The Cavs, with Lebron entering his 30’s, have a specific window. Cleveland is not a destination city nor are the Cavs one of those brilliantly run, legendary franchises that are privileged enough to pluck other teams players. Once Lebron James retreats into private life Cleveland is back to being Cleveland. So they have to do whatever is necessary right now. They have to pay Kevin Love.
But what happens in the next few years to Kevin Love? Does he transform into Chris Bosh? Is he the big guy on the perimeter that is abused inside, roughed up in the post and made the scapegoat as he is ridiculed and demeaned because he is not what we want him to be? Love will be expected to out battle David West and Nene and Greg Monroe and Carmelo who all play the power forward position in the east. They play in the post where Kevin Love is notably weak. He will have to hear the criticisms when he has a game that is not what his contract states it should be. When he is not Chris Bosh trapping all over the floor. When his man slips by him and finishes at the rim. When he can’t contain explosion.
Kevin Love’s contract says he will be brilliant every single night. His contract implies he will be a savior. His contract says he is a Kobe Bryant like superstar. But his history and his defense and all those jerseys in Minnesota no one cares enough to burn says Kevin Love is far from that.