The Kevin Love/ Tristian Thompson Dilemma Is Quickly Approaching For The Cleveland Cavaliers
Thoughts of the Cleveland postseason going up in flames immediately came to mind when the injury to forward Kevin Love happened. It was announced heading into the Chicago series that Love would be out the rest of the playoffs when Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk yanked on Love’s arm in the decisive Game 4 in Boston causing a shoulder separation and some other damage as well. Many wondered what adjustment would be made from Cleveland head coach David Blatt in this regard. Would he move LeBron James to the power forward position permanently and slide guard JR Smith back into the starting lineup? Or would Blatt make a move that many would not expect? Well, Blatt opted for the unexpected when he slid seldom-used Mike Miller into the starting lineup alongside James and Timofey Mozgov in the frontcourt. Miller was ineffective for the few minutes he saw on the court and then Blatt made the move that he should have made from the beginning. Blatt brought in bruising big man Tristian Thompson to give them some life like he always does. The Cleveland Cavaliers did not come back to win that game, but it did cement Thompson in the starting lineup for the rest of the postseason. And with him in the starting lineup this postseason, the Cavs are now headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007 when the Cavaliers faced the San Antonio Spurs. But with a decision looming in regards to Thompson and Love, the team now has some things to think about.
Love is the first part of this equation in Cleveland at the power forward spot. In Minnesota, Love was the answer as he stretched the floor with his shooting for the Timberwolves and ate the glass as well as a rebounder. So naturally when the thought was that he would fit in nicely with LeBron as a younger version of Chris Bosh with a better shooting stroke when the Cavaliers acquired him. But the acquisition of Love came at a price, as the Cavs gave up 2014 1st round pick (and #1 overall pick) and eventual 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins. There were some that said the Cavaliers should have waited until next season to do this when Love could opt out of his deal. But the choice was made that the Cavs needed Love now and were willing to give up a future great NBA player to do so. Love was and still is a very good shooter for his size and that can give problems to a team that is not used to seeing that type of play from a power forward. But even though some believed he would be a seamless fit, he has actually had more problems adjusting there than some anticipated. Love was always the main focus in Minnesota, but in Cleveland he was just a third wheel. Being third in the pecking order behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving seemed to cause problems in Love fitting in on this team. He did not get the shots that he thought he should get and it seemed like the team just ran inconsistently when he was on the court. And on the defensive end, the comparisons of Love to former LeBron teammate Chris Bosh immediately ended. Love was giving up any and everything on the defensive end and he was not rebounding on the defensive end either. That led the Cavs to being a middle of the road defensive team. The team began to find its rhythm when they traded for Timofey Mozgov and guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith and Love began to fit in better, but all that momentum with the new starting five they had quickly halted with Love’s injury. Heading into the summer, Love has to examine the sample size of how he fit this Cleveland team and what he could make on the open market. Love has a $16.7 million player option available for him next season. That could keep him paid and in Cleveland to give it one more run as he tries to stay healthy and fit into the team. But if he feels he can make it somewhere else and wants to be the man a little bit more, he could take his chances on the open market as a free agent. If he does that, then he could get a deal that could potentially pay him somewhere close to what he would make in 2015, but he could also be sacrificing winning with the best player in the NBA for the ability to make a payday. All in all, it falls on what Kevin Love values most: the money and status or winning and playing his role.
Love’s decision to stay or go could not only have an effect on him and his career, but on the career of Tristian Thompson as well in Cleveland. The former 2011 4th overall pick out of Texas was slated to be the starting power forward this season. And after rejecting a four-year, $52 million extension with the Cavaliers, Thompson was betting on himself to be more valuable than the deal he was offered by Cleveland. That decision to reject the extension looked to be the wrong one at first glance because the Cavaliers would gain the services of Kevin Love via trade and that meant Thompson would be going to the bench. Some would have sulked at the situation and lamented not signing the deal that was offered. But Thompson took a different approach. Instead of becoming a malcontent, he became the hype man off their bench. Thompson came in with energy and passion everytime he stepped on the court. And the best thing he did when he stepped out there was rebound. Thompson, while coming in off the bench, was the best rebounder for the Cavs all season long and he even finished games this season ahead of Kevin Love because of his rebounding along with his defensive presence. And when Love went down for the season in the playoffs, Thompson got his chance to make some things happen as a starter. And as a result, Thompson has added some toughness and grit to the Cavaliers starting lineup and has also helped make them better defensively than they ever were with Love. With every passing game, it seems like Love is less and less mentioned and Thompson has become the guy that Cleveland fans are thinking more about wanting to stay. Thompson may not have the prettiest numbers, but he can definitely change the game with the things that he can do. And he has proved that he was worth more than what the Cavaliers though he is worth at first. But the thing is now, the Cavs are at the mercy of Kevin Love. If he signs to stay in Cleveland, the Cavaliers will either have to find someone to take on the new extension they gave big man Anderson Varejao during the season or they will be losing Thompson to free agency even though he is restricted. And that would be sad for Cleveland fans being that Thompson has come of age in Cleveland this season under the tutelage of LeBron James. It’s unfortunate because he will more than likely want to stay in Cleveland, but the reality is there are numbers that have to match up in regards to the salary cap and the numbers more than likely will not if Love stays.
Kevin Love was supposed to be an important piece on the run to the title for Cleveland. But heading into this offseason, it seems like he could be the biggest issue this offseason. If he stays, then the likelihood of Tristian Thompson leaving becomes reality. But if he decides to leave, then Thompson will be the starting power forward for Cleveland next season. All in all, the ball is in Kevin Love’s court and what he chooses to do will cause the dominoes to fall even quicker in Cleveland. But one thing is for sure in regards to all these decisions: Thompson and Love will not be donning a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey again after this season as teammates.