When you lose a player like LeBron, the next steps are difficult. Even in a trade, you’re not going to come out even, much less ahead, and LeBron left via free agency, so the Cavs didn’t even have that.
It’s a chance to reset, sure, but nose-diving into a rebuild is tough, especially coming off of four straight Finals appearances; were the Cavs to go from that run to the basement so quickly again (which is what happened the last time LeBron left), it would pretty much signal that the team can’t do it without him. For Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, that’s not really an option, both in terms of personal pride (best expressed in Comic Sans) and in terms of his franchise’s long-term value.
But they already traded their best shot at long-term relevance last year in Kyrie Irving. Which is how we got to the Cavs giving Kevin Love a big-money contract extension, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst at ESPN:
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love has signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension that tops out his overall deal at five years, $145 million, league sources told ESPN on Tuesday.
Love, a five-time All-Star, opted out of the 2019-20 season on his current five-year deal. He will earn $24.1 million next season before the new four-year extension kicks in, league sources said.
This is fascinating on a few levels. First, some people wondered if the Cavs would shop Love as a way to both clear the decks a bit and bring in more talent or draft assets. That obviously didn’t happen this offseason, but then again Love’s trade value could have improved during the year had he shown flashes of returning to the focal-point star he was in Minnesota before he was assimilated into LeBron-support machine. (To be clear, that’s a worthy machine.)
Instead, the Cavs opted to keep Love in Cleveland, with eyes on making the playoffs this year and beyond.
In the aftermath of LeBron James’ departure in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers aggressively pushed to secure Love, 29, for the long-term. Owner Dan Gilbert and GM Koby Altman have been determined to keep the Cavaliers a playoff team, and that plan included keeping Love out of free agency in 2019.
This is clearly a turning point for Love. He’s the unquestioned focus of the Cavs going forward, a position he hasn’t been in for a while now, and it signals a very different look for the Cavs next year. They were always going to look different, of course, but we didn’t know which direction they’d go; extending Love means we might see a more post-oriented attack overall, and it’s tempting to wonder just how much of those skills Love has retained through his time in Cleveland.
Whether this was the right move for Cleveland remains to be seen. They didn’t have anyone on the roster nearly as good as Love the last time LeBron left, so it wasn’t really an option. But existing as a mediocre Eastern Conference team for a few years doesn’t really seem like a real win, either. Still, this is what life after LeBron was always going to look like. At least they’re picking a lane.