Oh, how things have changed for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It used to be that Kevin Love was the odd All-Star out—the less important of three A-listers, the one who needed to make the most sacrifices, the name most likely to crop up in offseason and midseason trade rumors. But here we are, almost four years, into LeBron James’ return. Love has outlasted Kyrie Irving. And Isaiah Thomas. And Dwyane Wade. And while the Cavaliers turned over their roster at the trade deadline, neither Rodney Hood nor George Hill comes close to rivaling his status.
He is, for the first time since arriving in Cleveland, the team’s unchallenged No. 2 option, behind only James.
The problem? He’s not playing. He hasn’t taken the court since suffering a fracture in his left hand on Jan. 30 and isn’t slated to return until the end of March. And you better believe LeBron misses him. As he told reporters following Cleveland’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:
“It’s been a long time since I haven’t played with another All-Star on my team,” James said. “So, having Kev out has been very challenging for all of us. Kev has a big usage rate on our team. He’ll get the ball when things get tight, chaotic, we can throw it to him in the low post and get some things going.”
You know what they say: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
And rampant roster futzing and fiddling makes you desperate for someone, anyone, who comes close to being your peer.
Love won’t be some magic panacea for the Cavaliers, who are 5-7 since the All-Star break. Their defense has been a mess when he shares the floor with James this season, allowing nearly 113 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. This duo is a net minus on the year overall, and there’s no telling how head coach Tyronn Lue will approach re-integrating Love into the starting lineup.
Playing him next to Larry Nance Jr. is a good start. And James no doubt will merely appreciate playing next to someone he can trust to hit shots off the catch down the stretch. Hood and Jordan Clarkson don’t cut the mustard on the front. Hill is a wild card. James needs that extra high-end option, if only so his burden, win or lose, isn’t as heavy.
On a final note: Remember the above quote from LeBron. If he re-signs with the Cavaliers this summer, Love will invariably end up in trade rumors again, which means this nostalgia will make for great social-media theatre.