Kevin Love opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and will become a free agent. This was not altogether surprising, but what is the likelihood that Love, 26, will be back in Cleveland next season?
“Well, I don’t think one necessarily has to do with the other,” CBS Sports NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “He was on the books for $16.7 million next year. By opting out and signing a new deal, whoever it’s with, he starts at $19 million. So simply by signing a piece of paper, he gets himself almost a $2 million raise – or more than $2 million. What it’s going to come down to for him, I think, is how receptive he’s going to be to the teams that come after him in free agency that can offer him a more featured role than he would have playing with LeBron James in Cleveland.You have the Celtics that are going to make a run at him. You have L.A. and the Lakers, who are going to make a run. Phoenix is going to be in that mix. So there are going to be teams that can pay him a lot of money – not as much as the Cavs can but can offer him a more featured role.
“The other layer to this,” Berger continued, “is (the fact that) the cap is going up dramatically in 2016. If I’m Kevin Love, I might be inclined to do a shorter deal and opt out again and be able to take advantage of that increase in the cap, which takes away Cleveland’s home-team advantage because a five-year versus a four-year deal is irrelevant if he’d rather do a short one. So (there are) a lot of factors at play for Kevin Love. Ultimately, it’s going to be what he’s most comfortable with, how he can maximize his earnings, and how important is it for him to be a featured guy versus playing a complementary role with the Cavs.”
Looking at next season, the Cavs have a bevy of big men at their disposal: Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and, yes, LeBron James.
If Love stays in Cleveland, he’s not going to play 35 to 40 minutes a night, which means he’s not going to put up numbers that will warrant a huge contract when he hits free agency. Let’s not forget that Love has battled back, knee and wrist problems in his career.
“I think you just zeroed in on the risk for him,” Berger said. “There’s two aspects of the risk. One is injury risk – and $100 million guaranteed is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t care what the salary cap is going to be. So if he wants to go for the security, then he would sign with the Cavs at $100 million. Then he doesn’t have to worry about all this stuff. But if he’s going to stay in Cleveland with a short-term deal, you’re right. We saw what his role was this year with this team, and it wasn’t anything like he was accustomed to. That’s going to be a factor come 2016 when he hits the free-agent market again. His value is going to be based on what his production is, and his production isn’t going to be nearly what it could be elsewhere. But remember, he had six or seven years of that in Minnesota: putting up big numbers and winning nothing. So if there’s a third layer to it, that’s what it is: the opportunity to win and be paid very well at the same time.”