For a second yesterday, it seemed like the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the verge of finally hearing some good news when it came to the health of their players. Per a few reports, guard J.R. Smith was on a “rapid recovery” from his December thumb surgery. Suddenly, we were led to believe he might be back on the court in as soon as three weeks’ time.
Before you knew it, not only did the news surrounding Smith shift, so did the status of another Cleveland star.
Hours after Smith took to Twitter to refute the news about his recovery time, the team announced Kevin Love had undergone a knee scope. The Cavs went from potentially being three weeks away from playing at full strength to having two of their starters out ’til at least April. It goes without saying this was a jarring set of developments.
While Cleveland was already faring just fine in Smith’s absence, Love being shelved is a completely different story. With one of their best players now out for the next month and a half, the Cavs’ already alarming depth issues are now going to be put to the test.
Concern for Love increased yesterday when the team noted he went through an MRI for his sore knee, but didn’t release the results. Instead, Cleveland claimed he was heading in for a second opinion. Getting another look doesn’t seem to have brightened the outcome, and now the team will be without his services until late March at the absolute earliest.
Obviously, the most immediate issue with this is the Cavs’ lack of bodies in the front-court. Channing Frye is starting in Love’s place tonight as the team takes on the Minnesota Timberwolves, though it’s unclear if he’ll be the long-term solution.
However, Cleveland now has to rely on a front-court of Frye, Tristan Thompson and the newly-acquired Derrick Williams. The latter is currently on a ten-day contract, but you have to think Love’s injury should be more than enough motivation to retain him for the rest of the year. Veteran James Jones can help, though he’s not exactly the prototypical big man.
Still, leaning on just three power forwards/centers isn’t exactly an enviable position for the Cavs to be in.
Helping matters is team ownership reportedly giving the green light to spend more. GM David Griffin will most likely be working overtime trying to acquire more help, and yesterday’s trade of the injured Chris Andersen opened up another roster spot.
The biggest concern coming from Love being sidelined, however, is the amount of minutes LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have been logging this season.
Coach Tyronn Lue has already dealt with numerous questions regarding how much time he’s been giving his two stars. Both are averaging over 35 minutes per game, as Cleveland’s inability to put away lesser opponents has resulted in Lue being unable to keep them rested. It was a problem before Love’s injury, and it’ll certainly become a more glaring one now.
For one, does Lue lean on James’ ability to play power forward? Will spending more games going up against bigger bodies cause more fatigue? Is Lue going to be able to schedule any days off for James or Irving in general?
As you can see, Cleveland’s coach now has to decide what’s more important – retaining the top seed in the Eastern Conference or making sure James and Irving get the rest they need. It sure seems like balancing both tasks will be extremely difficult. Eventually, one of these goals is going to have to be prioritized over the other.
How Lue and the rest of the Cavs handle this latest blow will go a long way in determining where this team is come playoff time. Will James and Irving be exhausted from having to carry the load while Love is out? Will the front office have made some moves to help the cause? Will Love be ready on time, able to get right back on the court and contribute upon being activated?
Whatever happens, the latest news on Love makes Cleveland’s quest for home-court advantage come playoff time, as well as the hope to give star players breathers far more difficult.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook