Kevin Love is About to Go from Unsung Hero to Cleveland’s Scapegoat

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I’m not sure the city of Cleveland has ever had a star athlete as underappreciated as Kevin Love.

Admittedly, he took some time to adjust to his new role after the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for him in 2014. Love’s stats declined, and for a while he seemed like he’d always be the square peg in a round hole.

That said, Love has significantly improved since his first rocky season in Cleveland, seeing upticks in both points per game and rebounds per game. Despite this, he’s almost always finding his name in trade rumors, many of them involving him being exchanged for a lesser player. Midway through this past season (Love’s best as a Cavalier), we were laughably told exchanging him for Carmelo Anthony would be a good idea.

It’s no surprise, then, to find ourselves where we are today. The Cavs, thoroughly roasted by the Kevin Durant led Golden State Warriors, are in a desperate search for solutions. They can’t, as currently constructed, compete with the 2017 NBA Champions. Cleveland now has to find a way to make improvements despite not having the slightest bit of cap room.

Believe it or not, many Cavs fans had the solution to this midway through Game 5 of the Finals. It’s obvious – just trade Love. He’s always a letdown, anyway.

It sounds harsh, but you didn’t have to search long to find many takes like this Monday. For Love, it was just more of the same. Yet again, while he should be seen as one of the Cavs’ core players, he’ll instead be this team’s offseason scapegoat.

It’s important to remember how Love played in this postseason, since most of his critics choose not to. While he had a bad game or two, he still averaged close to a double-double in each of the opening two rounds. Come the Eastern Conference Finals, though, Love thrived, averaging 22.6 PPG and 12.4 rebounds per game. Many felt as though it was the best basketball he’d ever played in a Cavs uniform.

Seen as a liability against Golden State, Love actually started the Finals playing well. Despite shooting poorly in Game 1, he still finished with 15 points and 21 rebounds. He followed this up with an impressive 27-point showing in Game 2, and eventually a 23-point night in Game 4, where he also shot 75% from three. Though he struggled offensively in Game 3, he was able to provide 13 rebounds and six steals.

All in all, it was far better than what he offered in last year’s Finals. However, in Game 5, he played poorly. As a result, he now must go.

This seemed to be the gist from Cavs Twitter as the waning seconds of Cleveland’s season ticked away. Yes, his six points on 2-8 shooting did his team no favors in avoiding elimination. However, based on much of the feedback from fans and pundits, you’d have thought he played this way all postseason.

This, sadly, has been the case for Love during the majority of his time in Cleveland. His strong performances are forgotten the moment he shows signs of struggle. He could score 40 points in three straight games, but if he followed this up with a seven-point dud, he’s a mess who needs to be traded ASAP.

Now, with Cleveland desperate to make upgrades but limited in ways to do so, Love is once again seen as someone who needs to be traded. Fans are dying to see the Cavs find a way to swap him for Paul George or Jimmy Butler, as if things would be that easy.

Those clamoring for these lofty deals are ignoring the simple fact Love wasn’t the reason Cleveland lost to the Warriors. Sloppy play, an aged and ineffective bench and having no one to capably defend Durant, that’s why the Cavs came up short. It wasn’t because Love struggled in Game 5.

In the defense of Love’s critics, it’s impossible to ignore the fact Cleveland’s stretch forward will be one of the team’s bigger trade chips. With no cap space to use in free agency, acquiring talent will require a trade, and Love will clearly garner more interest than anyone else on the roster.

Should such an outcome take place this summer, it’d be an unfortunate end to Love’s time in Cleveland. He overcame an incredibly shaky start to become one of the Cavs’ key players. You’d just never know it based on how fans talk about him around the trade deadline.

But Durant averaged 35.2 PPG in the Finals and Love only scored six points in Game 5. Clearly this was Cleveland’s biggest problem, right?

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook

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