Kevin Love has LeBron James to thank for the three most impactful moments in his career. First, James returned to Cleveland in 2014, offering the All-Star forward an escape route from a woefully uncompetitive Minnesota Timberwolves team. Second, James spearheaded a historic NBA Finals comeback against the vaunted Golden State Warriors, delivering a 2016 championship ring Love’s way.
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Now, LeBron has pulled a different kind of favor for the talented big man: He left.
To be honest, I’m elated that Love, a five-time All-Star, just signed a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavaliers. He gets to be “the man” again, after four years of playing second and third fiddle to James and the departed Kyrie Irving.
People forget that Love was a monster before forming Cleveland’s “Big 3,” averaging a double-double the five seasons leading up to that move. But these weren’t your average, everyday double-doubles – these were advanced double-doubles.
Shameless SpongeBob reference aside, Love’s per-game averages of 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds ranked fourth and third, respectively, in the league during his final year in Minnesota. But like All-Star forward Chris Bosh before him, Love was underutilized as a third option (Bosh took a backseat to James and Dwyane Wade during the trio’s four-year run in Miami.)
Of course, Bosh was later forced to retire after he was diagnosed with blood clots, ending his post-LeBron chance to shine once again. Hopefully, Love’s fate is more positive.
You have to give him credit for being patient and sticking with it though. It’s not easy being described as “arguably the game’s best power forward” in a 2014 ESPN article regarding Love’s trade to Cleveland and then spending the next two seasons out of the All-Star game.
Really, it’s just not easy to be that third guy in general.
Just look at Carmelo Anthony this past season. He joined Russell Westbrook and Paul George in rushed and unexpected fashion last offseason and never adjusted to his smaller role on the team. Yes, Melo is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, but his inability to accept that he was past his prime led to a staunch refusal to come off the bench. While this would have likely been better for the Thunder, it’s not surprising that Anthony struggled to adapt to a lesser role. He had, after all, been “the man” on his team throughout his 15-year career.
Then there’s a different situation in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green of the Warriors. Thompson is far and away the best three-and-D guard in the league, and Green is a jack-of-all-trades, elite defender and skilled passer, as well as the reigning champs’ emotional leader. The two weren’t really the second or third options behind Steph Curry – before Kevin Durant’s arrival two years ago – rather, 2A and 2B. But Durant, the second-best player in the world, bumped both of them to 3A and 3B.
The Warriors already showed signs of coming unglued last year, at times looking like a shell of the well-oiled machine that won an NBA-record 73 games a few years ago. Thompson’s role and value on the team has dropped noticeably, as has Green’s overall defensive effort. And Thompson will be a free agent in 2019; Green the year after.
After being served with what are essentially demotions, is their team-first attitude starting to crack? Is this due to championship fatigue or a creeping discontent at losing their share of the spotlight?
It seems more and more likely that one or both eventually seeks a new home where they can be the No. 1, or at least No. 2 option. It’s human nature to want to spread your wings, especially when you can fly higher than almost everyone on the planet.
It isn’t easy for most humans to humble themselves, accept less than what they’re used to (or less than they feel they deserve) and show up to work like nothing changed. I salute the professional athletes that handle this same burden on a huge, media-magnified level.