For the Cleveland Cavaliers, last week may have been the lowest point in franchise history outside of LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach.
Kevin Porter Jr., the former Cavalier who was essentially released earlier this season, dropped a spicy 50-piece.
Porter’s 50 point explosion juxtaposed with Love (and coach J.B. Bickerstaff) having to explain Love’s ugly temper tantrum during the middle of a close game with the Raptors on Monday night, as well as Love choosing not to shoot the ball in 22 minutes of action Friday against the Wizards. He literally has never had a game like that in his 13 pro seasons.
If “I hate it here” was a person, it would be Kevin Love.
Porter Jr. who was traded for a second round pick earlier this season after personal trouble and a tantrum about his locker being given to Taurean Prince, isn’t the only Cavalier who has been excommunicated in the past 3 seasons.
J.R. Smith and Andre Drummond have also seen the door for hmm, conduct unbecoming? Crossing the front office and/or coaching staff? Being general pains in the rear? In those same three seasons, Kevin Love has done all of that, and then some. And he’s still wearing his Cavs jersey and being introduced along with the rest of the starters.
There is an answer for why the Cavs are dealing with Love the way they are, of course, and it is the two years and $60 million remaining on his contract. It’s too rich for any team to trade for, given Love’s injury history, production and attitude since he signed it. It’s too much for the Cavs to pay him to go away, in a buyout, and too much for Love to give back.
But the optics surrounding Porter Jr. are especially bad. As mentioned earlier Porter had been struggling with personal issues off the court. He absolutely has personal challenges and didn’t play for the Cavs this season (before he was traded to Houston for a second-round pick) because they were trying to help him get his life together after a traffic accident and arrest in November.
I can understand the frustration with Porter Jr.
But he turns 21 on Tuesday, and the Cavs paid millions just to be able to draft him with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2019 draft. They cut the cord with him especially fast and he’s already, on a new team scoring 50.
Had a franchise with a history of doing the right thing, a history of having a no nonsense culture had made this decision, like Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, then the optics wouldn’t be bad.
But the Cavaliers, run by Dan Gilbert who is far from Mother Teresa, who are also standing pat while Love physically and emotionally checked out the moment James took his talents to Los Angeles, makes all this all so ugly.
This situation is primed for many pundits to take a swing at the low hanging fruit that is the Cavs treatment of Porter Jr. in comparison to that of Love.
You could call for the head of General Manager Koby Altman for giving up on a talent like Porter so quickly, and trade him for nothing?
Some can even callout Love for signing on the dotted line for 4 years-$120 million in the summer LeBron left. He knew what he was signing up for.
We could even praise Porter Jr. for pulling himself out of a hole that had him potentially out of the league to dropping 50 points and cementing himself into the Rockets future plans.
Truth is all of these narratives can be true.
So let’s start with Love.
Two days after the costly outburst against the Raptors, Love said “this isn’t something that happened last year, where, yes, that was something that was not coming from a good place.” He also said, “I love Cleveland, I’ll fucking rock with Cleveland ’til the day I die.”
While I respect the work Love has done off the court speaking out about mental health, and even discussed how he has impacted my life, I have to call him out on this.
His outburst certainly did come from a bad place.
The Cavs, again, have lost twice as many games as they’ve won. The team’s inactive list over the last week — four concussions or concussion-like injuries, multiple surgeries, broken bones — looks not only like the team lost a collective bar fight, but one that, once again, is limping toward the lottery. Since Love returned from injury on April 1, the Cavs are 4-13 and losers of six straight. They were supposed to compete for a play-in spot. Instead, they’ve imploded.
Imploded merely by his presence?
Okay maybe that’s not a fair assessment of the situation either.
When Love, 32, signed that extension, he was told by the Cavs’ front office that tanking was not the plan; competing for the playoffs was. I don’t believe he would have turned down $120 million, even if the Cavs were honest with him, but he has the right to feel frustrated and as though he’s left behind, as his teammates from those championship days have all been able to move on.
Throw in Love’s frustrations over being injured so much, not to mention statistically this is the worst season of his career (10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game), and yeah, it’s clear he is not all in on the Cleveland rebuild.
Either stand point you take in this situation, the blame is falling on Love’s shoulders and he has failed to the most severe degree.
Five-time NBA All-Stars making that kind of money do not need help getting up shots. NBA champions don’t just roll over and quit on their team when times are tough. Leaders don’t lead their young followers down the wrong path.
But that is what Love is doing each and every time he acts up.
For whatever culture was left over by the glory days of the Cavs championship runs, Love is single handily ruining.
So when, over the last three years, Love got into at least two shouting matches with Altman, embarrass Collin Sexton by taking the ball from him and then chucking it at Cedi Osman’s feet (during a game), slamming the bench at then-coach John Beilein, slapping the ball at a ref, but in bounds, so the Raptors can scoop it up and bang a 3 and then refusing to shoot in a game in which he played 22 minutes, Love is imploding and tearing the team down in the process.
Then when Love isn’t punished for any of it, it sends a terrible message to the rest of the group. It’s a culture ruiner.
Three seasons ago, when Smith correctly stated the Cavaliers were tanking, he was sent home for good. Drummond sulked over the Jarrett Allen trade and refused a request to come off the bench. He never played another game for the Cavs, received a handsome buyout of his contract, and is with the Lakers now.
Porter Jr., meanwhile, threw a fit over Taurean Prince getting his locker, tossed food at the wall and screamed at Altman over it. Gone in a flash. All of those moves were made to save the Cavs’ culture, to insulate the Sextons and Darius Garlands and Isaac Okoros of the world from bad apples. Love, if he is going to continue to do this stuff, can’t be above reproach.
But it takes two to tango. And GM Koby Altman is Love’s dance partner in all of this.
This season alone, he has sent Porter home and traded him, benched Drummond forever and then bought him out, swung a huge trade for Allen, traded JaVale McGee, endured these dust-ups with Love.
Through all of it, Altman has conducted just a single press conference to discuss the Allen trade, which was kind of a home run. And of course he did that because he was getting praised by everyone. But outside of that he has been mute.
Silent on the Porter Jr. situation. Silent about Love’s behavior. Not a word on the teams struggles in the second half after tearing apart a well put together chemistry.
If he’s trying to build a culture of accountability, though, he should probably show his players he can accept it, too, by taking questions from the beat reporters, when something bad happens. And plenty of bad things have happened this season.
So where do Altman and Love go from here?
For one, hold Love accountable and in the process acknowledge that you have to be accountable too.
The Cavs should be more forceful with Love if or when he misbehaves. They can’t pay him to not play, as we’ve discussed, but a public reprimand, a fine or a suspension is necessary.
If the Warriors could suspend Draymond Green a game for screaming at Kevin Durant on the bench during their last season together, surely the Cavs could do the same with Love for any of the infractions mentioned above.
And for Love it’s simple. Be the best version of himself, the former All-Star whom the Cavs rewarded with a massive contract extension. If what he wants is a trade, Love is not getting one unless he can prove he’s worth the investment it would take to assume his contract. Proving it would include staying healthy, putting up big numbers (which means shooting the ball) and not putting Altman in the position of having to consider whether or not to discipline him.