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Cleveland Cavaliers: Talkin’ what is likely to happen with Kevin Love – Terry Pluto

ABOUT KEVIN LOVE

What happened with Love this season is one of the reasons life after LeBron James has been so miserable for the Cavaliers.

Part of the reason the Cavs signed Love to a 4-year, $120 million summer contract extension was to avoid what fans see now on the court – a completely overmatched, overwhelmed team that seems to be down 20 points in most games.

In the summer, I had some long talks with the franchise’s top people. They wanted no repeat of the complete collapse of 2010-11. That was the first season after James left for Miami – the season of the 19-63 record and the 26-game losing streak.

If things went bad this time, the plan was to trade veterans such as Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, George Hill and Rodney Hood. Korver and Hill are gone. Smith is sitting at home, awaiting a deal. Hood could be traded by the Feb. 7 deadline.

But they didn’t sign Love to immediately trade him. By NBA rules, they’d have to wait six months after an extension to do so. But that’s now up. Love played the first four games of the season with a sore foot, and has been out ever since as he’s recovering from toe surgery. He supposedly could be back in a few weeks. Or not. He’s working out, but no timetable for his return has been set.

But trading him at this point makes very little sense unless some team wanted to give up a first-round pick and some other goodies for a guy who still has to prove he’s healthy.

At this point, the best approach is to bring Love back when he’s fully healthy. Have him play well. That serves two purposes:

1. It will help the Cavs win a few games – or at least be more competitive.

2. It sets up summer trade possibilities as the draft approaches.

3. Some experts say, “Who will want Love with that contract?” I was talking to an NBA executive who told me that “at least 16 teams will have salary cap room to sign a max-player contract this summer. And there aren’t 16 free agents worth a max deal.”

4. At 30, the big question for the five-time All-Star is his health. His contract is hefty, but actually goes down a bit. He is signed for $29 million in the final season (2022-23) of the contract.

5. It’s true $29 million sounds like a lot. But here are some players who signed extensions in the last few years and what they will be guaranteed in their final seasons: Chris Paul ($44 million), John Wall ($47 million), Russell Westbrook ($40 million), Blake Griffin ($37 million), Paul George ($35 million) and Kyle Lowry ($33 million).

6. Love’s contract could still be OK with some teams, especially those in the West looking to contend for playoff spots in 2019-20. A lot will depend upon how Love plays when he finally does return.

LOTTERY CHANGES

What about the ping-pong balls! The Cavs have to go for the NBA’s worst record to have the best shot at the No. 1 pick.

Not so fast. The NBA changed the lottery rules. Now, the teams with the THREE worst records have the SAME odds of securing the top pick – 14 percent.

Even if Love returns in the middle of February and immediately plays like the All-Star who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, the Cavs will probably end up in the bottom three. I also doubt Love will be able to quickly play huge minutes, given that he’s been out for nearly four months.

Why does it matter if Love plays at all? Or even if the Cavs win another game this season? Because the team has been an embarrassment defensively and disjointed offensively. While coach Larry Drew has tried to make the games meaningful, he also is emotionally beaten down by all the injuries.

Tristan Thompson has missed 14 games with a foot injury. He is out at least two more weeks. Larry Nance Jr. has been out 11 games with a knee injury. He returned Friday.

Love, Thompson and Nance are the Cavs’ three best players. You can add Jordan Clarkson as No. 4.

ABOUT COLLIN SEXTON

The NBA has a stat called “Real Plus/Minus” that is supposed to measure a player’s overall game and his value to a team when it comes to winning. It’s complicated, and I’m not going to explain it. But the players ranked near the top are usually viewed as the league’s best.

You may have been hearing that Collin Sexton is ranked dead last out of 477 NBA players this season. That’s very true, primarily because Sexton has been a disaster on defense. But I looked at those stats, wondering how other rookies were doing.

Of the bottom 20, seven are rookies: Melvin Bagley, Trae Young, Mo Bamba, Grayson Allen, Allonzo Trier, Kevin Knox and Sexton. All but Allen and Trier are lottery picks.

Playing on a bad team also kills your rating. The Cavs have five players in the bottom 30: Alec Burks, Cedi Osman, Cameron Payne, Clarkson and Sexton.

Sexton has a lot of work to do. His ballhandling is suspect. Defensively, he is too often lost. I do think he can become a top scorer off the bench on a good team.

Bagley, Young, Knox, Bamba and Sexton are all lottery picks who played only one season in college. They are kids in a man’s game and it shows.

ABOUT THE CAVS

1. Ante Zizic was given some playing time in January, and he looked like a player. The 22-year-old center averaged 13.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and shot 60 percent from the field in nine games.

2. The 6-foot-10 center is the sort of old-school, post-up player who has been dismissed by the 3-point shooting gospel that dominates in the NBA. That said, having a big guy inside who can score, draw fouls and give an option besides heaving 25-footers at the rim should be of value.

3. Along with Sexton, Zizic is what the Cavs have to show for Kyrie Irving. If you keep connecting the dots, they also added Nance and Clarkson with some of the players originally traded to the Cavs for Irving.

4. I hear there is a market for Hood. He has missed 10 games this season with injuries to his ankle, back and Achilles. When he has played, he’s averaged 12.2 points, shooting 43 percent and often is passive. It’s hard to figure for a guy who is headed for free agency. On the NBA’s worst team, there are so many chances for anyone with some talent to fire up shots and pile up points.

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