When reports broke that Cavaliers’ forward Kevin Love reamed out GM Koby Altman following practice this past weekend, nobody seemed to be too surprised by the news. Maybe the manner in which it was delivered, sure, but Love’s attitude towards his team has been anything but loving this season. He has brooded on court, especially towards the Cavs young backcourt, gotten into heated arguments with rookie head coach John Beilein and has smacked countless chairs on his way back to the bench after timeouts. Again, he has a right to be frustrated — the Cavs own the league’s fourth-worst record at 10-25 and are poised for yet another top-five draft pick.
Love’s outburst at Altman was reportedly surrounding the direction of the team. When Love signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension just weeks after LeBron James signed with the Lakers, Love was told that the Cavs would continue to try and put together a contending team, even without James. Now, history and logic should have made Love skeptic, but I suppose when $120 million is lying in front of you, history and logic are replaced by two cartoon eyes that have dollar signs for pupils.
The Cavaliers haven’t made the playoffs without LeBron James on the team since 1998. The Cavs 2018-19 opening day roster wasn’t horrible; it certainly wasn’t a contender-worthy team, but also wasn’t the laughing stock they would soon become. The point being, just by looking at the names on the roster, Love should’ve known going into the post-LeBron era that the team would not be good. And he probably did, I’m sure he didn’t expect them to make the playoffs last year (especially after he missed 60 games due to toe surgery).
NBA history has proven time and time again that mediocrity is the absolute worst place to be in a league that — more so than any other sport — is driven by superstars. The best way to do that if you are in a small market like Cleveland is through draft picks, either by winning the lottery and cashing in on a top-tier prospect like they did in 2003, or by accumulating assets and using them to trade for one, like the Lakers just did for Anthony Davis. Look no further than the Detroit Pistons’ past decade if you want to see why mediocrity is the quicksand of the NBA.
While Love will probably be dealt at some point before his contract expires, Love has become another example of what is seemingly becoming more and more common in the NBA: superstars sign these mega-contracts with teams, only to become unhappy and force their way out long before the contract expires. Carmelo Anthony did this with Denver, Anthony Davis just did this with New Orleans, Paul George with Oklahoma City and even now there have been rumblings that Karl-Anthony Towns is unhappy in Minnesota.
The mindset seems to be, ‘sign this huge contract now, you can always get out of it later’. Part of it has to do with Bird rights and the max contracts and how your team can offer you more money; if you want to play for Team X, but your current team can offer you an extra $30 million, why not just re-sign with your team and demand a trade in a year?
Even though the headache that comes from one of these demands is extremely taxing, trading an upset superstar for assets is still better than having him walk in free agency for nothing. Anthony Davis single-handedly ruined the Pelicans season last year, but I’m sure every New Orleans fan is thankful they were able to trade him for the package they got in return.
First off, is this even a problem? Players get traded all the time, is this phenomena really that problematic? There are a few reasons why I do think this is an issue. First of all, it looks extremely bad on all parties involved, that’s for sure. There are no winners in these stalemates until a deal is made and even then a ‘winner’ is not always certain (see the Kyrie Irving trade). It reflects badly on the entire organization when your best player demands the ball from your 20-year-old point guard after he dribbles down the clock, whips an anger-fueled pass at another teammates foot before storming to the bench all the while yelling at the head coach.
From a management perspective, these type of contracts puts front offices in a difficult spot: if you don’t re-sign your best players, then you just lose the asset entirely. It doesn’t give them much of a choice, either sign them knowing you might inevitably trade them or let him walk for nothing. I’m sure the Cavs did not want Love on the team once LeBron left, but had they not re-signed him they would have literally nothing to include in potential trades.
The ‘safest’ route is usually to re-sign your star and if things don’t work out, you can always trade him. That worked out incredibly well for the Thunder this past summer. The Clippers sent them a budding star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a bajillion draft picks and a couple trees in Israel for good measure.
This issue is one that is virtually unsolvable, as players will continue to get upset and ask for trades until the end of time. Again, so long as teams get valuable assets in return for their disgruntled superstars, it’s not a particularly pressing problem. The Pelicans won out on Zion Williamson as if the basketball gods felt sorry for them after Davis ruined their season. Oftentimes everything goes back to relative normalcy once the superstar is dealt, but until that trade does happen, boy is it ugly.