The Cleveland Cavaliers are moving on, after completing a first-round sweep of the Boston Celtics. But their victory comes at a grave cost: After a questionable play by Boston big man Kelly Olynyk, Cavs starting forward Kevin Love separated his shoulder, and is now expected to miss significant time:
This could be a death knell for Cleveland, who are likely to face the Chicago Bulls in a second-round series, probably slated for this upcoming weekend. Even with Love, this matchup looked like a tough one for a Cavs team that’s not exactly battle-tested outside of LeBron James.
This bad break is in keeping with Love’s first season in Ohio. He’s been the definitive third option behind James and Kyrie Irving after a stellar few seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he was starting to build buzz as a top-ten player in the league.
A suspected nagging back injury, plus an inability to find an optimal role in Cleveland’s offense, have plagued Love’s tenure with the Cavs. Rather than operating out of the post and elbow as the dynamic point forward he was with the Wolves, Love has often been relegated to the job of stretching defenses as a spot-up shooter beyond the three-point arc.
Cleveland could, of course, still overcome the Bulls without Love. Having LeBron James on the roster tends to mean that you’ve always got a chance. And Kevin can still come back to play an integral role in the Eastern Conference Finals. But if the Cavs don’t conquer Chicago, huge question marks about his future with the team will grow even larger as we head into the summer.
Perhaps a season of great expectations will feel as if it’s been torn away from Love, and he’ll want to rejoin James and Co. to squash regret in 2015-16. Or maybe he’ll take this difficult ending to be an end point to a pairing that was never meant to be, and bring his talents elsewhere this offseason.
— John Wilmes