Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Tuesday, the team announced, and he will miss approximately six weeks. This means he won’t play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, obviously, and will return in late March.
Five things to know:
1. It’s not a ship-sinker. Love has been phenomenal this season. He has the best on-off net rating of any player on the Cavaliers, and has rediscovered his value as both a rebounding big man and as a floor spacer. This was, honestly, the best season of his NBA career. It’s a blow to the Cavs for sure, but it’s nothing that’s going to up-end them. They still have LeBron James. They still have Kyrie Irving. They still have good role players. Cleveland’s not going to go belly-up because of this injury. Does it make the race for the No. 1 seed with Boston slightly more interesting? Absolutely. Does it mean the Cavs are screwed? Absolutely not.
Sportsline.com’s prediction model forecasts the Cavaliers to still win 54 games, down from 55 with Love. It narrows the gap between them and the Celtics, but Cleveland is still projected to finish with the No. 1 seed.
2. End all trade talks involving Kevin Love. The Cavs weren’t going to trade him. They signaled that in the strongest terms to local media over the past few weeks. But with Love having knee surgery, no team is going to gamble on him anyway. So you can kiss the idea of Carmelo Anthony joining the Cavaliers goodbye, if you were still holding onto that silly idea for some reason. That’s not happening.
3. It makes a trade more likely, though. Cleveland may not be able to wait through the deadline to see what veterans become available to add. They may have to deal something, whether it’s Iman Shumpert, DeAndre Liggins, or another piece, to add another big. They can’t get through the rest of the season with what they’ve got now -- they just don’t have the minutes. They can’t afford to play Channing Frye 35 minutes per night and he’s not a great fit next to Tristan Thompson.
This gets especially tricky when you talk about that secondary playmaker they wanted so much. They’re not going to pull off a deal to get another rim protector or perfunctory power forward along with a backup point guard without dealing a major asset, and they can’t deal any of their major assets unless they get really crazy with Tristan Thompson. And given Thompson’s value in a matchup vs. Golden State and his relationship with LeBron James, that doesn’t seem likely. So the Cavs are in a bit of a sticky wicket right now.
4. Surgery was the right move. Love may not have needed the surgery, but doing it is the right move. It cuts off trade talk, but that’s an ancillary benefit. What it does is make sure he’s right for the playoffs. Look, at full strength, with J.R. Smith and Kevin Love along with James, Irving, and Thompson, they’re going to rip through the East. Those five players are going to win the Eastern Conference. Making sure Love was able to give them his best self was absolutely the way to go, and it helps him down the line. How the Cavs play in March doesn’t matter. How the Cavs play in May matters a great deal.
5. LeBron James’ minutes are the elephant in the room. James is playing north of 37 minutes per game this season. With Love out, he’s going to spend more time at power forward. He’ll have to carry them more. They can’t get by for stretches without him. This is a big deal. James, at age 31, is going to be logging big minutes down the stretch of the season before we even get to the playoffs -- and that’s going to create wear and tear. This is why the Cavaliers have to look at some additions, whoever they are. And at some point, they may have to just capitulate the 1-seed all together. They don’t need home-court, they need a healthy LeBron. Everything else is secondary, and Love’s injury could serve to compromise that if they don’t find ways to manage it in his absence.