The Cavaliers made a huge bet on Kevin Love, but even if that bet pans out, it will be difficult for them to actually put pieces around him.
Whenever a huge contract is signed like Kevin Love’s extension, the team that signs it immediately has to pivot all decision-making to how it’s going to build around that contract. The Cleveland Cavaliers now have to focus all of their decisions around Love, and they may find it difficult to do that.
First, the extension doesn’t kick in until the 2019-20 season, so there’s no immediate impact for this year. Love is still on the roster, and the Cavs are only able to give a player the full mid-level exception at the most, and they are the only team able to do so at this point.
In fact, if they’re bidding on any one player, Sacramento is the only team that can offer more, and it’s highly possible that the Kings intend to complete their offseason by simply waiving Deyonta Davis, which will leave them with 15 players on guaranteed contracts. As a result, they wouldn’t use the remaining $11 million in cap space that they have access to, even with the tiny penalty missing the salary floor brings. But this extension didn’t change that part of the Cavaliers’ front office strategy.
For the 2019-20 season, the Cavaliers are already committed to salaries that put them over the projected $109 million salary cap. They do have a large amount of non-guaranteed salary on the roster between George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver and Ante Zizic, and they probably won’t have a first-round pick next year, as that’s owed to the Hawks if this team is good enough.
That will give them enough salary cap room to offer a maximum salary to any player with less than seven years experience. The only problem is, they’re going to have to convince that player to join a roster with only five players — Love, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson — under contract, and one that has no clear path to actually add additional talent. And all of this assumes that Rodney Hood or a potential mid-level exception in this 2018 offseason doesn’t sign a multi-year deal that further eats into that cap space. Not to mention, it involves eating a lot of dead salary and losing Larry Nance Jr. for nothing.
Then, in 2020-21, the Cavs have almost everyone off the books. The only players guaranteed to be on the roster barring a trade are Love and Sexton. While it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers would commit to so hard a reset, they could have complete flexibility to build a super team around those two. Except that’s when the Love extension hits its largest value, at $31.3 million. Not only that, but Love will turn 32 that year. Trying to sell free agents on a super team with a 32-year-old second tier star (Who is still under contract for two more years) and a 21-year-old still establishing his footing in the league will range from incredibly difficult to outright impossible.
So ultimately, there’s not a clear path to building next to this extension. By the time the Cavaliers are actually set up to make large moves in free agency — the kind of moves that this roster would need in order to be a consistent playoff team, even in a weakened East — Love will be 32, and this extension will be at its worst value.
This extension has to be viewed as a prayer that Kevin Love, who will have his age 30 season next year, returns to past form, because it’s going to make it incredibly difficult for the Cavs to build through free agency in the meantime.