It’s pretty easy for me to sit here at my desk overlooking Wine Country in Northern California and tell another person that his career choice shouldn’t be about money. It’s that type of outside-the-bubble mentality that has started to make the media a thorn in the side of athletes around the United States.
Though, that’s what I plan on doing here. By indicating that Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love shouldn’t base his free agency decision on money, I fully understand money is pretty much the root of everything in a capitalist economy. Take care of your own bottom line, and everything else will work out.
For Love, his bottom line is already pretty much worked out. If the injured Cavaliers forward opts out of his $16.7 million player option for next season, he will be in line for a four-year, $86 million contract with another team. If he decides to opt in, Love will earn that $16.7 million, and barring a catastrophic injury, could earn a payday upwards of $153 million over five seasons. That number is based on expected salary cap increases over the years as well as nearly eight percent annual increase on the original deal.
As Business Insider’s Scott Davis points out, that’s a difference of about $67 million in cold-hard cash.
Anyone would be dumb to turn that money down, right?
Report: Cavaliers have “legitimate fear” Kevin Love leaves as free agent. Should they really be? http://t.co/Ln4OomBHLG
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) May 7, 2015
Love’s situation is unique in that he agreed to a trade to the Cavaliers from a downtrodden Minnesota Timberwolves organization. He did so with the belief that he’d mesh well with Ohio’s native son, Lebron James.
As we know, and prior to Love’s season-ending injury in the playoffs, that didn’t happen. Rumors of a rift between James and Love grew as the season progressed.
Back in February, James sent out a tweet that seemed to throw some shade Love’s way:
Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2015
Then, in March, reports surfaced that James wasn’t happy with the team’s big man for not fitting in (via NY Daily News).
Several sources close to the situation in Cleveland claim that James has tried to make it work but that he’s frustrated by Love’s inability, and in some ways unwillingness, to get with the program.
There haven’t been many reports of James not working well with teammates in the past. Maybe that’s just a product of everything being peachy when a team is winning—and James has done a lot of winning in his career.
That very same report from Frank Isola of the NY Daily News hinted that Love, not James, could be the issue here.
Love is viewed by some as an aloof player who alienated teammates in Minnesota and is now doing the same in Cleveland.
None of this should be used as a way to blame Love for perceived issues with the leader of the Cavaliers squad, and the entire Cleveland sports scene for that matter. Instead, it could simply be a case of two personalities not meshing well. You can’t tell me there hasn’t been that one co-worker that rubbed you the wrong way. It happens in every profession.
This is also not to say that Love’s relationship with James isn’t salvageable or has reached the point of no return. Most of the reports mentioned above are innuendo from individuals outside of the bubble in Cleveland. That said, where there is smoke, there’s usually fire.
James isn’t just the toast of Cleveland. He is Cleveland. For a city that has been downtrodden for so long as it relates to its sports teams, James is almost looked to as the second coming. He’s not just a basketball player. He’s part of the city’s identity.
Continued rifts between James and Love could turn the team’s fan base against the latter, and no amount of money is worth that headache.
Let’s say the reports of a rift between James and Love are overblown, which is extremely likely in the social media age. Does that preclude Love from moving on? Even if the two become best friends, the Cavaliers will always be James’ team. That’s not even in question.
Of those squads that are potentially looking to add an All-Star big, Love could easily have his pick of the litter. The Los Angeles Lakers have no real identity right now, especially with an aging Kobe Bryant continuing to deal with injuries. Love could very well become the face of that franchise in the nation’s second-largest media market—opening up a wide array of sponsorship possibilities. At the very least, more than he had in Minnesota and more than he has in Cleveland as the team’s third “star.”
We look at these millions of dollars NBA players make and draw conclusions that their decisions are mainly monetary. While that is likely the case in most situations, we really need to look at Love’s situation through a micro lens. Is remaining in Cleveland for one more season to earn a bigger paycheck worth what might be a personal struggle for Love? That’s the decision he’s going to have to make. It’s also a decision that’s far from a foregone conclusion.
Photo: USA Today Sports