Kevin Love and Ben Simmons couldn’t be much different. Love, 33, is a fading star playing with a rebuilding organization in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Simmons is 25 years old; an All-NBA player thought to be on the rise until a disastrous turn in the playoffs last season with the top-seeded, championship-seeking Philadelphia 76ers. Simmons wants a trade. Love desires to remain where he is.
But Love is giving a master class on a topic Simmons might consider auditing. While requesting, dare we say even demanding, a trade, Simmons insists it’s not his obligation to help the 76ers pump up his value. While not wanting to move, Love is doing what he’s asked to do in Cleveland, coming off the bench behind a group of youngsters. He’s making himself more valuable with his willingness to accept a minor role.
Once upon a time, it was Kevin Love who was in huge demand
Kevin Love is entering his eighth season with the Cavaliers in a terrific illustration of how time does indeed fly. In August 2014, Cleveland sent consecutive No. 1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves while also shipping a first-round selection to the rebuilding 76ers to get Love.
The Cavs got LeBron James back that offseason. Love was considered a pivotal piece to turn Cleveland into a title contender instantly. There were some ups and downs along the way, but Love was a key piece for a team that went to four straight NBA Finals. His defense (yes, his defense) on a Stephen Curry drive late in Game 7 is an often-overlooked play as the Cavaliers overcame a 3–1 series deficit to down the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016.
When James left for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, things went south for Cleveland in a hurry. The Cavs haven’t been within satellite range of a playoff berth since. As for Love, he’s appeared in just 103 of a possible 229 games in the last three seasons. He missed 60 games in 2018–19 and another 47 last year.
He’s had ample opportunity to complain or ask out. Unlike Ben Simmons, Love has yet to do so.
Kevin Love offers a giant performance in a significant victory for Cleveland
The Cavaliers are 2–2 on the young season, following up double-digit losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets with victories over the Atlanta Hawks and a shocker on Oct. 25 over the Nuggets in Denver. While it’s likely too early to start selling playoff tickets, the Cavs are showing some fight.
Against the Nuggets, Kevin Love had a terrific performance off the bench. In just 21 minutes, Love dropped in 22 points with six rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting. His 3-point touch has been slow to return; Love is only 2-of-12 from deep. But in Denver, Love got himself free with brilliant cuts and by finding gaps in the defense into which he could settle.
Love is a five-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA selection, and has a ring. Playing behind young Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen and rookie Evan Mobley probably wasn’t where he thought he’d be in his 14th season.
It’s an adjustment for Love. Since his second season, he’s come off the bench just five times. Four of those have been since opening night. Love is showing he still has some value as a reserve. Does that mean the Cavaliers will be able to trade him?
That’s still not likely. The usual suspects among title contenders are pressed against the luxury tax or already well over the threshold. The likelihood of a team having the room, much less the motivation, to take on what’s left of Love’s contract is at best slim. But if he shows he can help, the Cavaliers might have the leverage to talk buyout.
Love’s performance and professionalism are creating that leverage. It’s a lesson Ben Simmons would do well to heed.
There is some thawing in the standoff between Ben Simmons and the 76ers
The 76ers and Ben Simmons have made progress in recent days. Not Simmons getting the trade he said he wanted, mind you, but still progress. The club is no longer fining Simmons for missed time, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Last week, he spoke to team officials and medical personnel about his mental health. That changed his status from a holdout to a medical absence.
Simmons also talked to his teammates, who have shown nothing but support for him publicly. It’s too soon to know if that means a reconciliation is coming in Philadelphia. But at least the mortars have stopped falling, which is always a plus.
It’s common knowledge at this point; Simmons was awful in the postseason last year. The 76ers were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and crashed out of the playoffs in the second round. Much of the blame fell on Simmons, who wasn’t happy about it.
But he didn’t handle the aftermath well. Cutting off communication with the team painted Simmons as petulant. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey didn’t cover himself in glory, either. Asking for the moon, stars, and perhaps a spare sun in return for a brooding star was never going to end well for him.
But it’s ultimately going to be Simmons’ responsibility to resolve his situation. If Simmons can show the rest of the NBA how valuable he can be, maybe he will get his ticket out of Philadelphia. At the very least, he’d provide better optics for his situation. Maybe Ben Simmons should check out some video of Kevin Love for some tips.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.