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Why Love won't sign new deal yet

9/25/2014 - NBA

CLEVELAND -- In one of those classic feel-good news conferences this week, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin welcomed new pickup Kevin Love by saying this was a "long-term relationship." Moments later, Love, speaking publicly for the first time in months, said he was "committed to this team, committed long-term."

Lots of smiles and pictures followed. But if everyone is committed long-term, why is Love not signing a contract extension with the Cavs right now?

Like most things in this wing of the NBA, it's complicated. The bottom line, though, is this: The Cavs feel very strongly that they will keep Love past this season, but there is no plan for him to sign a new deal to guarantee it.

In July, as the Cavs and Wolves moved to the verge of a deal, the Cavs received permission to meet with Love, and owner Dan Gilbert did so. At that meeting, the parties said words (that they will not discuss at the moment) that gave the Cavs some comfort to finalize what became the biggest trade in franchise history.

Were there handshakes and winks? Maybe. But no one will discuss that because it's technically against the rules to strike such a deal, although these sorts of things happen rather frequently in the league. Either way, Love has no legal obligation past this season, and the Cavs have no protection. This is a one-year situation, and that likely will not change in the short term.

So, yes, the Cavs are accepting what normally would be an unsavory amount of risk. Because of the way his current contract is structured, Love is not.

Here is why.

The raw dollars are the easiest part of this situation to digest. By waiting until next summer to do a new contract, Love can make $2 million more per season than if he were to do it now. In total, Love can guarantee himself an additional $70 million by waiting.

That's why not signing with the Cavs now is in the no-brainer zone, regardless of how positive the feelings are at the moment.

I'm about to present a bunch of numbers, and it's easy to get confused. Before diving in, just know that no agent would advise Love to sign now. And Love has one of the best agents working in the game, Jeff Schwartz. There's really not much of a discussion.

Let's attempt to explain this with some depth. If Love wanted to sign with the Cavs today, it would have to be an extension of his current contract. The word "extension" is important here because of the way the NBA rules are set up on extensions versus new contracts.

In 2012, Love signed a four-year, $61 million deal with the Wolves where the last season, the 2016-17 season, was a player option. Love will make $15.7 million this season, and his option for next season is $16.7 million.

The Cavs would be quite happy to sign Love to an "extension" to start with the 2016-17 season because he'd have to pick up that player option. An extension, however, could be for just two additional years and $37.3 million through the 2017-18 season under league rules. Doing it this way over the next four seasons, Love would be assured to earn $70 million.

If Love waits until next summer and starts a new contract with the Cavs, he could earn an estimated $76 million over the next four years. If he wanted the maximum years, he could actually sign for up to five years and an estimated $107 million if he wanted to next year.

Summing it up, if Love signed today, he'd assure himself $37 million more guaranteed. If he waits until next summer, he can assure himself $107 million more guaranteed.

That's a lot of numbers and a lot of money, but no matter all the dizzying rules, the natural question to ask is the old adage about a bird in the hand being better than two in the bush. Doesn't Love risk injury, and doesn't turning down a contract open the risk Love could get hurt? Not totally.

That player option is like an insurance policy for Love. As Wolves owner Glen Taylor pointed out in a missive aimed at his former star on Minneapolis radio on Tuesday, Love indeed has had injury issues in his career. In the 2012-13 season, he played in only 18 games because he broke his hand twice. If something happens in 2014-15 that threatens his long-term value, he can just pick up the option and push free agency back to 2016.

That is the heart of the matter, the money. It's the biggest factor, but not the only one that would contribute to Love's not jumping in the deep end with the Cavs just yet.

Love is in Cleveland now is because LeBron James is there. The Cavs were interested in trading for Love around the draft in June, but Love was not willing to say then what he said this week, which is he's committed long-term even if just in spirit at the moment. But right after James signed on, he called Love, and the mood changed in an instant. Within minutes of James announcing his signing with the Cavs, Love said "I'm in."

James, however, is signed for only one season with the Cavs. Although perhaps no player in recent memory has committed himself more to a team and a community than James did with his announcement, the contract he signed is just for one year with a player option, just like Love has left on his deal.

Love became enamored of playing with James during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and the two formed a bond. After six years of never playing with another All-Star in Minnesota and never making the playoffs, Love is excited about joining up with a four-time MVP who is in his prime. If there is something that Love is truly committed to, it's playing alongside James for the foreseeable future. 

Talking about five-year contracts or multi-year extensions with Love, who is just 25 years old, may be moot. Living in a new world where he is a teammate with James, Love is thinking that he wants to ensure that window he worked so hard to open stays that way for as long as possible.

Or, as Love said Tuesday: "Everything in my entire life for the last six years had led me up to this opportunity."

So Love may well follow James' lead. If James decides to sign long-term next summer when he can be a free agent, Love could, too. If James signs another one-year deal with an option to try to take advantage of an expected salary-cap jump in 2016, Love may do that, as well.

His eyes are for James and, to a lesser extent, new teammate Kyrie Irving more than they are for Cleveland and its fans, coaches and Great Lake.

That puts Love in the same boat as the entire Cavs franchise. All will lean on James and follow his lead. The Cavs trust James -- they have to -- so they gave him a one-year deal. They will do the same with Love, even if it does leave open the door for troubles down the road if this lovely poem doesn't end well.

Let the adventure begin.