Cavs' Blatt on Love: 'Kevin's not a max player yet'

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It's not very surprising that the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled some with LeBron James injured. He's LeBron James, and any team's floor and ceiling would take a hit without a player of that caliber.

But the Cavs going 1-6 in the seven games James has missed to rest his knee and back, falling to 19-19 in the process, is surprising. The embarrassing stretch has Cleveland looking for answers, and even if James returns Tuesday, there may be a lasting impact from the stretch that's seen the Cavs lose by double-digits five times in their last eight games.

To wit, head coach David Blatt's relationship with players and management is likely rockier now than it was two weeks ago, despite somewhat tepid public votes of confidence. While he may not have meant it as it came off, Blatt made a somewhat controversial comment about Kevin Love following Sunday's loss.

"Well, Kev's not a max player yet, is he?" Blatt said when asked about the team struggling so badly with two maximum contract players in Love and Kyrie Irving.

The quote appears somewhat combative, because Love most certainly is a max contract player, in collective bargaining terms. Though he signed a four-year max instead of a five-year max, he's earning the highest salary he can, and will surely receive another max deal if he becomes a free agent this summer.

If Blatt was trying to motivate Love or make an evaluation of his play, his numbers without James are worth noting. It hasn't been enough, as it often wasn't with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Love has tried to step up.

Kevin Love First 31 Games Last 6 Games
PPG 16.7 24.0
RPG 10.1 12.3
APG 2.4 2.3
TS% 55.9% 58.3%

It's most likely Blatt was referring to Love not receiving the five-year maximum, but the quote will be taken different ways.

For his part, Love is staying optimistic despite the frustrating stretch:

It's very disappointing. We hoped that we would be able to go at least .500 with him out. We feel like we have enough talent. But we just had a tough go without him. Obviously he brings so much to the table, but we just need to find a way to play without him.

Fortunately, we believe he will be back at some point on this trip, but we just don't want to put a lot of pressure on him thinking that if he's out or if he gets in foul trouble that we can't win a basketball game. Because we have enough talent and enough guys that do enough things that we can win. So, it's just all a process in figuring it out, but right now we need to pick it up.

There's not a great deal of urgency at the moment given how low the bar for the playoffs is in the Eastern Conference, but the Cavs still need to find their groove. Getting James back this week and returning home for a long stretch next week should help the team establish solid footing with their new players.

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Cavs' Blatt on Love: 'Kevin's not a max player yet'
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