There are few things in an adult’s life that are more satisfying than a pre-lunch beer on a Saturday morning. One of those things, however, would be cashing a 35/1 wager on Kevin Love to win Sixth Man of the Year.
Pregnant with promise, these sensations coalesced in early February at FanDuel’s newly opened sportsbook at Suquamish Clearwater Creek Resort near Seattle. I was at the tribal casino to place my first wager at a Washington state sportsbook, and that wager was on Love, who was (and still is) in the midst of one of the most surprising bounce-back seasons in NBA history.
It’s amazing how many narrative turns Love’s 14-year career has taken since he entered the league as a somewhat portly 20-year-old with the Timberwolves back in 2008. The UCLA product was known for his rebounding and floor-length outlet passes, delivered from the chest with pinpoint accuracy. He put up gaudy stats in his six years with Minnesota — leading the league with 15.2 rebounds per game during the 2010-2011 season — but couldn’t get the T’Wolves into the postseason. He was shipped to Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Wiggins and flotsam in the summer of 2014.
Playing in Cleveland meant playing third banana to LeBron James — newly signed for his second go-round with the Cavs — and Kyrie Irving. This trio was supposed to mimic the James-Wade-Bosh trio that fetched Miami two titles in LeBron’s four years there.
Love dutifully slimmed down and subjugated his game, but questions quickly emerged as to whether he really fit in, and the Cavs lost to the Warriors in the NBA Finals in 2015. But all was forgiven in June of 2016, when Love’s sterling crunch-time defense on Steph Curry helped the Cavs win the city of Cleveland its first pro sports title in 52 years.
Three becomes one, and it’s no fun
Yet losses in the finals to the Warriors — benefitting greatly from the lethal addition of Kevin Durant — in the subsequent two seasons resulted in the disbanding of Cleveland’s Big Three. Irving went to Boston, then to Brooklyn, while LeBron headed west to the City of Angels, where he’d soon bring home a fifth NBA title with his third team.
But Love stayed in Cleveland, signing a long-term extension that seemed to signal his readiness to be the face of the franchise.
A string of injuries to Love, the team’s decision to embark upon a full-scale rebuild, and some petulant behavior by the power forward made for a short honeymoon, however. Love’s tantrums on the court and his inability to stay on it led to trade and even buyout rumors — as recently as this past August.
Once it became apparent that he would open the season in a Cleveland uniform, Love’s prospects for playing time looked bleak, what with rookie Evan Mobley, free agent signee Lauri Markkanen, and the newly extended Jarrett Allen entrenched as the team’s supersized starting front line.
But as Cleveland.com has reported, Love’s close, longstanding relationship with head coach J.B. Bickerstaff led him to accept a bench role for the first time in his career, and he’s shined in the role. Despite playing a career-low 22 minutes per game, Love’s averaging a phenomenally efficient 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game.
Love a clear second choice at Caesars
This performance has put Love in the thick of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation, although that category has a prohibitive favorite in snarling Miami microwave Tyler Herro, who’s averaging 20 points per game off the bench and making ill-advised wardrobe choices for various magazine shoots off the court.
FanDuel has Herro at -3500 to win the award, with Love and Charlotte swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. next in line at 49/1. DraftKings and PointsBet have Herro at -10000, with Oubre and Love ranging from 40/1 (at DraftKings) to 50/1 (at PointsBet).
Caesars, however, has a little more faith in Love’s longshot candidacy, making him a clear second choice at 25/1 behind Herro at -4000. And with Allen out indefinitely with a broken finger, Love’s workload is certain to increase as the Cavs jostle for playoff positioning over the regular season’s remaining month.
“He’ll be the one to take up more minutes in Allen’s absence,” said Adam Pullen, Caesars’ assistant director of trading. “It’s possible that Love can overtake Tyler Herro, although he’s such an overwhelming favorite at this point that it will take a lot for Love to catch him. Obviously, injuries can happen at any time, though, and as with all awards, there can be voters who make a more sentimental choice when weighing who to vote for.
“Love has been a solid player in the NBA for a long time, so it’s possible that some might vote for him if his numbers improve drastically down the stretch. Voters always remember what they last saw, so it’s possible that Herro’s solid first half can be overcome by Love having a great second half. But, as I said, he’s got some big catching up to do.”