Report: Cavaliers have “legitimate fear” Kevin Love leaves as free agent. Should they really?

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Kevin Love has denied he is leaving. Repeatedly.

Yet whether driven by the hopes of and dreams of other franchises and front offices, or whether Kevin Love’s agent and people are sending out hints, the “Love is going to leave the Cavaliers this summer” rumors will not die.

The latest one comes once again from Adrain Wojnarowski, speaking on the Dan Patrick Show.

“I think all year long he has looked longingly at free agency and the possibility of what else is out there. What the Cavaliers had really hoped for is that if he had played in the postseason, and had success, and had some big moments, and all of a sudden people start to look at Kevin Love differently — “he had a great Game 6 against the Bulls and got us to the conference finals” — and people started to see him as a winning player and a big moment guy, he hasn’t had those opportunities in the past, maybe he’d feel differently about that role he had there. But none of that is going to happen now, he’s out, and he won’t experience any of that. And the only big decision he’s going to be making is based on a regular season where he hasn’t embraced loved that role like Chris Bosh….

“He’s going to look at free agency, I think he’s going to look at other teams. He can always opt in and go into free agency next summer where there’s even a bigger pool of money. But there’s a legitimate fear within the Cavs that he will just walk.”

Here are my thoughts:

• I think Love will stay, at least for one more season. The logic goes that if Love leaves it’s because he doesn’t like the sacrifices he had to make to his game, and he wants to be in the spotlight. He wants to be the focal point of a franchise not the third option. The rumor has been if he leaves he winds up a Laker. If Love leaves the contender Cavs for the Lakers — a team that would be lucky to make the playoffs even with him in the West — the national narrative will be about Love not caring about winning, about him being selfish, and about how he wasn’t tough enough to stay with a contender. Fair or not, that’s how it will be spun everywhere outside Los Angeles. If Love gives it a couple seasons and then leaves, it’s much easier for him to say “I tried but this just wasn’t a fit.”

• Love may stay by opting in for the final year of his deal (he probably could survive on $16.7 million). Or if he opts out he signs a deal where he has a player option in one or two more years. He will reassess then. Love may well stay a Cavalier beyond that time, but he is going to get paid max money under the new television deal cap, and he’d be a fool not to try and get that extra cash.

• Wojnarowski is as connected as any NBA reporter out there, and if he says something, you have to give it some credence. That said, nobody leaks anything this time of year (to Wojnarowski or anyone else) without a motive. And it’s not hard to imagine motives here that may not always be tied to what Love is thinking.

• Cavaliers management (and fans) should be fearful he leaves — it would be very difficult to replace him of anyone near the same quality. Yes, I know LaMarcus Aldridge’s name comes up, but signing an outright free agent to a max deal while keeping LeBron paid (he can opt out), keeping J.R. Smith, keeping Timofey Mozgov, and re-signing restricted free agent Tristan Thompson (and the list of people to pay is longer) is very financially tricky. Unless you can sell Love on a sign-and-trade to Portland (and good luck with that).

• Late in the season and into the playoffs, Love started to find more of a comfort zone with the Cavaliers. He and LeBron are never going to be tight like LeBron and Wade were, but LeBron did stick up for him. He may not be as eager to bolt as people in other markets want to believe.

• Cavaliers fans gave him a standing ovation in Game 2 when he was shown on the big screen during a timeout. That’s from the Joni Mitchel “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” file.

This is going to be a very interesting summer in Cleveland no matter what Love decides.