Cavaliers lose one star, lock up another, sure don’t break even

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

It’s nice to feel wanted.

Particularly if you’re the Cavaliers, a small-market team that has been shunned by most stars. LeBron James was the shining exception, but even he left again.

LeBron’s second exit didn’t hit as hard. He already made good by leading Cleveland to the city’s first championship in several decades. Experiencing his departure once already also softened the blow, as Cavs fans and personnel seemed more primed and accepting this time. It’s difficult to summon that much outrage twice.

Still, in the aftermath of LeBron signing with the Lakers, the Cavaliers were in a certain state of mind when they found another star who wanted to stay. That’s when they signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120,402,172 contract extension.

Admittedly, that’s hard to turn down. When a star picks a market like Cleveland, there’s a logic to the team just signing him then figuring out the rest later.

But it’s such a fleeting victory. If 30-year-old Love declines significantly during the next few seasons, as many players do at that age, fans will forget all about him embracing this team. That’s why the Cavs should have resisted indulging in that instant gratification.

Love’s extension could work. Out of LeBron’s shadow, maybe Love shows the all-around excellence he did with the Timberwolves. Maybe he leads the Cavaliers to the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, which would be quite the satisfying result the season after LeBron leaves. Maybe, even if Love is overpaid, Cleveland trades him for value like the Clippers did with Blake Griffin.

But it’s such a narrow path to success. After years of aging and injuries, I’m not convinced Love still possesses the athleticism necessary to play like did with in Minnesota. The supporting cast that was holding back LeBron doesn’t seem like a playoff outfit to me. And I don’t like the idea of holding out hope for a sucker/risk-taking team, especially with one potential Love suitor already having traded for Griffin.

Still – despite high enough disaster potential and low enough upside that I wouldn’t have given Love this extension – I get it. It could pay off long-term, and it definitely made the Cavaliers feel better right now.

They sure didn’t find a star small forward who wanted to join them, though. So, they took fliers on Sam Dekker and David Nwaba. The prices were cheap enough. The Clippers paid a portion of Dekker’s salary to trade him to Cleveland, and Nwaba signed for the minimum.

But Dekker and Nwaba are slight downgrades from the previous small forward.

No. 8 pick Collin Sexton might lead the Cavs into a new era. For now, he’s the big youthful exception on a team that’s relatively old for its limbo position.

The Cavaliers are probably at least a couple seasons from finding a direction, and this offseason didn’t help.

Rodney Hood accepting the qualifying offer is a step toward the Cavs squandering an asset. That’s not to say they should have paid him whatever it took to lock him up long term. He might not be worth what he demanded. But this is a negative outcome for Cleveland. Only one player – Spencer Hawes with the 76ers – has ever accepted his qualifying offer then re-signed with the same team the following year. And Hood can now veto any trade, making it more difficult to get value for him before his 2019 unrestricted free agency.

Even if Hood doesn’t want to stay, at least Love did. And in another feel-good story, Channing Frye returned on a minimum contract. The respected veteran seemingly could have had his pick of better teams, and he chose Cleveland.

But likely overpaying Love and attracting a nice guy can’t paper over the biggest development of the offseason.

LeBron is gone.

Offseason grade: F