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Cavaliers intend to keep Love if James leaves

By JOE VARDON • Jul 1, 2018 at 9:30 AM

CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers do not intend to trade Kevin Love if they lose LeBron James in free agency this summer, and would rather try to make the playoffs than immediately begin rebuilding without their iconic star.

Sources told cleveland.com this week that the Cavs would not trade Love, a five-time All-Star who is owed about $50 million over the next two seasons, if James leaves as a free agent. Sources say James is strongly considering joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

"There is no reason to go backwards," one source said, describing the Cavs' situation.

ESPN reported earlier this month that the team had interest in keeping Love, regardless of what happens with James. The Cavs have tried to trade him multiple times since they acquired him in 2014.

Free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday morning, when teams can begin negotiating with players. The Cavs, who for now are way over the NBA's projected $101 million salary cap and have only a few roster spots to fill, are not expected to make an early splash outside of whatever happens with James.

Cleveland has a $5.3 million exception to the salary cap, and can go over the cap to re-sign restricted free agent Rodney Hood. The team is also interested in Jeff Green coming back. Green played on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum last season.

If James walks in free agency — his agent told the Cavs Friday he would not exercise a $35.6 million option on his contract for next season — Cleveland's cap number drops and the team could potentially follow with significant roster moves.

The Cavs could trade Kyle Korver, who is 37 and has a favorable contract ($7.6 million next season; a small portion of his $7.5 million salary for 2019-20 guaranteed). They could potentially waive George Hill and stretch his $19 million salary over the next several seasons, though he could also serve as a veteran mentor/backup/partner to rookie Collin Sexton.

Love, who averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in an All-Star campaign last season, could be the focal point on offense for a team that as of now feels it has no real incentive to start a rebuild right away.

Without any additional roster moves, losing James via free agency would drop the team below the league's $123 million luxury tax line, which would save owner Dan Gilbert from paying further tax penalties and give the Cavs more flexibility in acquiring players.

Gilbert could pay $60.6 million taxes for the 2017-18 season and will have paid more in taxes over the last four seasons than the rest of the league combined.

Cleveland's No. 1 draft pick in 2019 belongs to the Atlanta Hawks unless the Cavs finish in the bottom 10 next season, which isn't guaranteed even if Love is traded. The odds of landing a top pick are even smaller.

Love, meanwhile, is owed $24.1 million next year. He has a $25.6 million option for the following year; the Cavs could trade him next summer if he picks up the option, or otherwise be clear of his salary in 2019-20 if he doesn't pick up his option.

In the meantime, without James or Love on the books, and the likelihood of being free from paying Hill, Korver, or JR Smith in 2019, the Cavs could have significant salary space to start to retool. They also have their No. 1 pick in 2020.

If James does return to the Cavs, or signals to them that he wants to, no one on the roster would be untouchable from a trade perspective.

Cleveland wants to develop its young talent — including rookie point guard Collin Sexton — but wouldn't pass up the right opportunity to add an established veteran with James to improve their chances of reaching another Finals, sources indicated.

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