In defense of J.B. Bickerstaff: Why buying out Kevin Love made sense for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Did the Cleveland Cavaliers make the right call letting Kevin Love? J.B. Bickerstaff may have been right to bench him.

Kevin Love is a franchise legend and there aren’t many people happy to see him go, me included. Love was a great player for the franchise. One of, if not the best pure rebounder in team history, and one of the better three-point shooters the team has ever had. Yet, J.B. Bickerstaff believed that Love’s play was a problem and benched him.

This upset Love enough to ask for a buyout, which Koby Altman and the Cavaliers granted. Now, Love is heading to Miami to play with Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, and he may make them a legitimate contender if he can return to his 2021-2022 form.

If he does, the fanbase will be enraged. After all, the Cavs need rebounding and scoring off the bench, something Love did very well. So if he does return to form, many will want to know why Bickerstaff gave up on him. But was Bickerstaff right to do so?

Kevin Love may have been a major issue in how J.B. Bickerstaff wants to run his team

Hot take incoming, I apologize in advance if this opinion ruins you and your children’s life but it has to be said. Kevin Love was not a good defensive player. There, I said it. Controversial opinion alert. Sarcasm aside, Love played defense at times like he was auditioning for a turnstile in a New York subway, and social media let him know it every night all most.

His ratings aren’t bad, RAPTOR has him at a +0.6, and his defensive box plus-minus is also at a 0.6. So, not bad, but offensively he was putting up a -0.6 RAPTOR and +0.8 BPM. Dean Wade has a defensive RAPTOR of a +2.2 and a DBPM of a +2.4.

His Defensive RAPTOR and DPBM are first and second on the team respectively. Wade is not going to take reps away from Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen, who are better offensive players than Wade, so in order to get Wade in the lineup more, they have to find those minutes somewhere.

Enter Love.

Love’s defense was fine during the 2022-2023 season, all things considered. Wade has been excellent, and dare I say he’s a potential candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year. With the need to fit Wade, the returning Ricky Rubio, and the better wing defenders Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert into the rotation, it makes sense that Love would fall out of favor. While he had the fourth-highest offensive box plus-minus, he was 10th defensively.

Now, I don’t agree with the decision to let Love go or to bench in the first place, but Bickerstaff is a defensive-minded coach and Love just wasn’t making the impact he needed to.

Last year, he can overlook his defensive limitations (17th for the year in DBPM), because he was literally the highest-rated offensive player on the team (1st in OBPM). He’s no longer that player offensively, at least that we saw. So if he’s not producing offensively like he needed to, the Cleveland Cavaliers made the right call to move on from him. Especially if the focus is defense-first.

Even if I don’t agree with the decision.