SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kevin Love was the last link to Cleveland’s memorable 2016 championship. He’ll chase another title elsewhere.
The five-time All-Star and the Cavs completed a buyout of his contract Saturday, freeing the forward to sign with another team. Love is strongly considering a move to the Miami Heat, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Love, who was with Cleveland since 2014, must still clear waivers before he can sign with a new team.
Love’s departure ends his tenure with the Cavs that came during the team’s most successful run.
“Kevin represented the organization and the city of Cleveland with the utmost charm and professionalism during his nine seasons in Northeast Ohio,” Cavs president of basketball of operations Koby Altman said. “He also embodied everything a franchise would want in a player, and the admiration and gratitude we have for him will ultimately land his jersey in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“We thank Kevin for his impact and wish him nothing but the best, knowing that he has solidified his place in the hearts of Cavaliers fans and this organization forever.”
Other teams are expected to bid for Love, who is making $31.3 million this season, before he finalizes a decision, one of the people told the AP.
“Hopefully he decides to bring his shooting down to 305 so we can end the season on a very high note,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said, referencing the Miami area code.
Unhappy that he had been dropped from the Cavs’ rotation this season, the 34-year-old formally requested a buyout earlier this week. Love sat out Cleveland’s past 12 games before the All-Star break and there was little indication his playing time would increase anytime soon.
Love believes he can still play at a high level, and his postseason experience makes him attractive to any contenders.
“He knows how to win,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said. “He’s been in those battles.”
Love’s time Cavs had its ups and downs, but he’ll be remembered for his role in helping Cleveland overcome a 3-1 deficit to stun the Golden State Warriors in the Finals seven years ago to end the city’s 52-year title drought.
Love figured to have a prominent role this season for the Cavs, but he was slowed by a thumb injury that affected his shot. He’s averaging career-lows of 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 20 minutes per game.
The Cavs’ recent acquisition of forward and sharpshooter Danny Green pushed Love even further down Cleveland’s bench.
But over parts of 15 NBA seasons with Cleveland and Minnesota, Love has averaged 17.2 points and 10.5 rebounds. He’s also a 37% career shooter from 3-point range, and helped USA Basketball win both Olympic and FIBA World Cup gold medals.
Miami created the flexibility to absorb at least one player in a buyout situation by trading away Dewayne Dedmon to San Antonio earlier this month in exchange for cash considerations. That essentially opened a roster spot for at least one move.
Cleveland, which entered the break fourth in the Eastern Conference at 38-23, may not want to see Love end up with the Heat, a potential playoff opponent. Miami is seventh in the East at 32-27, a half-game behind No. 6 New York.
Love joined the Cavs after six seasons with the Timberwolves, who traded him to the Cavs for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
Accustomed to being the only star in Minnesota, Love struggled to fit in with the Cavs while playing alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. However, over time he began to blend in as Cleveland won four consecutive conference titles after James returned as a free agent.
When James left again, the Cavs locked Love up by signing him to a four-year, $120 million extension that didn’t sit well with some Cleveland fans. Love battled injuries while the Cavs won just 60 games over a three-year span.
However, his willingness to accept a reserve role was key in the team’s turnaround last season, when the Cavs went 44-38 and made the play-in tournament. Also, Love’s public openness about his struggles with mental health issues enhanced his popularity.