BY SAM AMICO
CLEVELAND — When it comes to NBA free agency, it doesn’t get much better than this.
That’s what Cavaliers fans were likely saying Wednesday, when Kevin Love agreed to a maximum contract.
How’s that for the first day of free-agent negotiations? How’s that for sticking it in the face of everyone who insisted Love was splitting for LA or Boston or Cedar Rapids, Iowa?
Now, I’m not very good with numbers and I’m even worse with money.
So I’m not about to explain how much the Cavs spent in free agency, or where they stand in terms of the salary cap, or what they’ll have to fork over in luxury tax.
Frankly, who cares? All I know is the Cavs were a smash hit Wednesday.
Everyone wanted to make a big deal about Love — about how he was supposedly miserable playing alongside LeBron James, about how Love longed to play on the West Coast, blah blah blah.
It wasn’t just the dreaded “national media,” either. A lot of local reporters and fans were predicting a quick and sudden departure for Love.
This despite the fact Love indicated he planned to stay, and on at least two occasions. This despite the Cavs’ 33-3 record to close the season when Love, James and Kyrie Irving were all healthy. And this despite the fact the Cavs could pay Love more than anyone else.
Clearly, way too many people didn’t think this through. You don’t have to be an accountant to see how good Love has it in Cleveland. Forget Hollywood. Any team with LeBron makes you an instant celebrity, and it doesn’t matter if that team plays its home games in Guam.
The bottom line on Love is no one could pay him more or offer him a better chance to win than the Cavs. So it’s no surprise his decision came swifter than you could write: “Love has a meeting scheduled with the Lakers later in the week.”
Dollars and sense
Of course, this isn’t just about Love.
It’s about Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin and their commitment to dreaming big.
Money talks, as they say, and Gilbert spoke loudly on Wednesday. He doesn’t need to tweet about it, he doesn’t need to make himself available to the media. He said everything he needed to say simply by opening his wallet.
Gilbert wants to win a championship. End of discussion. Does anyone doubt that now? Did anyone really doubt that ever?
Granted, the Cavs still have some work to do, starting with that LeBron fellow. But the entire universe knows he merely opted out of his contract to get a modest (for him) pay raise. Much like Love and the others, LeBron ain’t going anywhere.
Along with signing James, Griffin still has to find some replacement parts for the bit players who appear to be on the way out. He still hopes to trade the large (and not guaranteed) contract belonging to Brendan Haywood, a great guy who has become the ultimate bargaining chip.
And who knows what will become of J.R. Smith — who perhaps not-so-wisely opted out of a contract that reportedly was to pay him about $6.4 million next season. Smith had a nice year, but it’s hard to envision anyone throwing that chunk of change his way.
No matter, the Cavs took the first step, a major step, in the process of keeping their championship-contending club a championship-contending club yet again. Only next season, it will no longer be the Cavs’ first as a program.
Truth is, the first day of free agency was another punch to the gut of the haters and the doubters and everyone who insisted this team was doomed for a drama-filled summer.
So forget the talk of salaries and hefty taxes. The only number that matters after the first day of free agency? The Cavs are a resounding 1-0.