The Kevin Love Conundrum
With his team down 3-2 and their victories coming in a game he didn’t play and one in which he was completely irrelevant, it seems increasingly likely that Kevin Love will be scapegoated for the Cavaliers (potential) loss in the Finals. Whenever your owner is a volatile as Dan Gilbert and you play with one of the handful of the greatest players of all-time and your team falls short of its goals, change will likely be brought on.
Enter Kevin Love.
The oft-maligned power forward has never truly appeared fully comfortable in Cleveland, averaging 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. While those numbers are certainly nothing to scoff at, they are a far cry from the whopping 23.5 and 13.7 he averaged during his four years as a full-time starter in Minnesota, which included winning Most Improved Player in 2011 and being selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice in 2012 and 2014. Unfortunately for Love, or fortunately, because he doesn’t seem to be enjoying his time in Cleveland all that much, his drop-off in production likely means that he will pay for the Cavs’ shortcomings and be shipped off to another team.
The problem becomes, how much value does Kevin Love have and who wants him? Love turns 28 in September, which typically means an athlete is in the peak of his career. We know what he is capable of: he was nothing short of spectacular in Minnesota, even though those teams were terrible. His offensive game is very polished, as he thrived when catching the ball in the post, both high and low, and has a sweet shooting stroke that is especially valuable for a big man. Anybody who joins a team featuring LeBron and another ball dominant guard in Kyrie Irving is likely to see a drop-off in production due to less touches, but it isn’t unfair to say that Love has been disappointing, especially defensively. His defense has been nothing short of bad, even horrible at times, as he isn’t quick nor long: making him a liability covering pick and rolls and meaning he provides little, if any, rim protection. (His listed height at 6’10’’ may be the most preposterous listing in the entire league). In fairness, he wasn’t exactly regarded as a defensive stalwart in Minnesota, so it isn’t as if his defense has fallen off from his peak years as a T’Wolve.
Perhaps the best comparison to look at for Love is Chris Bosh, who, like Love, was an all-star before joining up with LeBron and Dwyane Wade in Miami. During his five all star years in Toronto, Bosh averaged 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, before falling off to 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the 4 years with LeBron there. Since LeBron’s departure, his rebounding stayed the same and his scoring increased back to 20.0 per game. Bosh has also been battling a serious condition over the past two years, and it isn’t really clear what adverse effects that could be having on his game. However, realistically, it isn’t fair to attempt and project Bosh’s situation on Love, as they are different players and Love is younger than Bosh was after LeBron left.
With all of this in mind, it is fair to say that Kevin Love is a very talented basketball player. However, a team will not win with him as the best player and he has many shortcomings within his game, but, as Cleveland has exemplified, a team can excel with Love as one of its key contributors. (Lets also keep in mind Cleveland is facing the team with the best record of all-time in the Finals). A team looking to compete for championships with Love will likely have another perennial all-star and a center who can protect the rim. With that in mind, here are a few trades involving Kevin Love that could work out:
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love.
This trade was pitched by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks in his article last week and it certainly seems to make a lot of sense. The current construction of the Knicks is intriguing, yet clearly in need of remodeling. Kristaps Porzingis had a wonderful rookie season and seems to be scratching the surface of his potential, yet he is more than a decade younger than current Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. As Tjarks discussed, since Love is younger than Carmelo, he would fit Porzingis’ developmental track better than Carmelo would. Porzingis’ skill set is also complementary to Love’s, as he is incredibly long and blocks shots. Additionally, a Porzingis and Love frontcourt could enable the Knicks to play 5 shooters at one time without sacrificing rim protection or rebounding. New Coach Jeff Hornacek has a lot to consider with Phil Jackson, but Carmelo’s time as a top player in the league is getting shorter and the situation for the Knicks doesn’t appear to be an overnight fix.
On the other side, LeBron would be reunited with one of his good friends in Carmelo, and the thought of both of their scoring abilities on one team is a scary thought. While there is only one ball, LeBron and Wade were able to figure it out and win a pair of rings, and there is no reason that given the Carmelo and LeBron would not be able to do the same given the time to gel. Both players are getting older, and each would certainly take pressure off the other with regards to shouldering the load of carrying a team. The downside is that Kyrie Irving is also a ball dominant player and Carmelo’s (err, Lala’s) affinity for New York is well documented. However, there may not be another trade where Cleveland would get something as valuable as Carmelo in return for Love, so this may be the best deal possible.
Boston Celtics: Kevin Love for Jonas Jerebko & 2016 1st Rounder (3rd Pick)
Boston is armed with the 3rd, 16th, and 23rd picks in the 2016 draft and also possesses a variety of future picks. The team has a ton of high quality rotation guys that don’t scream star yet could certainly be starters or key bench players on contending teams. Considering LeBron and Kyrie already reside in Cleveland, there isn’t a pressing need to get a star in return. There are a variety of packages that the Celtics could present the Cavaliers with, various combinations of picks and players that may intrigue Cleveland. If Boston doesn’t fall in love with a player at the 3 spot, could they send the 3rd selection and a player like Jonas Jerebko for Kevin Love? (Celtics are liable for David Lee’s salary this season, but once that comes off the books, there wouldn’t be many hoops to jump through to make the trade work salary wise. Amir Johnson is merely acting as a placeholder in the picture.) Cleveland could certainly be interested in the 3rd pick; even though they won’t be getting one of the prized possessions of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, there are a variety of talented players such as Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield that could help them on the wing, as the Cavs’ wing position is currently being kept alive by an old Richard Jefferson. There are many combinations that could make this trade work, likely based on each teams’ wants, but this is certainly a possible landing spot for Kevin Love.
New Orleans Pelicans: Kevin Love for Omer Asik & 2016 Draft 1st Rounder (6th Pick)
Perhaps the most intriguing trade on the list, this would pair Kevin Love with Anthony Davis. If there is any player in the NBA who could begin to cover, if not almost entirely mask, Love’s defensive deficiencies, it would be Davis. He’s super long, moves like a guard, and generally wreaks havoc on that end of the floor. Love’s rebounding ability would also benefit the Pelicans as Davis is frequently switched on to guards, which could pull him away from the defensive glass. Offensively, Love would be a good fit around a Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday pick and roll, as his shooting would allow him to provide space around Davis.
The 6th pick is clearly a downgrade from the 3rd pick, and Omer Asik is virtually useless. Asik is essentially a cap dump, but it’s possible with the removal of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon off of the Pelicans' books that a player with a lesser salary could be sent to Cleveland. However, the Pelicans may not feel Love is worth the 6th pick unless the Cavs take on Asik’s contract. The 6th pick could still be a good haul for the Cavs, as they could possibly look to add Buddy Hield, who may be available, and if Hield entices Cleveland, this is certainly a trade worth considering.
Again, a lot of this depends on what other teams value Kevin Love at. Also, the Cavs may choose to stand put during the draft and free agency and then try to find a trade partner who may have struck out in free agency. Other teams to certainly keep in mind: Phoenix (crowded backcourt, Tyson Chandler as a frontcourt partner), Philadelphia (Bryan Colangelo was brought in to turn things around, and fast) and possibly Houston or whichever team Dwight Howard finds himself on (he is an ideal partner for Love, both on offense and defense). Of course, all of this becomes a moot point if the Cavaliers complete their comeback and win the NBA Finals. However, the way things have been going for Cleveland, the question doesn’t seem to be if Kevin Love will be playing for another team, but which other team he will be suiting up for.
Special thanks to ESPN's NBA Trade Machine for allowing me to explore trades, to basketballreference.com for the statistics from their website, and to hoopshype.com for their information on player salaries.