As a general disclaimer, I’m not a Kevin Love hater. I think he’s an elite-level offensive player when given the usage and opportunities to create from the elbows. He can kill switches in the post and provides high volume plus shooting at the four spot with elite outlet passing and rebounding, an overall tremendously valuable package. However, he has clear defensive limitations in terms of foot speed, rim protection and versatility wise, all of which need to be weighed with his offensive abilities/role when assessing his overall output as a player. On Cleveland with less offensive usage, you don’t get the full arsenal of Love’s abilities, which makes the balancing with his defense skewed more negatively. To make a long story short, Love isn’t an optimal fit on this Cavs team with two high usage ball-handlers, the defensive fit with Kyrie (hard to hide two defensive minuses) and the fact LeBron is really a four.
Over the first half of the season sample size wise it ‘s pretty clear that Cleveland is a tier below both Golden State and San Antonio, rendering a trade that improves their odds against either plausible. LeBron just turned 31, and his game is starting to decline slightly. The window is now, and there are two giants standing in the way of a title for the foreseeable future, both of whom can really exploit Love’s defensive deficiencies.
I think the odds of Love being dealt are highly unlikely, as most trades involving stars are. But for entertainment purposes, the following two baseline trades are sensible enough to at least discuss as they pertain to arguably increasing chances of success against Golden State and San Antonio.
The Favorite: Boston Celtics
The Baseline Trade: Kevin Love and Jared Cunningham to Boston for Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko.
There are some variations to the trade, which could additionally include Mozgov, Boston’s top 7 protected pick from Dallas, Amir Johnson or moving Cunningham into Boston’s minimum player exception under some circumstances. Swapping just Bradley and Crowder for Love also falls slightly short of being trade legal for Boston (outgoing salary + $5,000,000), necessitating the inclusion of another contract like Jerebko.
The crux and driving force of the trade for Cleveland is acquiring two ready to contribute low usage floor spacers who are sizable plusses defensively on great contracts. Bradley is probably second only to KCP in defending Curry this year (KCP stays with Curry around screens a bit better), and Crowder with his shooting progression is the switch-capable 3&D wing Cleveland needs to check Kawhi-types allowing Bron to either rest some on that side or roam more where he thrives. Jerebko is a capable stretch big as well and a rare midlevel salary trade asset at draft time with his salary next year being non-guaranteed if waived on or by 7/3/2016.
In regards to Boston, I trust Stevens perhaps more than any other coach in the league to optimize Love. IT2 is Boston’s only consistent source of half court offensive creator, and there is a huge usage void to be filled there. An Amir/Love pairing would kill spacing wise on offense, and defensively it couldn’t be much worse than Amir/Sully or Olynyk.
This is about acquiring a star-level player long-term for Boston though, and Love has shown an ability to be that offensively if featured from the elbows more as the catalyst for an offense. This trade would leave Boston short on wing defenders, but there are realistic ancillary trades such as dealing a front-court 4/5 player for a replacement like PJ Tucker, especially with increased flexibility of two open roster spots if they waive Cunningham. In this scenario, Boston retains all of their premiere draft assets plus Smart, and if Boston can pair Love next to a rim protector in free agency (Whiteside?) long-term they have a foundation they can build on.
The ultimate question rests on whether this is enough for Cleveland. Bradley and Crowder are two of the more underrated players in the league and really fit in next to LeBron and Kyrie. They don’t have the name power, but in my opinion as a baseline package they afford Cleveland exactly what they need to contend with the Spurs and Dubs.
The Runner Up: Toronto Raptors
The Baseline Trade: Kevin Love for DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson
(*This trade is obviously conditional on Carroll’s health. Initially on a 6-8 week timetable for knee surgery, Carroll is reportedly progressing faster, which could put him back in action around the deadline. The Cavs will probably want to see him healthy prior to pulling the trigger on a deal, and they might not get that opportunity)
This move is easy enough on paper legality wise contractually and with Cleveland’s open roster spot. Cleveland could also demand a young piece like Delon Wright or a first rounder (Perhaps the Knicks 2016 pick), and swap Jared Cunningham again into Toronto’s minimum exception to make the trade allowable. Toronto might accept that, as they could create a $6,268,675 (+$100,000) trade exception aggregating Carroll and Wright for Love and trading Patterson in a separate but connected trade.
The appeal for Cleveland is acquiring Carroll, a sizable defensive improvement over Love and big wing capable of either playing the 4 or sliding LeBron there. The versatility Carroll provides switching against Golden State or providing defense on Leonard against San Antonio is incredibly valuable. Patterson is also an underrated stretch big who hedges well on defense guarding the pick and roll and plays his ass off most of the time. He’s not a good rebounder but Cleveland already has that with Thompson.
For Toronto, I don’t love the fit with Love as much as Boston with two high usage floor pounders in Lowry and DeRozan, and while Big V’s back line defense has improved, it’s not quite good enough to accommodate Love. But DeRozan is a free agent this offseason and if Toronto decides to move on from him there is a workable core with Lowy, Love and Big V if paired with two plus wing defenders who can shoot.
Honorable Mentions That Don’t Make Complete Sense
This falls on the dangerous line revolving around the inclusion of Stanley Johnson. Ilysova and KCP isn’t enough for Love in my opinion, even if Detroit includes a more loosely protected first, and the Pistons don’t really have any other appealing assets other then the aforementioned Johnson. KCP’s perimeter defense and ability to defend Curry is motivator for Cleveland. Ilyasova’s floor-spacing ability from the 4 spot and minimal guarantee of only $400,000 next season if waived on or by 7/1 is also easy to take on. But for now I don’t think Detroit would include Johnson, especially when they can pursue a Ryan Anderson type as a free agent without parting with Johnson or KCP and Love might not be optimized in Detroit’s heavy Jackson/Drummond P&R scheme.
The Magic have a plethora of intriguing young pieces from experienced players (Harris, Fournier, Oladipo) to players they need to open up playing time for (Gordon, Hezonja). There are several combinations here value wise that could appeal to Cleveland including Harris as the primary piece, but the overarching fact is a Love/Vucevic pairing is not viable defensively without another trade.
Gallinari is the target here, although his quiet high volume isolation game would take a hit with usage reduction in Cleveland. The possibilities here would be more realistic if Cleveland did not retain Thompson (therefore enabling Faried to be a viable returning piece, who is now redundant with TT as lob catchers offensively who can’t space the floor) or if Wilson Chandler was still healthy. Love and Faried are untenable fit-wise in Denver as well. But similar to Houston, there is some multi-team appeal.
The baseline package of Ariza and Beverley has 3&D appeal for Cleveland, but the Rockets have the least trade flexibility in the league being only $1,471,218 under the hard cap, making it almost a necessity to move either Brewer or Lawson in conjunction with the aforementioned two players to enable taking on a contract of Love’s size. There is some 3-team potential here however if the Rockets can find a taker for Brewer or Lawson, potentially attaching Terrence Jones as a carrot.
I’m going to trust Brian Windhorst here in his position that the Cavs aren’t interested in taking Markieff into that locker room. Without him, aggregating contracts and talent to trade for Love becomes much more difficult. Tucker especially would have value in Cleveland, but unless Knight is included in a 3-team setting or Phoenix includes Booker (highly unlikely) there isn’t a realistic package as the rosters are currently constituted.