December 10, 2019, 12:16 pm
In one of the least surprising developments one could imagine, the Cavaliers have reportedly begun listening to trade offers for Kevin Love. In a major misstep after the departure of LeBron James, the Cavs hastily inked Love to a massive four-year deal with the intention of competing with the big man as their centerpiece. Now, with three years and $90 million left after this year, the Cavs are looking to get out of the Love business.
To be clear, there’s still plenty to like about Love as a player, even with his defensive misgivings. As the third option, ideally, on a contending team – the sort to which he’d like to be traded to, reportedly – you can win with Love as an elite stretch four and high-level rebounder. That said, he is basically a turnstile on defense and comes with plenty of injury risk, and this is not a seamless mid-season transition should he end up getting dealt.
At 31 years old, we won’t be seeing 25 & 12 Love again. Most of the teams that are sniffing around don’t need that, but ultimately the question is whether or not Love, a solid but deeply flawed player who needs certain circumstances to provide optimal value, is worth all that money. In a vacuum, probably not. Given what the Cavs are reportedly asking for, almost certainly not. What they’re requesting and what they might actually accept, however, could be very different things.
There’s an easy argument to be made that the Cavs just getting out from that salary and commitment will be a win, regardless of what they get in return. Clearing the deck (as they can also achieve by trading Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson, among others) would free up the Cavs to act as a dumping ground for other onerous contracts and collect futures in the process. Working Love’s vacated space into a network of smaller deals should net the team more than they’ll receive for trading Love given the likelihood that other teams view him as a net negative asset because of that contract.
In terms of a single-team trade for Love, it’s not a long list of fits. Nobody should be looking into trading for Love unless they feel he puts them over the top – which is a variable position that we’ll discuss shortly. We’re going to avoid specific, trade machine proposals, as well as theorizing three-team deals. There’s a lot of variability in situations like this so we’ll narrow our focus to the teams that could conceivably be interested and able to make something happen.
You can safely count the Clippers, Lakers, Bucks and Sixers as out of the mix. They probably feel good enough about their chances already to avoid the market for something like this. The Rockets and Celtics have been mentioned as potential suitors in the past but finding matching salary is a nightmare and would require core players like Clint Capela or Gordon Hayward to change hands unless other teams get involved to grease the wheels.
The Nets could use a boost but shouldn’t entertain dealing from their depth until they see how it looks around a healthy duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Pacers, likewise, will give their current group a run with a healthy Victor Oladipo before shaking it up.
Denver has also been connected to Love in the past but salary-matching necessitates the inclusion of either Paul Millsap (not happening considering the defensive effects) or a combo of Mason Plumlee’s expiring deal plus Will Barton or thereabouts. The Cavs might be able to do better than that with picks and futures, and even if the Nuggets cave and include more interesting pieces like Malik Beasley or Michael Porter Jr., it’s still a major risk to upset a strong defensive outfit by adding a 31-year-old liability to a young core that’s still on the right side of the development curve.
Similarly, Toronto could use the offensive boost but acquiring Love would probably cost either Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka and weaken the team’s defensive strength. Plus, the Raptors, like many other teams, would be hesitant to take themselves out of the frenzy for the top free agents in the summer of 2021.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Warriors, Pelicans, Hawks, Bulls, Wizards and Grizzlies are likely uninterested in adding someone like Love to the mix. The Knicks and Kings are other teams that should absolutely be in agreement, but you never know with the way those organizations run and the relative difficulty that each has faced in attracting high-end talent in free agency. Even so, the Kings look like they’ve figured out that a Richaun Holmes-Marvin Bagley frontcourt is the way to go, while the Knicks don’t look to have enough assets to tempt Cleveland – unless the top priority is to simply be rid of Love’s contract.
The Pistons, Spurs and Magic are probably out. The addition of Love isn’t going to move the needle, or really fit with what these teams are about. Orlando would be interesting, but it would hinge on Cleveland’s interest in Aaron Gordon, as well as the Magic’s interest in running with a hugely expensive frontcourt.
That leaves eight still left as at least feasible trade partners. Again, most of this comes down to whether teams are willing to surrender anything to acquire Love, or if they’re expecting Cleveland to pay for the service of taking that contract off their hands. How the market evolves will significantly change the Cavs’ strategy, and the viability of each team on the list.
When you think about hypotheticals, remember: the salaries generally have to match up, expiring deals are extra appealing, teams place immense value on flexibility, Love acquirers won’t want to surrender anything of value, Love has to help them accomplish an attainable, significant goal, the Cavs should be looking for picks and young players and their backcourt is mostly locked into place. And always ask, “would both teams agree to this package?” We’ve included some names to get the ball rolling with loose, thinking-out-loud frameworks, but as a disclaimer nothing here is based off any sources or inside intel.
For: The Wolves might want to push for the postseason to show some forward progress. They could offer up Jeff Teague’s expiring deal and the Cavs could use him as a mentor for their young guards. If the Cavs insist on more than salary relief and a pick, Josh Okogie could be in play given Jarrett Culver’s positional versatility. As far as a potential, completely hypothetical asset, that’s a huge win for Cleveland.
Against: Minny’s going to fight tooth and nail to not include someone even half decent, let alone Okogie, considering they can match salaries from guys who aren’t long-term contributors. Would the Wolves be best served by adding Love to the mix anyway? Andrew Wiggins is thriving in an elevated role and Minnesota should be thinking long term, not just for the next couple of seasons. There have been signs of progress, but nothing that suggests Minnesota would throw its plan out the window for a nostalgia tour.
For: The Suns might get daring in an effort to just make the playoffs, as “over the top” for them is entirely different than it is for most other teams. Adding Love might make them one of the league’s very best offensive teams. They could send out one of their depth forwards, plus a young backup guard and the expiring deal of Tyler Johnson.
Against: Someone like Mikal Bridges might be the most interesting player Cleveland could get in return across the league, but that would require the Suns to get insanely desperate (read: foolish). Dario Saric’s star has waned significantly; would the Cavs have the mettle or leverage to insist on someone better? The Suns are already looking at a messy situation in the frontcourt where Aron Baynes has transformed the team, and there’s no world in which he isn’t set to take minutes from last year’s No. 1 pick, Deandre Ayton. Adding Love adds to the headache, weakens the defense and doesn’t fit with the team’s timeline.
For: The Thunder definitely need offensive help. It’s been rumored that OKC is willing to take on bad contracts as they figure to be active at the deadline. Offseason talk was that the Thunder had Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams on the block to get under the luxury tax, and if they’re able to move those two or Danilo Gallinari (highly likely) or Chris Paul, OKC could be prepared to take on all kinds of financial commitments. Perhaps it becomes easier to trade Love a year from now, or certainly two years from now. If the Thunder are really committed to the retool, they can play that card as long as some of those other players are traded away.
Against: The Cavs would want to accomplish a similar style of deal if nobody wants to take on Love’s contract; absorb bad money into their future swaths of cap space and pick up assets for the privilege. The Thunder are a fringe playoff contender and probably don’t care much about Love’s on-court boost to the offense. Trading for Love now doesn’t guarantee that he can be flipped again later; the Thunder would be inheriting all the risk, even if they get under the tax in the process, since a stripped-down roster has no use for him.
For: The Jazz have been surprisingly mediocre as it’s taken them a while to gel, and Love gives the team an immediate lift on the offensive side. This is a team that wants to get into the title conversation and adding Love might not have the same defensive sting with the Jazz strong on that end and Rudy Gobert around to protect the rim.
Against: The Jazz would have to deal one of their presumed core guys, and another big mid-year change might be too much to handle for a team that hasn’t even finished the adjustment period of adding Mike Conley in the summer. Besides, would a pick, a Dante Exum reclamation project and another player entice the Cavs if the rest of the league still values Love as a positive asset? Love might not be as big a defensive drag on a strong team, but that’s not a guarantee. Like a more desperate version of the Nuggets, offense-in for defense-out might not be worth the gamble.
For: The Heat have a busy rotation, but power forward remains a position of relative weakness. They could sacrifice some of their guard and wing depth, and have enough poor contracts on the books that salary matching isn’t super burdensome. Even James Johnson’s ugly contract brings less future commitment than Love’s, and if that’s Cleveland’s primary concern then there’s a few pathways to a deal.
Against: The Heat’s depth is a major advantage, and dealing from that significantly could prove to be too much risk since the team looks pretty good as is. Soaking up cap space might not be Miami’s best play considering the likelihood they get in the mix for big free agents in the next couple of years, especially with Jimmy Butler on board. The Heat didn’t want to move Derrick Jones Jr. to open up space to acquire Butler last summer, which makes it unlikely that they offer the Cavs any players with legitimate on-court appeal. The Heat also can’t trade any of their first-rounders before their 2025 pick, which makes it exceedingly difficult to see a pure contract dump.
For: Putting a lethal shooter around Luka Doncic is just smart. Love helps Dallas’ rebounding and fills a hole at power forward.
Against: The Mavs have a good thing going already and don’t necessarily need to take on this risk, especially as their young core starts to make Dallas look like a highly appealing free agent destination. The Mavs, like Miami, are also held up on picks until 2025, and there’s not much on the roster that the Cavs would be interested in otherwise.
For: This has been a common suggestion for the last couple of years, and it’s clear that the Blazers need help after their forward depth got gutted in the summer. Excess shooting would be a big lift and the defensive concerns might not be as steep considering Portland already can’t defend all that well. Offensive gains might actually offset the hit to an already-substandard defense.
Against: Adding Love would put the Blazers in a major cap bind with three $30 million players for the next three years, and no guarantees of significant progress. Rodney Hood’s injury makes it tougher for the Blazers to go all-in on this year, and depletes the depth they can trade from – Kent Bazemore might be off the table now. Dumping Hassan Whiteside is possible but Love shouldn’t be a full-time center and the Cavs probably have no interest in adding Whiteside to a young team considering his attitude issues. Carmelo Anthony gets points for trying but any lineups featuring Love-Melo are shark bait if Portland gets into the postseason.
For: The Hornets have plenty of expiring deals to trade. Getting someone like Love, while imperfect, could give them an outside chance at being somewhat competitive in a weak conference. A Love-Nic Batum swap looks like a win-win as Love helps Charlotte while Batum comes off the books after next season. The Hornets might not attract a player of Love’s quality in free agency, and this at least gets them someone of that caliber.
Against: This is the same team that failed to pull the trigger on Marc Gasol last season, when the future of their franchise player was at stake. Why would they decide to swing a move for Love now that they’re in a full rebuild? Adding him only clouds the cap outlook and probably doesn’t do enough to get the Hornets into serious contention, even if Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier keep up their impressive play and Love moves to full-time center to allow for the continued development of PJ Washington and Miles Bridges. There’s not much here that Charlotte would trade that the Cavs would really want.
Cleveland may have to face the reality that they won’t get anything other than financial freedom in return for a player that’s been excellent for the franchise. The list of feasible suitors is currently limited and there are plenty of drawbacks for each, especially as teams try to rein in their future commitments so they can be nimble on the open market.
Love can absolutely help a good team, even as he ages and continues to pick up bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, his margin for error continues to evaporate, and teams can be pickier about going after forwards that can shoot the three and be terrible on defense.
Love wants to land on a contender, and luckily for him this league is truly unpredictable, but as it stands there aren’t many ways for a contender to land him without at least one party making significant concessions or assuming huge, potentially deal-breaking levels of risk. Can Love prove to be a net positive on the court in the postseason for a team that doesn’t have two other certified superstars? Do any of the main suitors get pushed over the top by his addition? Things change and teams get desperate, but it’s a tough road ahead.