We don’t seem to know much in this constantly evolving world of NBA basketball, but one thing that has become apparent in the last week is that Kevin Love is not long for this world as a Cleveland Cavalier.
The former NBA champion, and last vestige of the great LeBron James era in Ohio, which brought so much happiness and enjoyment to a notoriously success-starved sporting population, is – to put it mildly – not happy with the direction the franchise is heading.
The Cavaliers are currently 10-25, tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Knicks. That’s the kind of company you do NOT want, under any circumstances, want to be keeping. When Cleveland signed Love to a four-year, $120 million extension in 2018 there was apparently some hope that the team could remain competitive in the traditionally sub-par Eastern Conference.
Rumours of Love’s departure from the Cavaliers have been swirling, well, basically since James jumped ship, but they intensified last month when Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team was finally “ready to listen” to trade offers after more than a season of refusing to play ball.
Things appeared to stall, before Marc Stein, of The New York Times, then reported early on New Year’s Day that there was “fresh optimism” that a Love trade is imminent, and since then it’s becoming clearer by the hour that the 31-year-old’s tenure in Cleveland is about to finish.
The telltale rumours of discontent are mounting, with Love reportedly engaging in a number of screaming matches with GM Koby Altman behind closed doors, posting a series of cryptic Instagram posts and engaging in an on-court screaming match with Collin Sexton which was decidedly not behind closed doors.
The problems with trying to trade Love are fairly obvious. At 31-years-old he’s hardly a spring chicken, and the hefty price tag – $30 million per season for the next three – is disconcerting for any team who doesn’t believe they’re firmly within the championship window.
The advantages to acquiring Love, though, should mean it is not too difficult for the Cavaliers to find an appropriate suitor. Love is a former All-Star, and at times this season has played as if he still has All-Star capability. He’s averaging 16.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists; shooting 37 percent from 3 and is generally providing the kind of spacing big-man threat that will always be worth its weight in gold in the modern NBA.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five teams which may well make a move for Love in the coming days.
*In order of least probable to most probable*
Potential Package: Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Mikal Bridges
“What?!” I hear you say, “the Suns aren’t a contender, why the hell would they want anything to do with Love’s age and hefty salary?”
The answer is actually surprisingly simple. Not only is Phoenix’s GM James Jones – the same Jones that was Love’s teammate for three seasons in Cleveland – but the franchise has a stack of assets to work with, and arguably a veteran piece is exactly what they’re missing. Particularly one that can shoot.
Three-point shooting from their bigs has been the bane of the Suns’ existence this season, with the likes of Saric and Frank Kaminsky struggling from behind the arc, and Deandre Ayton without any sort of long ball to speak of.
Though their 14-22 record would not at face value appear to be that of a genuine contender, Phoenix really aren’t that bad. Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Aron Baynes, Ayton and Ricky Rubio all have All-Star potential and a veteran winner, who knows how to succeed, could arguably work some magic with that group.
Either or both of the two Johnsons – Cameron and Tyler – might be attractive pieces, while the Suns have a heap of expiring contracts which might offer the Cavaliers some salary cap relief. They also have a handful of draft picks to work with and Sario – still just 25 years old – is a restricted free agent in the summer, which means they would have control over his rights.
Don’t laugh, this is a possibility.
Potential Package: Clint Capela, Eric Gordon
This kind of move just screams Daryl Morey, doesn’t it?
The Rockets have been extremely bullish about their belief that their championship opportunity is Right. Now. and Morey, notoriously, will do anything it takes to maximize their chances. Right now, it seems Russell Westbrook is not getting the job done in Houston.
An offensive system which relies on James Harden almost entirely cannot carry a historically poor three-point shooter like Westbrook on the wing. The fit with Russ on the Rockets seemed weird to start with, and almost a third of the way through the season it is looking even worse.
If Morey can find a way to dump Westbrook – likely to somewhere like the Heat – then suddenly Love is in play. The space on the floor created by his three-point shooting, as well as his ability to crash the offensive boards, is a perfect mesh with Harden’s otherworldly offensive abilities.
At this stage nothing more than a gut feel, but this is the sort of trade that scratches every itch Morey has.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Potential Package: Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, picks
The Thunder have been one of the most pleasant surprises of this NBA season to date, and there’s a school of thought which would have them stacking up to make a run at a wide open Western Conference.
Despite infamously trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George this offseason in exchange for a king’s ransom of draft picks and an ageing Chris Paul on a monster contract, Oklahoma City are currently 20-15 and six – yes SIX – games clear in seventh place in the West.
Whilst most preseason projections had the Thunder trading desperately at this stage of the season to try and avoid the luxury tax, they’re now in a position to trade to consolidate as a playoff threat.
Adams – at 26 years old – fits the Cavaliers’ age profile, Roberson is an unknown commodity after his extended time out of the game, and the Thunder have a host of picks with which to make this offer look as attractive as they like.
Love – perhaps paired with Danilo Gallinari in the front court – would provide an outside shooting threat that Adams simply does not have, which pairs nicely with the Thunder’s youthful roster and their distinct lack of big man shooting without Jerami Grant.
This would make the Western Conference a whole lot funner.
Potential Package: Paul Millsap, picks
The Nuggets – to the surprise of the league – have become a fantastic defensive team, but are struggling on offense after their historically efficient 2018-19 season. Those sound like the perfect conditions for Love to thrive.
The pairing of Love in the frontcourt with Nikola Jokic is the kind of inside / outside combination teams dream about, and while defensively they may struggle to compensate for Millsap’s absence, this year Mike Malone has shown he can create a sustainable defensive scheme.
Millsap is in the final year of his $30 million contract, which is perfect given the Cavaliers are clearly rebuilding and expiring contracts are worth their weight in gold. The Nuggets also have most of their future first-rounders in play (apart from 2020), so any package they put together is likely to be attractive for Cleveland.
Are Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Love a legitimate big three? We may be about to find out.
Portland Trail Blazers
Potential Package: Hassan Whiteside, Anfernee Simons
According to multiple reports, particularly from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Portland – Love’s hometown – is his preferred trade destination, and that makes the Blazers the most likely suitors in any trade.
Portland have been abysmal so far this season, with their 14-21 record meaning they’re languishing on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. However, the bizarre drop-off in the West means they’re only a game behind the 8th-placed Spurs.
Carmelo Anthony has been a fantastic addition, but surely his value can only last so long. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are 29 and 28 years of age respectively, so it’s time for the chips to be pushed all in in Portland.
The Blazers have the perfect assets to make the salaries work in any trade for Love. Whiteside is on an expiring $27.1 million contract and, while Simons has apparently been off limits for quite some time, now might be the perfect occasion to cash him in.
Make it happen, Blazers.
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