The Cleveland Cavaliers have said they're a Kevin Love trade. Surely a lot of teams are going to kick the tires. Love is 31 years old and in the first year of a four-year, $120 million contract, but he remains a top-30ish player who can space the floor, knock down 3-pointers, make plays as a passer, defend competently and rebound at an elite level.
How much the Cavs want for Love, and how much they can realistically get given his age and contract, remains to be seen. Love has said he wants to go to a contender, and that he reportedlyif a deal does indeed go down. The Cavs don't have to give Love what he wants, but if they do, here are five (potential) contenders, in no particular order, that make sense for a Love deal.
1. Miami Heat
If you haven't been paying attention, the Heat are for real. Entering play on Wednesday, they're 18-6 which is good for the fourth-best record in the NBA. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star lock and a borderline MVP candidate. Bam Adebayo, who is blossoming into a two-way wrecking ball, is probably an All-Star as of now, too.
Trading for Love is precisely the type of move that can push a fringe-elite team like Miami into another level of contention. He fits perfectly into its drive-and-kick system on both the passing and shooting end. He would be a great pick-and-pop guy in late-game situations with Butler, particularly in the playoffs when teams are going to make someone other than Butler beat them.
Miami has the contracts to get a deal done. Goran Dragic is making $19.2 million on an expiring deal, though if the Heat are really going for something this season I doubt they'd want to lose his production off the bench. Meyers Leonard is making $11.3 million on his final year. They also have James Johnson ($15.3 million), Kelly Olynyk ($12.7 million) and Dion Waiters ($12.1 million), but all have two years left on their respective deals.
Bottom line: Through various combinations, the Heat do have the salary to match the $28.9 million Love is making this season. Problem is, the Cavs likely want more than expiring salaries for Love, and the Heat don't have a draft pick to trade until 2025. If Cleveland wants a young player as compensation beyond the expiring salaries, would Miami part with, say, Duncan Robinson or even put Justise Winslow in the deal?
And then there is 2021 to consider -- the summer Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes available. The Heat are expected to make a major run at Antetokounmpo, and it's looking more and more like they'll have the goods to make a serious pitch. They already have one star on board in Butler, and they project to have max cap space available, or at least they have a viable path to creating the space. Adding Love would obviously put a major dent in their books and effectively take them out of the Giannis sweepstakes.
How much do the Heat believe in their ability to get Giannis, and how do they weigh that long-term chance against adding Love and turning their team into a fringe contender in the immediacy?
Same as the Heat, the Mavericks could become a fringe contender now by adding Love, who would make an already devastating offense borderline unstoppable, but they also figure to be one of the major players in the impending 2021 Giannis sweepstakes.
Adding Love next to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis would have defenses stretched out to the parking lot. You put Luka in that kind of space, with that kind of shooting around him, and he's going to burn buildings down. Doncic and Love playing pick-and-pop with Porzingis as your third-best player? That's a title contender. Right now.
Dallas has the contracts to make the money work on a Love deal. Any deal would likely have to be centered around Tim Hardaway Jr., who is making $20 million this season. That's no problem for the Mavs, who can also dangle Dwight Powell -- a solid player who is locked up at a reasonable number ($11 million, give or take) through 2023. Add in a future draft pick, and this is probably about as good a package as Cleveland is going to attract.
But again, where does Dallas feel it falls in the race for Giannis? As it stands, they can create max cap space in 2021, and with Luka and Porzingis, their pitch to Giannis would be pretty strong. Personally, if Giannis were to leave Milwaukee, I think Dallas makes the most sense. That's the best team in the league the second he signs.
Would the Mavericks risk missing out on that chance to add Love and all his money?
Portland has also long needed a versatile four-man who can play pick-and-roll, one who can specifically make downhill plays as a release valve when Lillard and McCollum get double teamed off that action. Love is still a top-tier rebounder and shooter, and he's a great passer who could serve as an Al Horford-like hub, which would allow Lillard a breather as he works more off the ball. Love is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, and Portland ranked 16th in 3-point makes entering action on Tuesday.
He would give the Blazers a great boost in a lot of ways offensively, and defensively, where they are really hurting, he's competent positionally. But, yes, this move would be about opening up the offense as Portland moves toward a team that has to try to outscore opponents -- and with Love, not to mention with the way Carmelo Anthony is getting buckets, it would certainly have the capacity to do so.
Also, Portland has the contracts to make a trade work. Hassan Whiteside, on an expiring deal, is making $27.1 million this season. Kent Bazemore, also expiring, is making just under $20 million. Either one of them could be the money in the deal. Throw in a first-round pick, and perhaps Cleveland bites.
The question for the Blazers is whether they want to commit to a Lillard-McCollum-Love trio through 2022-23. In my opinion, they should strongly consider it. A better player than Love coming to Portland as a free agent is unlikely. If they have to give up Zach Collins or Anfernee Simons, I would think twice.
But if they can get the deal done without one of those two involved, and it's just the long-term money they're concerned about, you could make a strong case that Love makes too much sense to pass up, especially for a team that is floundering at present but has all the ingredients (plus Love, and when Jusuf Nurkic gets back) to become a late-blooming contender.
This is interesting. A straight-up swap, Love for Paul Millsap, would work. Millsap, who's on an expiring deal and would therefore be attractive to the cost-cutting Cavs, is a better defender than Love, and the Nuggets have been great defensively so far. But Love brings more to the table offensively, where the Nuggets, surprisingly enough, have been pretty bad. Nikola Jokic and Kevin Love, both terrific passing big men, would open up that offense in a major way.
There are other ways Denver can get the deal done without giving up Millsap. It could package Mason Plumlee and Will Barton for the money and throw in a draft pick. Who knows if Cleveland would Barton with two years left on his deal at $13.7 and $14.7 million, and who knows if Denver could afford to lose Barton's punch off the bench. I tend to think adding Love would be enough compensation.
The Nuggets, at least as of now, are a long shot in the Giannis race unless they renounce all available players and trade Gary Harris for an expiring deal, or perhaps work a sign-and-trade come 2021. They could do it. Pretty much anything can be done in the NBA these days when a franchise-altering free agent is in play. But for me, it doesn't seem likely. I would look at Love strongly if I were the Nuggets.
The only way the money works for a Love-to-Boston deal is if the Celtics include Gordon Hayward, who actually makes more than Love at $32.7 million this season. It's worth at least thinking about if you're Boston, though I doubt Danny Ainge would ever pull the trigger.
With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, the Celtics would still be loaded on the wing without Hayward, and Love would fill a big need as a shooting big man who, playing the five, would give the Celtics perhaps the deadliest small-ball lineup in the league alongside Kemba Walker, Tatum, Brown and Smart. That feels like a title contender.
Thing is, Hayward is probably a better player than Love when he's healthy and on top of his game, which he looked to be before he broke his hand a month ago. Hayward only has two years left on his deal and Boston would have his Bird rights to retain him in 2021 on a deal that would probably be similar to the number Love is making anyway, if not a little less depending on how he finishes out this season and next.
Healthy Hayward vs. healthy Love is a close call right now. Hayward should age better, but he plays a position of surplus in Boston whereas Love fills a hole. This is interesting. Keep an eye on it.