Why the Celtics, Blazers, Heat, Hawks and even the Warriors should kick the tires on a Kevin Love trade with the Cavs
Love's timeline does not fit alongside Cleveland's young movement, but his salary could be tough to swallow
On the surface, Kevin Love doesn't appear to make much sense in Cleveland, which is in full rebuild mode around two lottery picks in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Love can aid in the development of those two, no question. But he makes a lot of money to be a tutor with a nice pick-and-pop game. The Cavs can't be foolish enough to think they can compete for a playoff spot this season. Why not extract whatever value Love has left in the form of young players and/or assets to pair with Garland and Sexton?
Side note: Depending on how Garland looks, I'm not sure Sexton won't become a trade candidate at some point. This could end up being a Steph Curry/Monta Ellis situation where the organization decides to make a choice between the two rather than move forward with an undersized backcourt. But that's another story for another day, and pure speculation at this point.
For now, Love remains a good player who can help a lot of good teams who think they're one piece from being great. He'll be 31 at the start of the season, and he remains a 20-and-10 talent. He likely wouldn't put those numbers up for a team trading for him, as he makes most sense as a third option next to higher-usage stars, but let's not get it twisted that Love has somehow fallen off a cliff. He can shoot. He can pass. He can still rebound like crazy and has championship pedigree.
The problem? He makes a lot of money. When Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavs last summer, there was a line of thinking that having Love locked into a long-term contract -- in this age of the nomadic NBA star -- would actually make him more valuable. But Love only played 22 games last season. He hasn't played more than 60 games since 2015-16. Love's extension begins this season at $28.9 million. After that, he will make $31.2 million, $31.2 million and $29.8 million through the 2023 season.
That'll really jam up a team's books.
So it has to be a team that believes the juice is worth the squeeze, that believes it can win a championship with Love and also has the expendable salary to send back to Cleveland in order to make the deal work financially -- and that's assuming said team also has the assets Cleveland would want in the first place.
A Love deal with Portland could work with Hassan Whiteside representing the money and Nassir Little and/or Anfernee Simons representing the assets. Miami could make some sense with Justise Winslow the center of the deal and, say, James Johnson the accompanying salary. Boston probably wouldn't consider giving up the Grizzlies' 2020 first-round pick they own, which is top-six protected and could eventually convey as an unprotected jewel in 2021, when Memphis figures to be in the running for a top-three pick. But the Celtics have four first-round picks over the next two years and Gordon Hayward could make the money work.
Beyond that, after the shock of the D'Angelo Russell deal to Golden State wore off, I started thinking about potential deals for Russell, and for the Warriors, Love makes a lot of sense. The team is obviously ready to win now and Love slots wonderfully as a big stretch four next to Draymond Green in a new version of the Death Lineup. Russell is a young All-Star, and he's set to make nearly the same amount as Love, but the Cavs already have their backcourt in place. Perhaps a third team could get involved, or again, maybe the Cavs end up being willing to move of one of Garland or Sexton, but that likely wouldn't be this season before they've had a chance to really see what they have in each.
You can go down the list, and a lot of teams make sense for Love. The Clippers. The Nuggets. Neither of those teams probably have a package to entice the Cavs, but the Hawks are interesting. They have around $70 million in expiring deals, and in addition to their own first-round picks, they also own the Nets' 2020 first-rounder (protected) and Oklahoma City's 2022 first-rounder (also protected). Moreover, the Hawks project to have almost $70 million cap space next season, meaning Love could fit in with money to spare.
In the end, you have to believe Love ultimately ends up getting moved from Cleveland. Again, the timelines just don't match up. When and where will be two of the more intriguing questions as February's trade deadline approaches, or perhaps even sooner as the Cavs might not want to risk Love getting injured before a deal can be made.
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