NBA general managers believe “the Chicago Bulls have something big up their sleeve this summer,” according to a report by Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher. While speculation has revolved around that being Carmelo Anthony or even Chris Bosh, what would make the most sense for Chicago is the Minnesota Timberwolves’ power forward, Kevin Love.
Another report from Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles suggests that Love would welcome the idea of a trade to Chicago:
A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being ‘big time in a big city,’ and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.
If that’s true, and that’s the whole of his wish list, then Chicago should be the runaway favorite to land Love, but not without hurdling a few obstacles first. Let’s begin by looking at why he’s worth the trouble. Then we’ll look at why the Bulls should be the favorites to land him.
Why Love over Anthony?
The first and most definitive reason for taking Love over Anthony is value. Love is younger and cheaper. Because Anthony has played longer, the first year of his contract would be $22.46 million, 35 percent of the cap. Kevin Love, however, would only be eligible for just 30 percent of the cap. That would bring his first-year salary to around $18.87 million. Both players would get the max raise of 7.5 percent per year.
If the Bulls were to acquire Love this summer, he’d have one year left on his current deal before he could opt out and negotiate a new one. Here’s what both players would cost the Bulls over five seasons.
That’s right. Four years of Anthony would actually cost a few hundred thousand dollars more than five years of Love. Love isn’t just cheaper. He’s a lot cheaper.
And he’s not just cheaper, either. He’s arguably better when you look at them side by side.
Here are their box-score stats:
If advanced stats are your thing, here are those:
I point out the usage percentage because Anthony’s is so much higher. And, while he’s a reasonably efficient scorer, note that he takes up 4.1 percent more possessions than Love to score just 1.8 more points.
Here are their shooting numbers:
Anthony has a better three-point percentage and free-throw percentage, but Love is better from two and more efficient overall, in part because he has a superior free-throw rate (.451 to .326).
In terms of single-number metrics, Love trumps Anthony as well. He has a better player efficiency rating (27.7 to 24.9), more win shares (13.5 to 9.8) and, per NBA.com/Stats, a better player impact estimate (19.4 percent to 16.4 percent).
Pretty much, no matter which way you look at it, Love has loftier numbers. Some would argue that Anthony doesn’t have any help, so Love has an advantage, but Love doesn’t have a whole lot more help in Minnesota (more on that later).
Maybe you’re not convinced. You want to call it a wash or even give Anthony the edge right now. That’s fine. But where are these two going to be in five years? The most important numbers are 25 and 29. That’s how old Love and Anthony are respectively.
In the 2018-19 season, Anthony will be 34. Love will be 30. Who will be superior then?
Would you rather have the prime years of Love or the post-prime years of Anthony? Those are the years the Bulls are getting, not the ones which have already been played.
Furthermore, Love is a better fit because his style meshes better with Derrick Rose. Rose is a drive-and-kick point guard. Love is the epitome of a stretch 4. Having a player like Love would open up the lanes for Rose to be able to drive. Having Rose drive and collapse lanes for Love would open up shots for him to take.
Love’s outlet passes would help with the Bulls’ transition game too. Imagine Love zinging passes like this to a breaking Rose or Jimmy Butler.
Love also fits well next to Joakim Noah. He has defensive liabilities, but the Bulls could use him in a way similar to how they’ve used Carlos Boozer, where he focuses more on the defensive rebounds and let’s Noah or Taj Gibson take care of defending the shot.
Noah and Love are arguably the two most versatile big men in the league. There are two players who are averaging four assists and 10 rebounds: Love and Noah.
There have been six triple-doubles this season from power forwards and centers. Five of those have come from Love and Noah.
There have been 191 games where a player had 10 rebounds and six assists this season. Nearly a quarter of them, 43, have come from Noah (25) and Love (18).
So, first, imagine the passing you can get from that kind of frontcourt (which is something that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes to utilize). And second, can you say rebounding advantage?
Over the next five years, Love will be cheaper, younger, a superior player and a better fit. This should be an easy choice.
Can It Happen?
The Clippers aren’t a concern because they have their power forward of the future in Blake Griffin.
With the exception of the Bulls, the remaining teams are limited in what they can do through trade because they have spent all their future assets in recent deals. RealGM breaks down all the specifics, but I’ll give the highlights.
Let’s play a quick game of “Which one of these is not like the others?”:
- The Nets owe their 2014, ‘16 and ‘18 picks. Since you can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive seasons, they wouldn’t be able to send the ‘Wolves a pick until 2020. They’re out.
- The Lakers couldn’t “technically” trade their first-round pick this year, but they could draft him and then trade the player they selected. After that, the first pick they can trade doesn’t come until 2019. It’s hard to see the ‘Wolves giving up their current franchise player for someone who might pan out to be one in four or five years and another player who won’t even be on the team for five years.
- The Knicks can’t give them a first-round pick until 2018. They have a couple of shooting guards in Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. who might bolster an offer if picks were included, but neither player is remotely worth Kevin Love.
- The Bulls have all their own picks, the Charlotte Bobcats’ pick this year, a protected Sacramento Kings' first-round pick available as early as next year and the rights to the best prospect in Europe, Nikola Mirotic, who could come over as soon as this summer.
Put it this way: If a bidding war ensued, the Bulls would win. There’s not even a competition. In fact, the Bulls wouldn’t really have to make their best possible bid; they would just have to offer more than the others could match.
If you’re a millionaire bidding on a million dollar house, and your competitors only have $500,000, you don’t bid a million—you bid $600,000. That could be the situation the Bulls are in.
What Could Stop It?
So, what could stop the deal from happening?
For starters, Boston could get involved. If Love were to add the Celtics to his wish list, that’s one of the few teams that could drive up Chicago’s bid.
Technically, Boston has the Philadelphia 76ers' pick, but it’s lottery protected both this season and next. After that, it becomes a second-round pick. And what are the odds the Sixers make the postseason next year?
Boston also has all their own picks, the Atlanta Hawks' pick this year, the Clippers' pick in 2015 and Brooklyn’s first-round picks in ‘16 and ‘18.
But here’s the rub with the Celtics: They don’t have any expiring contracts to trade back.
Ideally, Minnesota would want to free up cap space in 2015. The best Boston could do is send Gerald Wallace and Joel Anthony or some other assortment of players with contracts expiring after 2015-16. But, the ‘Wolves would be absorbing multiple years of bad contracts.
The other problem is: It’s questionable whether Love would want to go to Boston, and if he’s not amenable to re-resigning, there’s no point in it.
Ostensibly, it seems like he doesn’t mind Minnesota but he’s tired of losing. So, if that’s the case, why would he go to Boston to be part of a rebuilding effort (or New York or Los Angeles, for that matter) when he could go to a contender?
If he went to Boston, he’d be paired with Rajon Rondo, a point guard who can orchestrate an offense like a maestro but can’t shoot worth a lick. His jumper is .332 from outside of three feet. He has that in Minnesota with Ricky Rubio, who's "good" for .301.
If he goes to Chicago, he’s playing with Rose and Noah to form a new Big Three, with all of them still under 30. He and Rose are already close friends and workout partners during the summer.
The Celtics might drive up the price a smidge, but ultimately, Chicago would offer the better contracts back, and Love might never approve a Boston deal anyway.
That doesn’t mean that Minnesota won’t negotiate with Boston to leverage a better deal, though.
Or, Minnesota could just dare Love to leave and not work out a deal at all. Love would be leaving just shy of $20 million on the table over four years if he walked as a free agent. That’s a pretty solid bargaining chip.
And let’s face it, Minnesota has a reason to press things. It’s not like free agents are lining up to come there. Love is a true franchise player. Those are hard to acquire and even harder to lose. It’s hardest of all when it happens the second time.
The ‘Wolves were already forced to trade their greatest player in franchise history seven years ago: Kevin Garnett. (Imagine the irony if they trade their two best players, both power forwards named Kevin, to Boston.)
While it’s doubtful Minnesota ends up letting Love go for nothing, it’s not going to trade him unless it sees no other way out. And that’s going to come down to convincing Love he can win there.
So here’s an interesting dichotomy revealed by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required), who notes this:
At the same time, there’s also no track record of teams with a point differential as good as Minnesota’s (plus-3.0 PPG) missing the playoffs. The Timberwolves are on track to surpass the 2000-01 Houston Rockets, who outscored opponents by 2.3 points per game, as the best lottery team by this measure since the ABA-NBA merger.
The Timberwolves are plus-6.4 points per 100 possessions with Love on the court and get outscored by 11.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, making the non-Love Wolves fundamentally equivalent to the Philadelphia 76ers (minus-11.4 points per 100 possessions this season).
In other words, Love might be the difference between Minnesota being the best team ever to miss the postseason and one of the worst teams ever, period.
It’s why, as Pelton notes, there is no precedent of a player who is on Love’s level not making the playoffs.
If Love has had it with losing and makes it known there are no circumstances under which he’s going to stay, Minnesota will be fielding calls, at least covertly. But it will want to wait until the trade deadline comes to do anything.
That’s where the Bulls could gain some leverage, though. They can force ‘Wolves GM Milt Newton into playing two games of chicken at once.
Chicago has decisions to make this summer that could prevent a trade-deadline deal. For example, if the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer, a trade becomes exponentially more difficult to do because of matching salaries.
They may also engage in negotiations with Carmelo Anthony and/or Nikola Mirotic. If they sign either one, it would make a trade much more difficult.
Finally, the Bulls’ two picks this summer aren’t quite as attractive if the ‘Wolves don’t get to choose who they want with them.
The bottom line is that Chicago can offer a better deal this summer than anyone can at the trade deadline. That could expedite Newton’s decision.
Say Chicago makes this offer to Minnesota: Boozer (to make the money work), Mirotic, its first-round pick this year (about 19), the Charlotte pick (probably 15) and the protected Sacramento pick.
That gives Minnesota a serviceable player for one year, cap space in 2015, a potential star in Mirotic and as many as three first-round picks by 2015. None of the other teams are going to be able to touch that—now or at the trade deadline.
Minnesota gets the three things a team wants in a deal like this: tons of assets to build around, cap flexibility and the means to rebuild quickly.
It also gives the Bulls the same basic team they have right now, which is already contending for a No. 3 seed, but with a massive upgrade from Boozer to Love and their MVP, Rose, coming back. Their biggest struggles are on offense, but Rose and Love would combine for 45-50 points per game. Problem solved.
A starting five of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Love and Noah would be the best starting five in the NBA.
Which is the best option for the Bulls?
Throw in D.J. Augustin (whom they could keep with the biannual exception), Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and a developing Tony Snell, and you have the makings of a fairly deep bench in need of only a center.
That group, coached by Thibodeau, would win a bunch.
The superstar trio of Rose, Love and Noah would match any in the league. They would all be under 30. Rose and Love would just be entering their prime.
It’s the kind of group that could form a dynasty, one that wouldn’t be measured by whether it won a ring or not, but by how many rings it won.
This is a deal that the Bulls not only could do, but also should do. If it happens, the toughest decision Gar Forman and John Paxson will be facing is trying to figure out some way of marketing the names “Love” and “Rose” together.
Advanced stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.