Why Cleveland Cavaliers Are Now Major Dark Horse for Kevin Love Trade

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love gets ready to play the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, April 13, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Steve Yeater/Associated Press

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love: It worked for Pepsi Max, and it could potentially soon do the same for the NBA's most fortuitous franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cleveland had less than a puncher's chance to climb the draft lottery board Tuesday night (1.7 percent chance, to be precise), and no good luck charm in the form of Nick Gilbert, but none of that mattered. The Cavs still hit the lottery jackpot, because that's what this organization does. For the third time in four years, Cleveland owns the No. 1 overall pick.

Where this narrative might differ from the norm is in what this team decides to do with the selection. No, that doesn't mean going completely off the grid to find this year's Anthony Bennett, but rather it could be using the draft choice as sweetener to pry a certain Minnesota Timberwolves double-double machine out of the Gopher State:

Love has reportedly informed the Timberwolves that he has no interest in signing a contract extension and intends to test the free-agent market next summer, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Even with the Wolves playing hardball now, the prospect of losing its franchise face and getting nothing in return will likely force Minnesota's hand at some point.

Love's Excel Sports representatives, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported, "are pushing Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to find a trade acceptable to them before the beginning of summer free agency in Julypreferably by the June 26 NBA draft."


Cleveland's Potential Trade Offer

Minnesota has potential trade partners all across the basketball landscape. That's the beauty in the ugliness that is employing an All-NBA talent with one foot out the door.

When—not if—the Wolves start assessing their options, the Cavs may come as close as any potential suitor to forming a "Godfather offer." In mapping out Minnesota's possible avenues to pursue, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst speculated that, "The draft order being set on Tuesday could be a tipping point where several teams' assets may improve significantly if they can add a top-three pick to their portfolio."

Well, the Cavs' portfolio now includes the top pick. Offers that might not have seemed so intriguing just days ago may now look incredibly enticing.

Cleveland, like many teams, has barked up the Love tree before. A source told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that the Cavaliers offered guard Dion Waiters, forward Tristan Thompson and last year's No. 1 draft choice to Minnesota, but the Wolves declined.

So, what might change this time around?

Well, Love is one year closer to a potential exit that seems more likely than not. Plus, this current crop of prospects includes several potential game-changers (Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kansas center Joel Embiid), players of a certain caliber that simply didn't exist on last year's draft board.

LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 22: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks talks with Joel Embiid #21 as they walk onto the floor after a timeout during the game against the Towson Tigers at Allen Fieldhouse on November 22, 2013 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote that Minnesota's "asking price would likely be a first-round pick as well as other young pieces that could help Minnesota start another rebuild."

Waiters (15.9 points, 3.0 assists) and Thompson (11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds) might not be building-block prospects, but the Wolves don't need to see them as such. As long as Minnesota views these two players as support pieces for the future—both are still under the age of 24, so there's a chance that one or both becomes something even better—then the Wolves might be tempted to bite.

If they view one of those top-three picks as a potential centerpiece, then they'll have to consider what Cleveland can bring to the negotiating table. If the Wolves want more immediate assistance, Bob Finnan of The News Herald said the Cavs could include versatile big man Anderson Varejao in their potential offer.

It seems silly to ask this, but the question still needs to be raised: Would the Cavaliers be willing to part with the No. 1 overall pick? Cleveland general manager David Griffin already gave a resounding "Yes!" to that question—provided the right offer comes around, via The Plain Dealer:

"We're going to try to get radically better much quicker," Griffin said, per Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer. "We really feel like there's a sense of urgency about improving our team as a whole. We're going to look for the right fit and we're very open-minded about what that means."

Now, that's just the first of many questions the Cavaliers would have to address.


Long-Term Commitments

Next, Cleveland must consider whether Love would be willing to commit to a long-term extension in a city notorious for losing its brightest stars. The franchise cannot (or should not, at least) part with the top pick for a one-year rental of Love.

On the surface, the Cavs seem to be fighting an uphill battle on this front. They can't scratch Love's reported big-city itch, nor guarantee his path to prominence will be any easier than it was in Minnesota. The Cavs' four-year playoff drought doesn't look much better than the Wolves' 10-year postseason famine, maybe even worse considering Cleveland picked up seven fewer victories than Minnesota in 2013-14.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - April 16: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on against the Utah Jazz during the game on April 16, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
David Sherman/Getty Images

That being said, Cleveland can offer Love something Minnesota never could: a superstar teammate.

With all due respect to the rabid Ricky Rubio fanbase, the Spanish point guard is several rungs below Irving on the NBA food chain. Love has never logged NBA minutes alongside a scorer like Irving, a two-time All-Star whose "disappointing" 2013-14 campaign still featured a 20.8-points-per-game scoring average.

Love and Irving each present defensive drawbacks, but the offensive potential for this pairing is drool-worthy. As pick-and-decide partners (Irving drive, Love roll, Irving pull-up, Love pop), this tandem could get a lot more than it gives at the opposite side.

These players have found themselves in the same NBA boat.

Despite doing All-Star levels of heavy lifting, neither has had a taste of playoff basketball. Neither has shared the floor with a player cut from their caliber of cloth. Both are desperate to join a winner, which is exactly what Cleveland could be behind an Irving-Love dynamic duo.

Irving, like Love, has his own free-agency decision looming. The explosive floor general is eligible to receive a contract extension this summer. A five-year, $80 million maximum offer is expected to be thrown his way, Finnan reported.

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 16:  Profile of Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a break in the action against the Brooklyn Nets at The Quicken Loans Arena on April 16, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Despite rumors of his unhappiness or even Windhorst's claim that his "camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland," via Cavs: The Blog's Robert Attenweiler, the smart move has always been for Irving to take the money and stay. He could eventually force his way out down the line, but there are too many zeroes at stake to keep his name off the dotted line.

Irving, again like Love, is said to be intrigued at the idea of upgrading his market. But might the prospect of winning alongside a second superstar change his tune?

It's possible, at least, if not probable.

The Cavs cannot promise their incumbent star that they'll find a guaranteed source of production should they opt to keep the pick. The once historically tantalizing group of prospects lost a considerable amount of its luster over the season. While the class still seems as deep as any in recent years, it's perhaps a bit thinner at the top than anticipated.

"We're looking at a draft that still may not have a single transcendent player," ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck.

Love absolutely wears that transcendent tag. Defensive shortcomings aside, he posted the league's third-best player efficiency rating this season (26.9), via Basketball-Reference.com, trailing only MVP Kevin Durant (29.8) and best player on the planet LeBron James (29.3).

Irving led the Cavs with a 20.1 PER. Varejao ranked second among the regulars with a 17.0 mark. Despite having four top-four picks over the last three years, the Cavs haven't found Irving a running mate with anything close to Love's elite-level skills.

One can only assume Love's arrival would warm Irving on the idea of a long-term future with Cleveland, particularly for what such an acquisition could do for this franchise down the line.


A King's Triumphant Return?

One way or another, every Cleveland narrative eventually winds its way back to James. Even the Cleveland Browns' drafting of quarterback Johnny Manziel, a friend and business associate of James, had the city searching for a link to the NBA's "Chosen One."

Bridges seemed to burn—James' jerseys definitely did—during the King's infamous exit in 2010. Still, the Cavs have clung to the belief that one day its brightest star in franchise history would eventually come back to his native state, as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal explained in March:

The Cavs have been busy preparing for the moment when he’ll come back and sit on their bench again.

Is it a fantasy? It might certainly appear that way from the outside, but inside the walls of Cleveland Clinic Courts there is a strong belief they will be in the discussion this summer, that maybe, just maybe, LeBron James will fly to Cleveland again and sit on their bench next season.

Selling a core of Irving and a cast of unproven characters was never going to be easy for the legacy-focused James. His South Beach migration was motivated by the prospect of rings, and his possible return to Cleveland would have to be fueled by the same driving force.

By adding Love to the mix, the Cavs would assure themselves of getting at least a discussion with James. It might take another year of convincing, plus a pair of contracts signed by Love and Irving, but this would at least plant the seed for a possible homecoming.

Is this still a fantasy? For now, at least.

Love is still a member of the Timberwolves until proven otherwise. Irving's extension is far from a formality. And James' best championship chances still reside in South Florida.

With his lottery win, though, comes hope, and not the one that typically surfaces at draft time. This gives the Cavaliers a shot at fielding a three-headed monster as fierce as any in this league. It might not be a great chance, but it's a chance nonetheless.

If Minnesota is motivated to move Love, Cleveland can deliver a king's ransom in return. As for what the Cavaliers can offer Irving, Love and, yes, even James, that might be something even sweeter.


Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.