It’s an interesting question, and one that almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Many consider Love to be the best power forward in basketball because of his combination of scoring, shooting, rebounding and passing.
He averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and converted 37.6 percent of his treys this season.
What’s more, he had the third-highest player efficiency rating figure this season (26.97), which led all players at his position. One would be foolish not to make a run at Love should he become available, and it would seem that he has.
Love grew up in the Los Angeles area and went to college at UCLA, which would make joining the Lakers a homecoming of sorts.
In late March, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the Lakers were already considering using their upcoming lottery pick (as a result of the lottery, L.A. has the No. 7 pick in the draft) in a trade package to land Love.
Love tried to downplay his potential connection to the Lakers with ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin: “You know, my parents live there and they had me there. It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”
Love plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, which has served to ramp up speculation he will join the Lakers, given that L.A. will have nearly $40 million in cap space, per Sham Sports.
Interestingly enough, he already has a list of prospective destinations, according to ESPN.com’s Stein and Ramona Shelburne:
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have likewise been mentioned all season as big-market landing spots that would tempt Love, but going to the best situation for immediate contention is said to be the power forward's priority.
It’s noted in the same piece that Love’s reason for wanting out of Minnesota is the losing. Since joining the Timberwolves in 2008, the closest the team has come to a .500 record was this season when Minnesota posted a 40-42 record.
Love has yet to play in a postseason game, which invariably hurts his stock. Can we definitively put him among the league’s best without a playoff appearance?
That’s a tough call, and the Lakers will have to ultimately make it.
Restoring Lakers Mystique or Putting it to Rest?
At 27-55, the Lakers just had their worst season since moving to Los Angeles in 1960. Part of that stems from the fact the team dealt with an assortment of injuries, which resulted in missed games from core players. Kobe Bryant was out for 76 games because of a ruptured Achilles and knee fracture.
Steve Nash was absent for 67 contests because of nerve issues in his back, while Pau Gasol sat for 22 games with a few ailments (upper respiratory infection and vertigo). The injuries were certainly problematic, and the same can be said about the talent. Have a look at the roster—it’s not pretty. Oh, and it gets worse.
General manager Mitch Kupchak has stated the franchise is in rebuilding mode and that the front office expects the process to reach completion within the next two years. Considering that Love wants to exit a losing situation in favor of a winning one, Los Angeles does not fit what he is looking for.
Granted, an argument could be made that Love will turn the Lakers into a contender, to which I offer this rebuttal: Love’s Timberwolves couldn’t crack the playoffs with a group that was either equal or superior in talent to the Lakers’. Ricky Rubio is a better play than Kendall Marshall, while Kevin Martin outshines Nick Young.
The Lakers don't have a comparison for Nikola Pekovic, and both benches are atrocious, which gives Minnesota a slight edge in talent when compared to L.A.'s injured 2013-14 team.
Hence, is it wise to expect L.A. to contend with him?
I say no, but that answer comes with a caveat: Kobe. If Bryant regains his form and plays at a high level, pairing him with Love could be a devastating matchup.
During a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in early May, Bryant outlined where he stood physically (via ESPN LA): "From a health standpoint, 100 percent. I started doing a lot of on-court training and so I'm back into my routine. Then I'll start lifting and start doing the running, which I hate. By the time the season comes around, I'll be ready to go."
A healthy Bryant has consistently demonstrated he can carry the Lakers to a low playoff seed at worst. Alongside Love, the Lakers would have a great inside and outside tandem to take advantage of opposing defenses.
Los Angeles would face some challenges defensively given that Bryant is nowhere near the elite defender he once was, and Love has never been a good defensive player, as Grantland's Zach Lowe explained in March: "He offers no rim protection, he lollygags in transition defense, he’s not going to make spirited second and third rotations on the same defensive possession, and he often fails to challenge shots in order to secure boxout position — and precious rebounds."
The new head coach would have to devise a game plan to mask Love's deficiencies on defense, and also, it’s probably fair to think the new coaching staff would revolve everything around the duo during the length of Bryant’s contract.
Once Kobe’s deal expires at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, Bryant will presumably retire, which will give the Lakers an opportunity to go after Kevin Durant, who will be a free agent that summer.
The Lakers could potentially reload with a tag team of Durant and Love, coupled with some ancillary parts that make them a title contender.
That’s the ideal scenario. However, reality might be a little less forgiving for the Purple and Gold.
Bryant could very well be “100 percent” as he shared, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to success. He will be a 36-year-old 2-guard by the time next season starts, which means we should expect a natural decline in skills.
Bryant can’t be an elite performer forever, and the 2014-15 campaign seems like a good bet for that transition.
Keep in mind, there’s also a possibility that his body might break down next season and beyond, much like it did this year.
Assuming that Love ignores this information and opts to join the Lakers, he could potentially end up in a situation worse than the one with the Timberwolves.
We already know Love cannot take a flawed team to the playoffs, and that’s pretty much what the Lakers would be if Bryant isn’t anything close to the top 2-guard in basketball.
Love isn’t the right superstar to lead the Lakers into the future.
He is certainly talented, but his skills have yet to translate into a playoff berth. I’d be interested in seeing what he would accomplish next to someone like Chris Paul or Kevin Durant.
The reason is simple: Love might be better off as the second-best player on a team. The Lakers will more than likely enjoy having him on board in whatever capacity based on their interest in him, but he’s not what L.A. needs.
Interestingly enough, he could eventually become just what the Lakers require in the event they figure out a way to bring in Durant or a player in the same stratosphere as him.
That would practically guarantee a Los Angeles return to prominence. It’s difficult to determine whether or not the Lakers can pull this off, and as a result, Love might not be the perfect L.A. fit many would argue he is.