Why Cleveland Cavs Should Trade 2014 No. 1 Draft Pick in Kevin Love Deal

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 27, 2014

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) calls a play against the Phoneix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

A fortuitous bounce of the draft lottery ping-pong balls gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a brand new look on life—and a potential pipeline to Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love.

With just a 1.7 percent chance to snag the coveted spot atop the 2014 NBA draft, the Cavaliers managed to do just that. Without the help of walking good luck charm (and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's son) Nick Gilbert, no less.

Rarely are signs sent with more clarity from the basketball gods.

The time for the Cavaliers to strike it rich in the superstar department is now, and that doesn't mean investing this selection in a risk-reward prospect like Kansas studs Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid or Duke standout Jabari Parker.

It means taking a Daryl Morey-type hack at the trade market for the long frustrated, apparently available Love. Cleveland's treasure trove of assets grew infinitely more appealing with the addition of the No. 1 pick, pushing this franchise as far up the laundry list of Love suitors as it desires to go:

The Cavaliers must decide what their top-dollar price would be. This is hardly the time to pinch pennies. Not with seemingly every team in the league buying a ticket for the raffle of Love.

Yet none can scratch Minnesota's itch quite like Cleveland. Others can dangle proven contributors, multiple draft considerations, salary savings or any combination of the three.

But the Cavaliers can sell hope.

They're the ones who can offer a path to any of the drool-worthy prospects atop a class that scouts initially saw as historically special.

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Maybe Minnesota wants a shot at the tantalizing Embiid, a player Grantland's Bill Simmons has described as "a 7-foot Serge Ibaka." Or perhaps the Wolves want Wiggins, a player whose "worst-case scenario" is Vince Carter, according to what one NBA scout told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. Or it could be Parker, the Wayman Tisdale Award winner boasting a deep bag of NBA-ready offensive skills.

There's a long developmental road ahead for all three, but the potential to become a transcendent talent is real.

Find another Love suitor where that's the case. Actually, don't bother looking. It does not exist.

The Golden State Warriors would reportedly balk should Minnesota request sharpshooter Kevin Love, a team source told Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group. David Aldridge of NBA.com reports any trade talks with the Washington Wizards would "surely die" at the mention of Bradley Beal.

Thompson and Beal may well have better careers than any of the three aforementioned freshmen, but their names don't carry the same buzz as the youngsters. With disgruntled fans to win back after moving Love, the Wolves might opt for the sexiest offer.

The Cavs should be the ones making that pitch, but first must accept the fact that it's going to cost them the top pick:

No matter how much else Cleveland can throw Minnesota's way, the latter should not (and would not) accept a trade without that selection secured:

This cannot be a breaking point for the Cavs. Not when considering the quality of the player being discussed and what he might mean to both the franchise's present and future.

Even if Cleveland loved the current batch of prospectsESPN.com's Jeff Goodman heard that Embiid sits atop the Cavs' draft board, but concerns about his back injury have left both Wiggins and Parker in play—what is the chance any one of them winds up becoming the player that Love already is?

Love is a reversal-of-fortune type talent. He finished the 2013-14 campaign fourth in the NBA in scoring (26.1 points per game), third in rebounds (12.5) and third in player efficiency rating (26.9), via Basketball-Reference.com.

There are no fingers to cross with the league's quintessential stretch 4. He's an All-NBA talent, just now entering the peak years of his career.

Players of his ilk are the reason teams do not shut the door on potentially parting with such a coveted pick, and Cavs general manager David Griffin has left his swinging in the breeze, via the Plain Dealer:

If Griffin has considered the possibility of parting with the pick, what are the chances he's envisioned doing a deal for someone other than Love? It sounds like slim-to-none, based on what Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders wrote:

The Cavaliers are open for business. They are open to trading the top overall pick, but they want a bona fide All-star in return. Minnesota big man Kevin Love has been linked to the Cavs and he is absolutely a player the Cavs would move the top pick to obtain. The Cavs would require Love to opt-in to the final contract year of his deal as part of a transaction.

Therein lies the potential hangup for Cleveland.

Love can opt out of his current contract next summer. That's the reason Minnesota has begrudgingly begun entertaining offers.

After swinging for the fences and apparently whiffing on last year's top pick, Anthony Bennett (4.2 points on 35.6 percent shooting in his rookie season), the Cavs cannot afford to throw away this lifeline for a one-year rental of Love.

As Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal explained, Love has little motivation to agree to an extension before his current deal expires:

Love is only under contract for next season before he can invoke an Early Termination Option and become a free agent. The new collective bargaining agreement deters players in this situation from signing extensions — Love can make far more money by playing out his contract and entering free agency.

But the middle ground might be the Cavs persuading Love to waive his ETO for next summer, thereby ensuring they’d have two seasons to convince him to sign a long-term contract when his current deal expires.

A two-year rental might not seem much better than one, but there's a potential domino effect that makes it far more intriguing.

First, the Cavs have their own disgruntled All-Star to appease.

Kyrie Irving is the most recognizable face of the post-LeBron James era in Cleveland—plus an explosive scorer (21.6 points per game over the past two seasons) and developing distributor (career-high 6.1 assists average this season).

Irving is eligible to sign a long-term extension with the franchise this summer, but reports have differed over whether a max-contract offer will be forthcoming. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News most recently said, "the Cavs are making noises that they aren’t going to offer Kyrie Irving 'max money' this summer"—but it still seems likely both teams will agree to a long-term deal.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Should Irving be wary about re-signing due to the team's on-court struggles, landing a win-now piece like Love could help alleviate a lot of those concerns.

Band-Aid options like Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng couldn't help Irving lift Cleveland out of its post-LeBron slump, but none of those players belong in the same conversation as Love.

Similarly, Love has never shared the floor with an offensive talent like Irving. (Well, outside of their Pepsi MAX-sponsored geezer game, that is.) Two years alongside Irving may convince Love that winters in Cleveland aren't the worst things in the world.

A defensively challenged duo of Love and Irving may not bring the Cavaliers the type of success they're so desperately chasing. That's when the third domino needs to drop for Cleveland.

The same one the franchise has tried to knock down since James vacated the premises in 2010: orchestrating his triumphant return.

Cleveland could hope that Irving and the unnamed No. 1 pick is enough to lure LeBron back to Ohio, but wouldn't a certified star like Love eliminate a lot of the guesswork?

"What's more likely to entice [James]: Kyrie Irving and a promising but raw Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins, or the combination of Irving and an established star in his prime like Love?" Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated wrote.

Every Cavs' narrative eventually winds its way back to James, and with good reason. When a franchise feels that it has a chance to land the best player on the planet—even if it's facing Lloyd Christmas' odds—it has to pursue that avenue from every possible angle.

The Cavaliers could land a game-changer with the No. 1 pick, maybe a talent even more impactful than Love. Or they could set the entire franchise back with Bennett 2.0.

Chances are, they'd walk away with something in the middle. And in a superstars league, it's best to aim towards the highest possible outcome.

Cleveland can (and should) try to pry Love loose without the No. 1 pick. After Minnesota laughs that package off, the Cavs should swing for the fences like they never did during James' tenure. They should give Irving the kind of top-tier help the King never had.

Then, all they need to do is keep the throne warm. Cleveland's dreams of bringing James back to the fold get a lot more realistic when Love and Irving are already part of the plan.

Think that potential superteam sounds crazy? Try imagining passing up the chance to put it together to take a flier on an unproven rookie.

Now that would be crazy.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.


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