Kevin Love Trade Would Guarantee Nothing for Golden State Warriors

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Kevin Love Trade Would Guarantee Nothing for Golden State Warriors
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors' interest in Kevin Love has been discussed ad nauseam, but one part of the story has been too often overlooked.

Love's potential arrival would guarantee nothing for the Warriors. It definitely wouldn't make them NBA Finals favorites, and it probably wouldn't even move them to the top of the loaded Western Conference.

So, why, then, is there such a fascination with a deal that could make a good team better but isn't likely to make it a great one?

Blame Steve Kerr. Go ahead, Warriors fans, my guess is this will be one of the rare times that doing so might be acceptable.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

During his introduction as head coach, the former player/executive/analyst told reporters his lone piece of personnel advice for the Warriors was that "the team could use a stretch 4." If Kerr doesn't make that information public, it's possible the franchise doesn't become engulfed in the NBA's torrid "Love Affair."

Now, Kerr wasn't the first to link Love to the Dubs.

When ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne first reported that the three-time All-Star had informed the Minnesota Timberwolves of his intention to opt out of his current contract next summer, they also wrote that sources said the Warriors were "among the potential trade destinations that intrigue Love."

If an in-his-prime superstar says your team is on his short list, you have to explore that possibility. But Kerr's advice seemed to back the Warriors into a corner. He said he wanted a stretch 4, and Love has already established himself as one of the finest to ever fill that role.

Last season, Love became the first player in NBA history to score at least 2,000 points (2,010), grab at least 900 rebounds (963) and knock down at least 100 triples (190). He's a 6'10", 260-pound bruiser who has attempted 1,215 threes in his six-year career and converted 36.2 percent of those long-range looks.

In the world of stretch 4's, Love is as stretchy as they come.

The Warriors don't have a player who fits that bill.

Incumbent starting power forward David Lee has taken 26 threes in his career and connected on one. The 210-pound Harrison Barnes doesn't have the size to bang with some of the big bodies at the position. Draymond Green has more weight to throw around, but he's only a 29.7 percent three-point shooter for his career.

Golden State has a need for Love, but what kind of need is it?

Apparently, it's not a big enough one for the Warriors to part with promising swingman Klay Thompson—not yet anyway.

This situation is bigger than the Love-or-Thompson debates fans have been having for months. There are far more layers involved—i.e., the other players and picks that could change hands—and those extra elements probably explain why nothing has been done.

If this were a simple Thompson-for-Love swap, that sounds like a price the Warriors might be willing to pay.

Then again, even that part of the discussion could remain undecided.

Love is probably a better player now than Thompson will ever be, but the addition of the former would leave a massive void at the spot currently filled by the latter.

Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News explained:

While Love solves a number of problems for the Warriors...he creates another significant problem regarding what to do post-Thompson at the 2.  [Andre] Iguodala doesn’t have the offense for the position and may no longer have the speed.  Barnes does better against bigger defenders, not smaller ones.  

Green can guard 2s off switches, but would foul out in a quarter logging full-time minutes against the league’s better offense shooting guards. Starting Kevin Martin — rumored to be part of the deal — would be like a return to the absolute worst of the [Stephen] Curry/[Monta] Ellis years.

The Warriors need to upgrade the power forward spot—Father Time could be closing in on the 31-year-old soon—but if Thompson is needed to get a deal done for Love, this feels like solving one problem by creating another.

Golden State would have an explosive offense with Love and Stephen Curry leading the way, but this attack should pack a heavy punch even without Love next season.

The Warriors were one of only three teams to employ three 18 points-per-game scorers last season. Two of those scorers (Thompson and Lee) would likely be headed out in a trade for Love.

The production of Curry (24 points, 8.5 assists), Thompson (18.4 points, 41.7 percent three-point shooting) and Lee (18.2 points on 52.3 percent shooting) couldn't prevent the Warriors from having a pedestrian ranking of 12th in offensive efficiency, via NBA.com.

However, the team wasn't lacking for weapons; it simply had too many that weren't being used correctly. By handing the coaching reins to Kerr, who told reporters he wants to see "more ball movement, more passes per possession," the Warriors have a chance to unlock their full offensive potential by getting players such as Iguodala, Barnes, Green and Andrew Bogut more involved.

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

It takes an elite offense to win in today's NBA. Of last season's four semifinalists, three ranked inside the top seven in points per 100 possessions.

That's not to suggest this has become an offense-only league. It's far from it, in fact. Three of those semifinalists had top-five efficiency rankings at the defensive end.

Improvement on one side of the floor cannot come at the expense of the other. That's what makes Thompson, a legitimate two-way contributor, such a critical piece of what the Warriors are trying to accomplish.

Best known for his silky three-point shooting, it was Thompson's defensive play this last postseason that captured Kerr's attention.

"Klay guarded Chris Paul the entire Clippers series," Kerr told USA Today's Sam Amick. "He has allowed Steph to conserve some energy at the defensive end, and to slide over to a shooter. The versatility that we have defensively between Klay and (new point guard) Shaun Livingston and (small forward) Andre (Iguodala), it's really important for us."

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Warriors could replace Thompson's defense with Livingston, Iguodala or Green, but those players don't pack the same scoring punch and don't scare a defense from distance. Martin might be able to match Thompson's scoring, but that's all he brings to the hardwood.

If Golden State parts with Thompson in a Love trade, it would need to address the shooting guard spot in a separate transaction. But what would the Warriors use to complete that second deal? Barnes' value has never been lower, Green's salary ($0.9 million) is too low to land a player who could make the same type of impact and this team already owes draft debts through 2018.

Like any good Love story, this one is complicated.

Love would add a new element to the offense, but he's a defensive liability and a harder one to bench than Lee. The athletic frontcourts that bothered the Warriors last season would still be problematic.

They might be better with Love, but they need to be markedly improve to jump from being a sixth seed in a deep conference to a true title contender.

There are arguments to be made for either side of this deal, and they are probably still taking place as we speak. If they aren't ongoing, then Warriors fans may need to move on from this idea.

"Multiple sources say that after the debate, they’ve made the close call to keep Thompson out of it," Tim Kawakmi of the San Jose Mercury News wrote. "Close call. Agonizing call, by some descriptions. But that’s the call. (For now.)"

USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors have bet heavily on this group's championship potential. They have more than $56 million on their 2015-16 payroll already, via ShamSports.com, so it's going to be tough to add impact pieces going forward.

That process wouldn't get any easier after bringing in Love and likely signing him to a max deal. If Martin and his remaining money ($13.8 million over the next two seasons; $7.3 million player option for 2016-17) comes with Love, the Warriors' books would be even tighter.

All of that would build a team that looks really good on paper but perhaps falls short of the "elite" label.

The move might still be worth it to get a transcendent talent like Love, but Warriors fans need to try to keep their expectations under control about what the potential acquisition really means. A championship would not be promised to this team with or without him.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

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