NBA Trade Rumors: How Kevin Love Would Impact Potential Suitors' Title Hopes

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NBA Trade Rumors: How Kevin Love Would Impact Potential Suitors' Title Hopes
NELL REDMOND/Associated Press

Kevin Love remains a Minnesota Timberwolf. You know this because we have not yet descended into sports-thinkpiece mania about the power of NBA superstars and how situations like Love's may be used against players come collective bargaining time.

You also know this because two of the three contenders for Love's services can't complete deals until next month. The Bulls and Cavaliers each have players in their potential offers—chief among them Doug McDermott and Andrew Wiggins, respectively—who cannot yet be traded because they just signed their first NBA contracts.

Hence we sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait for something to actually happen. That even applies to Love, by the way. He withdrew his name from consideration for the United States' FIBA World Cup team last week due to his uncertain future. So not only are NBA teams being affected but perhaps an entire international tournament should Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant find themselves battling foul trouble.

Meanwhile, the rest of us spend our hours speculating. Wondering why in the blue hell the Warriors haven't relented on Klay Thompson. Wondering whether any of the stain from a Love deal would get on LeBron James, whose return to Cleveland helped prompt the discussion. Wondering if the Bulls might trip, fall and land into a superstar despite having the least desirable assets among the three contenders.

It's all a big floppy mess. And it's kinda getting boring at this point. So instead of focusing on what might happen, let's instead step into the impossibility machine and wonder how each of these teams would fare if they cornered the Love market.

 

Golden State Warriors

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Warriors as currently constituted are a playoff lock for at least the next two or three years. Andrew Bogut still has a couple near-prime years left if he stays healthy. Same for Andre Iguodala. David Lee has a game that should allow him to age well. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson should remain awesome.

But it's difficult to see this core making a Finals run in the Western Conference. While Golden State may have the most complete starting lineup in basketball, it also has just one of the league's 20 best players. Rare exceptions like the 2004 Pistons aside (you might be able to throw last season's Spurs into the mix), history says titles come with a two-superstar minimum.

Iguodala, Lee and Bogut are more likely to regress than get any better at this point. Thompson is only 24 and might someday become a top-20 guy, but it's more likely that he tops out as "pretty good"—something like the third- or fourth-best player at his position. Unless Steve Kerr is the second coming of Gregg Popovich, the Warriors are going to have trouble reaching the mountaintop.

A Love-Curry core? That can change the whole dynamic.

Love and Curry would instantly give Golden State the best one-two offensive punch in basketball. Curry is the NBA's best shooter and has pushed himself to become leaps and bounds better as a natural point guard. Last season he became just the fifth player since the ABA-NBA merger to average 24 points and eight assists per game. Love, meanwhile, has the only 25-point, 12-rebound seasons of the last decade and was the first player since the merger to score 26 points, grab 12 rebounds and average four assists per game.

Opening night, the Warriors would have two 26-year-old* superstars who can put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers. Bogut would provide Love a rim protector that he's never had in Minnesota. The Warriors built an elite defense with Lee, a markedly worse defender than the simply below-average Love. Kevin Martin, who tags along with Love in every iteration of reported talks between Minnesota and Golden State, could provide 75-80 percent of Thompson's offensive output.

The biggest overarching issue would be perimeter defense. Mark Jackson did wonders, and Thompson put in a ton of work to develop into a B-level defender on the outside. He often guards the opposing team's best player, allowing the Warriors to hide Curry against elite point guards and keeping Iguodala fresh to do Iguodala things on both ends.

A broken stool is a better defender than Martin. Shaun Livingston, while an excellent comeback story, cannot shoot a lick outside 14 feet. Martin and Livingston combined can approximate Thompson's contributions. Unfortunately, genetic splicing is not advanced enough to combine Livingston and Martin's DNA to recreate Thompson. It's hard to approximate how far the Warriors would fall without Thompson, but it's fair to say they'd be closer to falling out of the top 10 than repeating their third-place finish last year.

Yeah, but still. The Warriors with Love go from fringe contender to a legitimate contender. They're right on par with the Clippers and might even approach the San Antonio-Oklahoma City hierarchy. The Warriors will regret not parting with Thompson when Love winds up in Chicago or Cleveland.

(*Love turns 26 in September.) 

 

Chicago Bulls

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The Bulls remain something of a mystery team in the Love chase. Numerous reports have Chicago putting itself back in the mix after missing out on Carmelo Anthony, but what that really means is up to the interpretation. Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops is the only reporter to give details on a potential move, saying Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson would head to Minnesota.

I'm unsure whether to buy that trade structure. On the surface, it seems a little too heavy on frontcourt players and a little light on assets. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has also reported that Mirotic received a promise from Bulls management that he'd stay in Chicago before buying out his Real Madrid contract. 

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The team could always go back on its word, but the absence of Jimmy Butler in Sheridan's report is surprising. The Wolves might be able to create a dynamic perimeter defensive duo in Butler and first-round pick Zach LaVine. McDermott, Gibson, Butler and a pick might be a more palatable trade in the long run. Until we have a more firm grasp on the package, it's hard to do a weaknesses/strengths dynamic.

So let's play out both scenarios.

If the trade goes through as reported by Sheridan, it's a home run. The Bulls unclog their somewhat jammed up frontline rotation by adding Love, the dynamic second superstar they've been missing during their recent run. Love and Joakim Noah would be the best passing frontcourt in recent league history. The strides Noah has made during Rose's absences have been incredible, and like Bogut he'd make up for Love's defensive deficiencies.

Pau Gasol isn't much of a defender anymore, but he's versatile to vacillate between frontcourt positions depending on whether he's paired with Love or Noah. 

In this scenario, the Bulls are keeping Butler so their lineup is basically set. Butler and Rose can both really defend when they're locked in. Small forward is going to be a weakness next season with Love or without. Perhaps Tony Snell continues the development he showed at summer league and becomes a dynamic force, but the Bulls are looking at below-average production from that spot.

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

The scenario sending Butler and keeping Mirotic is scarier. Tom Thibodeau suddenly has four very talented big men on his hands, two of which are legitimate cornerstone guys. Add Gasol and Mirotic both having their own role expectations and suddenly personality management becomes a much bigger part of Thibs' job. (Note: It's going to be that way with the roster as currently constituted.)

Losing Butler also sends Snell into the starting lineup regardless of his readiness. Snell and Mike Dunleavy as the starting wings on a title contender does not sound so appetizing. 

It's a difficult trek to navigate, and we haven't even gone down the Rose health rabbit hole. The Bulls are in the weak Eastern Conference, so having Rose, Love and Noah alone make them the instant favorite. Plus, I'm not trading Kevin Love without Butler being part of the deal if I'm Flip Saunders.

Chicago would be a considerable favorite to win the East. It's also one Rose injury away from everything going to hell. The Bulls with Love are going to have some weaknesses around the margins, so they'd instantly become the league's most intriguing team if they pull this off.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jack Arent/Getty Images

The collective "we" have acknowledged Cleveland as the overwhelming favorite. The Cavs have unprecedented trade chips in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. They have all of their first-round picks and additional selections coming down the pike from Memphis and Golden State. They also have LeBron James, the world's best player who just so happens to be recruiting Love behind the scenes, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Financial wrangling will be needed in the form of a third team, but that shouldn't be hard to find. Sam Hinkie would participate in an entire season of Fear Factor for a first-round pick. Marc Stein of ESPN reported Sixers forward Thaddeus Young has already been targeted by Minnesota as a potential three-way sweetener.

There is a framework in place if everyone wants to get the deal done.

Whether it makes the Cavs a title favorite this year is another question entirely. A LeBron-Love-Kyrie Irving trio is the best offensive Big Three in basketball. The Thunder have a more well-rounded group, but one could easily start making the case for Cleveland. 

David Blatt might have to fan himself off with the passing level in his starting lineup. Love and LeBron are the best passers at their respective positions. Anderson Varejao, who rarely gets mentioned among the league's headiest bigs, knows where to go with the ball. Irving has improved his assist totals in each of his three NBA seasons, though he hasn't made Curry-esque strides. The only real weak link in this case is Dion Waiters, who would probably be best served as a sixth man.

The Clippers are probably the only team that could keep up with Cleveland possession for possession. Blatt's system is tailored to highlight intelligent players, and the Cavs might break basketball in small-ball lineups featuring Love at center and James at power forward. You'd have to be using pretty warped logic to pick any team other than Cleveland to come out of the East.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Winning the title is a different story. Blatt's reputation as an offensive wizard will never come into question with this revamped core, but his ability to coach up an NBA defense certainly will. Losing Wiggins is a killer for the Cavs' perimeter defense. Even if Wiggins isn't quite ready to take over offensively, he's a freak athlete who projects as a Paul George-level perimeter stopper. There is no one to replace him in Cleveland, which lays more responsibility on James, the soon-to-be 30-year-old.

The concept of rim protection will be a concept as foreign as a Browns Super Bowl. The last time Varejao played in all 82 games was never, and he's missed 166 games in the four years since James' departure. Behind him sits Brendan Haywood, who makes history by being the NBA's first 44-year-old 34-year-old. Love was among the league's worst rim protectors last season, and Tristan Thompson grades out as mediocre.

We saw last season what a whip-smart team like San Antonio could do against better paper talent. The Cavs would be among the handful of teams that could realistically win a title with Love, but they're more likely a few moves in the summer of 2015 away from hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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