The time has arrived in Northeast Ohio for change – from contending annually for titles to a more future-oriented way of roster construction.
Due to the departure of one of the greatest players the league has ever seen, many of the guys the Cleveland Cavaliers depended on to help carry the load around LeBron James could see themselves dealt, either this summer or at the trade deadline in 2019, to help pave the way for younger options to get valuable playing time next season.
And that applies to five-time All-Star Kevin Love more than anyone else.
Love is coming off a productive campaign in which he averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest while knocking down 41.5 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, the second-highest rate of his career.
Although he does have two fully guaranteed years left on his contract (albeit with a player option on Year-2), totaling a whopping $49.7 million, the UCLA product likely wouldn’t have a shortage of suitors if he did get placed on the trade block. Whether Cleveland is willing to move him remains to be seen, but the most recent scuttle on the matter, from The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, suggests Love may not finish out his hefty deal as a member of the Cavaliers (via The Athletic):
“The first roster decision will be determining Kevin Love’s future. He has one year left of team control, and despite the Cavs’ insistence they aren’t interested in trading him, multiple sources around the league have told The Athletic the Cavs are indeed shopping him.”
Below, we break down a few potential suitors and trade packages that could be put together for Love if Cleveland decides to blow things up this offseason.
From one team abandoned by LeBron to the other, a deal between these two parties may have seemed unlikely a few years ago when wounds were more fresh. But now, seeing one come to fruition wouldn’t be so surprising.
The Miami Heat lack a star, a fact made even more evident in the 2018 playoffs when Erik Spoelstra’s team was summarily dismissed in five games by the younger, more talented Philadelphia 76ers. Their roster is made up of excellent complementary pieces, but it lacks that one guy who could be counted on to get a bucket late in tight games, especially after Dion Waiters‘ season ended once his ankle troubles became too much for him to bear.
Landing a player as talented as Love could help change that and shift Miami’s ceiling in the process.
The type of package the Heat could offer Cleveland to land Love could be something like:
- Heat get: Love
- Cavaliers get: Tyler Johnson, Bam Adebayo, lottery-protected 2019 first-round pick
By accepting an offer of Johnson and Adebayo, the Cavs would get two young, athletic players whose combined contracts don’t add up to how much Love is owed over the next two seasons. Johnson’s deal, in particular, can’t be labeled as anything but ugly, but at least the fact that he’s just 26 years old helps him fit into a rebuilding timeline a bit better than Love.
The real appealing part of this offer, though, aside from acquiring an important asset in the form of a first-rounder, is Adebayo, who is entering the second season of his rookie-scale deal and is set up to be under team control for another six years – a huge advantage for whichever club he’s a member of. The 20-year-old has huge upside as a big man who can handle the rock and distribute at a surprising rate for a player of his girth, while feasting on rebounds and throwing down rim-rattling dunks with ease:
And with how well he performed in the Sacramento Summer League, his stock is only improving.
This potential trade isn’t perfect, and maybe we could switch Adebayo for Justise Winslow, or add Winslow to the package outright if Cleveland favors the two-way wing over the more traditional big man, but it’s about the best the Cavs could hope for considering just how much money is left on Love’s contract.
The Charlotte Hornets, like the Heat, are stuck in the worst possible place a franchise could be: in a mediocre rut.
The team run by Michael Jordan is just $9 million beneath the luxury tax, and yet they’ve missed out on the playoffs two years running, which led to the dismissals of general manager Rich Cho and head coach Steve Clifford.
Under new GM Mitch Kupchak, it’s not yet clear which direction Charlotte is going to take: Will they attempt to acquire more talent to build a strong team on the last year of Kemba Walker’s club-friendly contract? Or will they trade Walker, their two-time All Star, and opt to go for a full rebuild?
The latter likely makes more sense, but if we’ve learned anything about Jordan, it’s that due to his competitiveness, he sometimes doesn’t make the most reasonable decisions. Thus, the Hornets attempting to bolster the squad around Walker can’t be ruled out.
That’s where Love comes into the picture.
With Love manning the 4-spot next to rim-diving expert Cody Zeller, Walker maintaining his pristine level of form, and Nicolas Batum regaining his after an injury-riddled season, Charlotte could find themselves right back in the playoffs in 2019.
To acquire Love, the Hornets may offer a package resembling this:
- Hornets get: Love
- Cavaliers get: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb
Kidd-Gilchrist, despite his struggles as a scorer, is the type of player who makes his team better. Over his six years as a professional, the Hornets have consistently outscored opponents during the Kentucky product’s time on the floor, never once boasting a negative net rating for a season with Kidd-Gilchrist in the game. His defensive prowess on the wing and ability to slash off the ball make him a valuable contributor, one who could help any team. And not only does his contract expire in merely two summers – when Cleveland could be ready to build through free agency for the first time since James’ departure – the Cavs would also receive his Bird Rights, making Kidd-Gilchrist easier to re-sign if he performs well over the next two seasons.
Meanwhile, Lamb is coming off a career-year (in which he averaged a healthy 12.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest off the bench), and his contract expires in 2019, freeing up a ton of cap space for Cleveland after theoretically trading Love away.
This deal wouldn’t net the Cavs any assets, but they would get two youngish players who can contribute on playoff-caliber teams, as well as open up cap room, of which they are desperately lacking.
Portland Trail Blazers
Though the Portland Trail Blazers aren’t quite in the mediocre hell that Miami and Charlotte find themselves in, after getting swept out of the 2018 playoffs, they’ll probably be desperate to find ways to improve the roster around their star backcourt this offseason.
One player who could help greatly is Love.
His ability to space the floor and score from the low block could help head coach Terry Stotts build a stronger offense – an absolute necessity after Portland finished 2017-18 ranked 16th in offensive rating despite having two elite scorers at the two guard spots. And with Jusuf Nurkic re-signing with the Blazers, Portland would have a strong five-man lineup that features Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Love and Nurkic.
Adding to Portland’s motivation to bolster the roster is recent smoke regarding Lillard’s potential displeasure with the franchise, which only picked up more steam after the star guard sent this tweet:
That could mean nothing. It’s worth noting that Lillard did follow it up by retweeting a Blazers fan who said, “Portland for life.”
Either way, some think it may have been a subtle message sent to the front office by Lillard, who was upset after the team didn’t re-sign Ed Davis – an important figure in Portland’s locker room. Davis joined the Brooklyn Nets in free agency without receiving a competitive offer from Portland. So the Weber State product could be in need of some appeasement.
Well, acquiring an excellent piece like Love could be one way to help placate Lillard after a rough few months.
To do so, the Blazers could offer the following:
- Blazers get: Love
- Cavaliers get: Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins and lottery-protected 2019 first-round pick
That exact deal would help Portland get off two bad contracts while landing an All-Star talent, who could be the missing piece for the Blazers to make a deeper run in the brutal Western Conference playoffs.
On Cleveland’s end, they’d be receiving an all-important first-round pick for 2019 (they lose their own first-rounder next year unless they finish with a Top-10 selection due to the Kyle Korver trade with the Atlanta Hawks) and a promising young big man with an outside shot in Collins, who’s still just 20 years old and improved steadily as a rookie. What’s more, the bad money received back in this deal would expire in just two summers, when the Cavs could be ready to make their next run at playoff contention.
With James’ departure, the door is wide open for non-Cleveland-and-Miami Eastern-Conference teams to do something they haven’t been able to do since 2010: Reach the Finals… Teams like the Toronto Raptors.
Last season looked like it was finally going to be the Raptors’ year; they embraced the three-point shot, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry adapted their games for the betterment of the club and team president Masai Ujiri formed one of the best benches in the league thanks to the contributions of young studs like Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet.
And then they faced off with James and the Cavs in the playoffs again, were unceremoniously swept out of the postseason and eventually fired their head coach because of it. In the aftermath of how brutally their season ended, it looked like Toronto could be headed toward a rebuild.
But with LeBron heading west, things may have changed.
Now, the Raptors could look to add another piece to help them in potential postseason showdowns against the Philadelphia 76ers or Boston Celtics – a piece like Love.
To make it happen, Toronto could offer the following:
- Raptors get: Love
- Cavaliers get: Serge Ibaka and an unprotected 2019 first-round pick
Ibaka is included solely for salary-matching purposes, as getting him off the books would actually be a coup for the Raptors due to how poorly he’s fit into the team.
The important part here for the Cavs, obviously, would be receiving an unprotected first-rounder, which could end up being their second first-round selection of the 2019 draft.
Love’s fit with Toronto would be fantastic, as his floor-spacing could help him form a synergistic tandem next to Jonas Valanciunas, and his championship-level experience could prove vital in the playoffs since that’s when the Raptors have lost confidence in recent seasons.
Again, these theoretical deals were put together with a Cavs rebuild in mind. Cleveland could still very well choose to chase a postseason berth and keep their veterans, primarily Love, instead. It wouldn’t be the wisest route to take, but Miami did the same after going through their own LeBron departure… and they’re still paying the price for it – stuck with a huge payroll for a hardly-over-.500 team.
The Cavaliers would be savvy to opt for the rebuild.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.