After a long, painfully dry drought of trade rumors in the NBA, one that was historically lengthy, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the silence on Friday by reporting that the Cleveland Cavaliers are finally ready to hear offers for five-time All-Star Kevin Love.
If a deal is on the way, it would make sense considering the stage of rebuilding Cleveland is currently in (very early on in the process), and how much time is left on Love’s contract (three more seasons after this one). Simply put: Love doesn’t make much sense on the Cavaliers’ roster the way it’s construed at the moment, and he would be better served suiting up for a playoff-caliber team.
Now, that doesn’t mean finding a suitor for Love will be easy. He’s 31, somewhat injury prone and owed a ton of money – over $120 million, to be exact.
Still, Love is putting up good numbers this season (16.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg on 44.6/37.6/88.1 shooting splits) and if he is made available, contenders will come calling.
So we decided to break down four potential trade destinations for the former champion. Without further ado, let’s check them out.
The Utah Jazz are off to a slow start this season, which isn’t totally out of the ordinary for them under head coach Quin Snyder. Over the past couple of campaigns, Utah has begun at a mediocre level before going on long runs and establishing themselves as a Top 4-caliber team in the West.
So far in 2019-20, the Jazz are 12-10 and boast a net rating of +0.1, which is about as mediocre as you could get. And considering the expectations they had coming into the season after the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, among others, Utah has been pretty disappointing.
One area they could use help in is at the 4-spot, where Snyder has turned to Royce O’Neal and Jeff Green to be the primary options, to which the duo have responded by averaging a combined 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Love’s production would far exceed that. What’s more, from a basketball fit sense, the big man’s floor-spacing would form a wonderful synergy with the paint-bound Rudy Gobert, whose defensive prowess would mask Love’s deficiencies on the other end of the floor.
Finding the salaries to match in order to make a deal between the Jazz and Cavs work is tricky, especially with the struggling Joe Ingles ineligible to be traded until the offseason, but a trade can be found using a core package including Bogdanovic, Dante Exum and Ed Davis. Add a Top-10 protected first-rounder and that could be enough to entice Cleveland, who would be acquiring one elite asset and a promising young player on a relatively cheap deal in Exum, who could use a change of scenery.
Another playoff team in need of a power forward, the Brooklyn Nets would also make sense as potential Love suitors.
Without an injured Kevin Durant, Brooklyn isn’t expected to compete for a title this season, but acquiring Love would raise their ceiling and put them on the same tier as everyone behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the East. Plus, with Kyrie Irving in the fold and Durant set to return next season, having the modern version of the 2015-16 title-winning Cavaliers, with Durant playing the role of LeBron James, could appeal to the Nets.
Love’s post game, one that will be able to flourish again on a team with more threats to score besides just him, will garner the Nets simple buckets when needed, while his floor-spacing would fit well next to a rim-diver like Jarrett Allen. Plus, a frontcourt of Allen and Love would absolutely dominate opponents on the glass, and the extra possessions gained from the duo’s offensive rebounding could come quite valuable when the playoffs roll around.
Again, due to Love’s massive salary, finding the right swap of salaries here is tricky, but a package including DeAndre Jordan, Joe Harris (he would be tough to lose but it’d be either him or Spencer Dinwiddie, and the Nets would likely rather keep the latter) and Taurean Prince would come close.
The Phoenix Suns are fighting to reach the playoffs this season for the first time with Devin Booker, and acquiring Love could help them achieve that goal, especially with their need at the 4-spot.
Phoenix’s current starter at power forward, Dario Saric, is doing an admirable job manning the position, averaging 10.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but there’s little doubt he’d be better suited for a bench role where he can make plays and attack the basket against weaker second units.
Love at power forward for the Suns would quickly strengthen their starting five; his screen-setting and pick-and-pop prowess would mesh wonderfully with Booker, his floor-spacing would fit well next to the pick-and-rolling Deandre Ayton (due back from suspensions soon) and his scoring would give Phoenix a legitimate No. 2 option to get buckets.
Ricky Rubio, Booker, Kelly Oubre, Love and Ayton would form a strong starting lineup, with a healthy blend of both young talent and experienced production.
Additionally, thanks to Tyler Johnson’s bloated (but expiring) $19.3 million salary, finding an acceptable trade between the two parties is a lot easier than it is for other suitors. Phoenix would just have to add just under $5 million in outgoing salary, and some draft capital, to make a reasonable offer for Love.
The Boston Celtics are a team that has been rumored to have interest in Love at different points over recent years, so it makes sense that Woj mentioned them in his original report on ESPN on Friday.
With lineups featuring so many athletic wings, so much ball movement and an All-Star point guard, the one area Boston is a bit lacking is in the frontcourt, where Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams are taking the majority of the minutes at the 5.
Love would present an immediate upgrade over any of those guys, and thanks to the versatility defensively of monster point-stoppers like Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, Love’s lack of chops as a defender at center could be masked. The Celtics could also choose to keep Theis, an adept rim-protector, starting at center, play Love at the 4 and surround the two bigs with Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Brown to form a nasty-yet-well-balanced starting five.
Of course, any deal between the two Eastern Conference rivals would have to include Gordon Hayward, who actually earns more than the player Boston would theoretically be trading for in Love (the swingman is making $32.7 million this season to Love’s $28.9 million).
Considering Boston is 7-4 (while boasting the league’s No. 8 net rating) since Hayward went down, and with how well Brown and Tatum are playing, there’s a chance general manager Danny Ainge feels comfortable moving the former Jazz forward to fill another deficient spot on the roster.
After an awkward and disappointing 2018-19 season, the Celtics look quite impressive thus far this campaign. And Love would only make them better.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.