Kevin Love deal is done

Posted: 08/07/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

The Kevin Love saga is finally over. Actually, it’s been pretty clear for weeks now, but we’ve finally gotten some definitive news: Kevin Love is going to Cleveland, and he’s going to be there for a long time. Yahoo sports is reporting that Love is going to the Cavs for a package including 2014 #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, and a protected first round pick in 2015. This has pretty much been bound to happen ever since LeBron James signed with his hometown Cavs. Why? Well, for a few reasons. The first is that Kevin Love is a perfect fit for LeBron James and also Kyrie Irving. LeBron succeeds most when playing with guys who can stretch the defense by hitting threes. On their current roster, the Cavaliers are without a big man who can shoot from three point range. Their starting big men, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, are both poor shooters. Guess what Kevin Love is? He’s only the best shooter among big men in the NBA. He made more threes last year than any of the Cavaliers’ big men attempted. The writing was on the wall for Wiggins and Bennett as soon as James’ SI piece came out. In that piece, LeBron mentioned Dion Waiters, Irving, Thompson, and Varejao. It seems kind of odd that he neglected to mention Bennett and especially Wiggins, who looks likely to become a star player in a matter of years. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that Wiggins and Bennett were excluded from James’ piece. It seems likely that he knew when he signed that the Cavaliers had a very good chance at trading for Love, and that Bennett and Wiggins would be moving in the trade. Given that he’s Cleveland’s de facto GM now, he obviously was ok with that.

And who wouldn’t be happy to play with Kevin Love? By the stats, Love is one of the five best players in basketball. He rebounds at a tremendous rate, with a career 12.2 rebounds per game. Love is also a tremendous passer, perhaps one of the best outlet passers in the game. That’s useful on any team, but especially so with fastbreak maestros Irving and James running up and down the court. Love’s 4.4 assists per game last year were tops among power forwards and 1.3 per game ahead of Paul Millsap, who was fifth among power forwards. That’s a wide margin. For a while, Love was putting up a near triple-double every game, and ended up with three triple-doubles. That’s pretty good for a big man. Really, though, Love is most valuable because of his ability to score the basketball. He’s always been a good shooter, but last year he took it up another level, averaging 26 points per game on 38% three point shooting (2.5 made threes per game) and a 46% field goal percentage. He also shot 82% from the line. Basically, Love is a big man who shoots like Stephen Curry. Wow.

Love is a superstar, and Cleveland looks pretty good right now, but this trade doesn’t mean we should anoint them NBA or even Eastern Conference champions just yet. It remains to be seen how the big three of Irving, James, and Love play together. They seem pretty good on paper, but all three are scorers, and it remains to be seen if one of the three (likely to be Irving) is willing to take a large cut in shot attempts. It might just be that there aren’t enough basketballs to feed this big three AND Dion Waiters, a shoot-first player who looks like the starting shooting guard. It also has to be said that this team is setting up to be below-average, if not putrid, defensively. James remains a good defender, but he’s not young anymore, and took some plays off defensively last season. Maybe he could have had a bounce-back year defensively if Wiggins, another great defender, were on the team, but he’s not, so James will have to defend the best wing player on the opposing team every game again. That’s an issue. Irving and Love are both well below-average defensively, and Waiters isn’t that great either. This has the looks of a team that will average 108 points but allow over 100 per game, which isn’t necessarily a championship formula. When you compare this team to Chicago, their main competition in the East, the defense is embarrassing to the tough-as-nails-Bulls D, which featured Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler.

The defense is going to be bad and the big three might not be fully in sync at first, but this is still a deal the Cavaliers had to make. Love is, again, a great player, and Wiggins and Bennett are not, at least not yet. The Cavaliers have a window, but it’s not one that’s going to stay open forever. They need to win in the next few years, because after that James will start declining and it’ll be tough to win a championship. So when you consider that the Cavs’ window to win is now, the fact that they had to give up two former #1 overall picks makes more sense, especially given that Love has committed to re-signing with Cleveland instead of testing free agency next summer.

From the Wolves’ sake, the fact that they had to trade another franchise cornerstone is sad. First it was Kevin Garnett, and now it’s Love. This return from the big man might not seem great, but if Wiggins becomes the superstar he has the potential to become, it’ll look much better. Still, it’s kind of puzzling that the Wolves weren’t able to get a single established starter in return (no, Bennett doesn’t count). This has the potential of being a solid trade for Minnesota, but it could also turn out to be a disaster.

You have to wonder how the Golden State Warriors are feeling right now. They could have had Love before the draft and before Cleveland was a possibility, but they passed because they didn’t want to include Klay Thompson in a trade. Thompson is fine, but he’s no Kevin Love, and the Warriors had a chance to have a starting lineup including Stephen Curry, Kevin Martin (who would have gone to GSW in the trade), and Love. That’s a lot of shooting, and Love could have enabled the Warriors to take the next step. The Curry-Thompson backcourt is nice, but I don’t think the Warriors as currently constructed will win the championship or even the West. With Love, they could well have done that.

Remember that this trade cannot become official until August 23rd, because Wiggins signed his rookie contract on July 24th and rookies can’t be traded until a month after their deals are inked. Speaking of that: it’s pretty incredible that a #1 overall pick is going to be traded before playing a single NBA game, especially one as hyped as Wiggins. The bottom line is that this trade makes sense for the Cavaliers, who are in win-now mode, but it could also turn out really well for the Timberwolves, although it would have been nice to see them acquire at least one proven starter in the trade.

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