The trade deadline now fast approaches following a Cavaliers’ victory on Monday night against the Detroit Pistons from Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit. The Cavaliers move to 13-34 following the win and sit tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Knicks. They are well on their way to second consecutive year in the draft lottery, and I have already written about their continually frustrating play despite this specific victory. Concerns continue to brew as reports come out that some of the players on the roster are frustrated that more progress hasn’t been made on the court.
Kevin Love is likely one of those critics. He has already let it be known that he would prefer to be traded to a contending team, while not directly demanding so. It is well-documented that he is frustrated though, showing it both on and off the court. Hard decisions are going to have to be made as February 6th approaches.
I came into this season thinking Love would likely remain on the roster through April, but with how this season has progressed and how detrimental keeping Love could possibly be to every party involved, its now a definite that a trade to ship Love elsewhere should at least be explored. Beyond that, we know for a fact that Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman is listening to offers.
And the rumor mill spins. I’ve taken some considerable time to comb through that rumor mill and devise a list of suitors for Love. The teams I am about to list have had their names strewn about the inter-webs in regards to a potential attachment to a trade. I will put them in three categories and rank them, from least likely to most.
Before we get there though, we need to have some criteria for these rankings. Teams obviously have to financially be capable of taking on Love and his 4-year extended contract in a trade that makes sense for both sides. The money has to match up under NBA rules, and the trade must make sense. Beyond the basic financials of the situation, I will be mindful that most teams are also trying to save their cap space for the summer of 2021 when a monumental free agent class headlined by Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will be available. Therefore, a team that can handle Love’s contract, and still have additional cap space is a better option. One possible exception to this element though would be a team that isn’t located in a big market or glamorous, free agent destination. That type of team would be much more likely to pull the trigger on a trade for a star of Love’s ilk, even with the flaws his contract perpetuates .
Further, Love must be a fit for that prospective team. This likely means its a team with a star or two on it already where Love would slide in as the 2nd or 3rd best player. The team would have to be able to swallow the fact that Love has statistically been one of the worst defenders in the league this year (299th out of a qualifying 311 in NBA.com’s Defensive Rating!!!). Lastly, a team currently in playoff position that isn’t considered head and shoulders above everyone else (so basically any team in either conference’s top 8 that isn’t the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks) or a fringe playoff team looking to gain some cachet would be a better fit. I personally think the best bet to trade Love comes from a team looking to cause a stir by jumping itself from 9th thru 11th in this conference right now and into the playoffs.
Additionally, wherever it isn’t already mentioned, there is also the opportunity for draft picks to be included in these trades. I will talk a lot about the Cavs receiving players that often just fill salary cap rule obligations. Ultimately, most of the value back that the Cavs will ever receive will be in dollar-less draft pick selections.
There might be one or two more elements to this, but those would be specific to the teams we are talking about, and we will get to that. Without further delay, let’s get to it! Here are your nine ranked teams that have been rumored to Kevin Love trades.
I Can’t Believe Writers Thought These Were Good Ideas
9. Golden State Warriors
- The premise behind this is that the Warriors are itching to get rid of guard D’Angelo Russell so much that they would be willing to take on Love in an effort to re-tool next season.
- What’s more likely is that the Warriors will continue to tank out this season, try to come back with a fully healthy squad next year, plus a high draft choice and be nearly as scary as they were in 2016 all over again.
- Yes, Russell becomes redundant next year when Klay Thompson returns and he is the only player financially that makes the money work here. MAYBE this is a consideration in the summer if Love hasn’t been dealt, but I suspect the Warriors are in no hurry to use their assets.
8. Boston Celtics
- There’s some reason to believe this. The Celtics have needed a front-line big since Al Horford skipped town in the off-season and Boston is the 3rd best defensive team in the league, capable of covering Love’s short-comings
- But, the trade would require Boston dealing Gordon Hayward for the money to work, and I don’t expect that to occur from a chemistry standpoint. Celtics coach Brad Stevens brought in his former college recruit for a reason and I don’t think trading would sit well in the locker room either. Hayward has fought back from devastating injuries for this organization. They aren’t going to dump him like that.
- This is also a big market team capable of pulling a free agent in 2021. They likely don’t want to burn that space on Love, which is exactly what a trade would require.
- Brian Windhorst has come out and categorically said the Celtics won’t be trading for Kevin Love (Love content starts at 37:09 on the podcast).
7. Dallas Mavericks
- Another team where contracts lead to trade inflexibility, this one requires the Mavericks to deal sixth-man Tim Hardaway Jr. I fear he might be too difficult of a loss for a team with true aspirations to go deep into the playoffs. They’d be trading their 3rd best scorer for a guy averaging only about 3 points more a game if this trade were in the offing.
- Love would slot in well with current stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but he would fill their 2021 cap room. Doncic will be 22 in 2021. Porzingis will be 26. They are perfectly equipped to continue to progress for now and add another star when that summer comes. They have the possibility to be the next super-team in a couple years, but only if they don’t trade for Love.
Teams Where I Can Start to See It
6. Portland Trail Blazers
- This seemed fairly likely at one point. Portland is Love’s hometown team and he has expressed interested in returning. I’d even call it his preference.
- Also, stat-stuffing but often not-winning center Hassan Whiteside would be a likely centerpiece to any trade. I could see the Cavs being excited about giving Whiteside a 4th chance for his career to flourish.
- Portland is a fringe playoff team, currently 10th in the West as they have disappointed all season. Love would be a good fit to go with star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
- However, Portland traded wing-man Kent Bazemore earlier this month and his contract was likely needed for flexibility in any such Kevin Love trade.
- They are also 25th in the Association in defense, a likely explanation for their woes this year and something Love would far from remedy.
- He’d also fill their cap for the 2021 off-season. Portland might be a little too underwhelming right at this moment to sacrifice their future. This trade seems a little ill-conceived.
5. Miami Heat
- Miami is an ambitious playoff team that could really stand to add to the star power it has with forward Jimmy Butler. They’re 14th in defense and Butler along with coach Erik Spolestra preach a style that could bolster Love’s abilities on the defensive end.
- A trade would likely include some combination of veteran forward James Johnson’s bad contract and wing-man Justise Winslow, who has been oft-injured this season and played poorly when healthy.
- However, due to previous moves the Heat are unable to include their first round pick in 2020 or 2022 in any trade, making sweetening the pot much more difficult and likely requiring them to trade one of the young, talented prospects that they have been depending on for production this season (my recommendation would be shooter Duncan Robinson). I doubt they will be willing to make that sacrifice.
- Miami is a big-market, destination for free agents and the Heat are currently positioned well to bring in a big name player in 2021. They still could do so if they trade for Love, they currently would have that much space, but after relenting on trading for Thunder guard Chris Paul all summer for cap reasons, it sure seems more likely that Pat Riley would rather hold onto that money for another year and a half.
The Real Deal Ideas
4. Indiana Pacers
- Indiana has a cavalcade of players that could possibly be included in a deal that would likely be headlined by center Myles Turner. The Olympian is expendable for a perceived inability to co-exist on the floor with other fellow big man Domatas Sabonis, who the Pacers are committed to.
- The Pacers would fill their 2021 cap money if they trade for Love, but are a small market team not likely to pull in a big fish in free agency.
- They already have players like guard Victor Oladipo and Sabonis to slot around Love and are the 10th best Defensive team in the NBA.
- Concerns come from how serious are the Pacers about their playoff aspirations and the fact that this trade would occur within the Central Division. Indiana is 5th in the East and still doesn’t have Oladipo back from injury, but does a trade for Love really make them competitive with the Bucks? Will the Cavs trade Love within the Central? Still, there is potential here. This deal would check a lot of boxes for both teams.
3. Orlando Magic
- The Magic are the 7th seed in the East right now and could really bolster themselves by adding a playoff tested star like Love who can provide offense to go with the 7th best defense in the league.
- They are a smaller market, but do have some Florida appeal to free agents, which is handy because currently they could handle Love and an additional 2021 free agent on their books.
- Aaron Gordon is likely the big contract to be traded back to the Cavs and he’s the closest thing Orlando has to a face for their franchise right now. That might be a price slightly too steep, or the Magic front office could think their potential has peaked with Gordon as their leader.
- An interesting note: teams are also interested in Magic guard DJ Augustin. Augustin’s steady hand was crucial to Orlando’s playoff appearance last season, but they might also be willing to part with him in exchange for Love. A team like the Clippers though is much more likely to have use for Augustin, so a 3-team deal might be a possibility. This would likely require the Cavs to also acquire Mo Harkless from the Clippers.
- A simpler 2-way deal such as Gordon and forward Al-Farouq Aminu for Love is more likely.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
- Memphis had the 2nd pick in the most recent NBA Draft. As of today, they are the 8th seed in the West at 22-24.
- They are a small market with a young team and a ton of cap space. They don’t have other stars to pair with Love outside of rookie guard Ja Morant, but would automatically get a bump for adding a play of Love’s caliber offensively. It would also signal that their front office is serious about competing.
- A deal will likely include center Jonas Valanciunas and the miserable contract of forward Solomon Hill. There’s not a lot of value there but with a pick or two included, there is a trade that makes a lot of sense.
- The only other drawback I see if that Memphis is 22nd in Defensive Rating, but I think they could compromise that to solidify their present and to provide a running man for the young Morant.
- Phoenix Suns
- This is the most likely destination if only based off all the non-hypothetical smoke that exists around a Kevin Love to Phoenix trade.
- The Suns are 11th in the West, and although Memphis is in the playoffs as of today and Phoenix isn’t the Suns have a considerable amount more star power to pair Love with in one of the top scoring guards in the league in Devin Booker and former 1st overall pick center DeAndre Ayton.
- Phoenix isn’t a traditional small market team but they are an organization with a bit of a reputation for a bad owner, making then not a great free agent destination. A Love trade might be their chance to bring in an established star.
- Beyond all this, they could have 2021 cap room even with Love added to their roster and he could help change the reputation of the organization.
- The Suns also have the biggest arsenal of trade-able contracts to send back to Cleveland. Guard Tyler Johnson is likely part of the deal, but beyond that names could include Cam Johnson, Aaron Baynes, Frank Kominsky, Mikal Bridges along with various picks. Variety and flexibility more likely means a better chance at a deal.
Will a trade happen? That is yet to be seen. There is still the pull and tug of the fact teams don’t want to take on Love’s 4-year max contract. He’s on the wrong end of 30 years old and has an injury history. There aren’t a lot of long-term contracts in the league right now and having all that money tied up is a real liability. Teams will feel like they are doing the Cavs a favor by taking him off their hands, but the Cavs are still going to want value for him.
I do know that after finishing this exercise a trade feels more possible than I thought it could be before. There’s a real possibility a team like Indiana, Memphis or Phoenix will want to make a statement and make a slightly rash judgment to compete now. We only have another week or so to wait and see, so an answer is coming shortly.
For now, it wouldn’t be a Cavs season without Kevin Love trade rumors.