Figuring Out the Best Fit for Kevin Love

A lot depends on whether a team will get Minnesota stat-machine Love or complementary-veteran Love.

Jun 20 2017, 8:36pm

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin announced that he was "stepping down from [his] role" after three years because "we are now at the point where the fit is not right" with owner Dan Gilbert. The early word is that Gilbert wants to replace Griffin with Chauncey Billups, who currently works as a commentator for ESPN. At the same time Griffin was apparently making the decision to leave, the Cavs were involved in multiple trade rumors for an All-Star-caliber player. Names like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, and Carmelo Anthony have been thrown around, as we are once again reminded that there's no season quite like the NBA off-season.

If the Cavs do in fact want to start wheeling and dealing, they'll almost surely have to deal Kevin Love along the way. Kyrie Irving is too essential to what the Cavaliers do to ever be considered in trade talks, and no one else on the Cavs roster is alluring enough to land a superstar in return. This presents two questions: How good is Kevin Love these days, and where would it make the most sense for him to play?

Love's time in Cleveland has been the polar opposite of his six years in Minnesota. With the Wolves, he was a statistic machine, averaging at least 12 rebounds a game four different times, and twice topping 26 points per game. With the Cavs, however, he settled into a complementary role. While many initially presumed that Love would be LeBron James's sidekick, that role went to Irving. Instead, Love has more or less filled the role that Chris Bosh did in Miami: still playing solid basketball, but without the gaudy stats that defined his early years. When you look at a player who spent the first part of his career putting up ridiculous numbers on a team that never went anywhere, and the last three season putting up good-but-not-great numbers on a team that made the Finals each year and won it once, it's hard to tell if the decline is a feature or a bug.

Love is still a quality player, and there's obviously going to be some interest in him. The essential questions here are which destination(s) would be the best fit and whether those teams have enough to offer for him. Last night, the Sixers emerged as a rumored potential landing spot for Love, possibly in a three-way deal with the Pacers and the Cavs that would send Paul George to Cleveland.

(The Pacers are also reportedly in talks with the Lakers, but they are playing hardball on a one-season rental for a guy they know wants to go there anyway.)

It's not hard to see why the Sixers would be interested in acquiring Love; they have a team that is extremely talented, but also quite young and inexperienced. Bringing in a seasoned vet like Love would provide a mentor for their young studs, while also significantly increasing their odds of being able to compete as early as next season. There are some concerns about how Love's style of play would affect the team's pace, but when you have a chance to add a four-time All-Star to a group of immensely talented prospects, those are easier to set aside.

We know that the No. 1 pick (i.e., Markelle Fultz), Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid are off-limits, but one has to wonder if Philly could realistically obtain Love without having to give up Dario Saric. The Croatian power forward is coming off a strong rookie season, and has a ton of potential. If the Pacers give up George and enter rebuild mode, teaming Myles Turner with Saric in the frontcourt would get things off to a nice start. The Sixers would probably like to keep Saric, and are hoping they could acquire Love for the likes of Jahlil Okafor, some assorted picks, and maybe Robert Covington, but if that proves insufficient, Jerry Colangelo would have to ask himself how much he wants Love, and how essential Saric is to the team's future. It won't be an easy decision.

Further fueling the Love trade talks is that the Cavs' potential new GM has openly advocated for trading him, as recently as February.

The obvious qualm here is that Carmelo Anthony is four years older than Love and has played in the league five years longer. But remember, the Cavs' primary focus is on winning the title next year. After that, James re-enters free agency, and as goes LeBron, so goes the Cavs' status as a contender. If the Cavs believe they are better equipped to face the Warriors with Melo than Love, they could very well pull the trigger, perhaps hoping that as the third option on the floor, we'd see less of the IsoMelo that's defined his NBA career and more of the Olympic Melo who thrives in a complementary role and has won three gold medals.

The Phoenix Suns have also been mentioned as a possible destination. Love would improve them right away, perhaps to the point of approaching .500, but they'd also have a clear ceiling that would leave them nowhere near the Spurs and the Warriors.

No matter where Love plays, we know that he has a lot to offer to a team. What we, or any future suitors, don't know is how good he actually is these days. The only way to get a precise answer to that question is to bring him into a situation not necessarily where he's The Guy but not one where he's The Third Guy, either.

In the end, Love-to-Philly makes the most sense. He'd be an excellent veteran mentor for Fultz, Embiid, and Simmons (and possibly Saric, if the Sixers can get Love without him). He'd also solidify an already deep team without having to carry too much of the load, and turn Philly into one of the scariest teams in the East.