When LeBron James left Cleveland for the Lakers in summer 2018, the Cavs needed to respond with a big move. So they extended five-time All-Star Kevin Love’s contract through the 2022-23 season, a bold move demonstrating Cleveland still had playoff aspirations and wasn’t going to give up.
Then the Cavaliers gave up.
In the season opener, Love suffered a toe injury that required surgery. Then the Cavaliers fired Tyronn Lue after six games, sent J.R. Smith home, and traded Kyle Korver just after Thanksgiving. Cleveland won 19 games last season, and Love’s contract seems wildly out of place now on a tanking team building around young guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, both of whom can’t legally drink.
So news that Love is on the trading block isn’t surprising. He has seemingly been subject of trade rumors since his 2014 trade to the Cavaliers (5-18), who, by the way, have won exactly one game in the past month.
Love turned 31 before the season, but he’s still an excellent outside shooter (15.6 ppg.) and rebounder (10.5). He makes about $30 million per season (22nd on the NBA salary list), and there’s roughly $112 million left on his deal. He’ll be 34 in the last season of his current contract. Is Love overpaid? Maybe, but he would be the best available free agent if his contract were up after the season. (Of course, that’s not counting the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, who’s going nowhere.)
Love has appeal for any team that wants to use next year’s cap space early, or capped-out teams who don’t have the financial flexibility to sign a free agent. Instead of competing in the shallow free-agent market, teams could hit the “Buy It Now” option on a slightly used stretch forward with a championship ring. And he might come cheap, because Cleveland surely wants to dump the remaining years on the contract.
Now the big question is, to borrow a few words from the Supremes, “Where will our Love go? ” Here are possible landing spots:
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
There’s a natural fit in Portland, 10 miles from Love’s hometown of Lake Oswego, Oregon. University of Oregon fans still can’t believe the Ducks let Love go to UCLA, following the proud tradition of Portland heroes relocating to Los Angeles (see Matt Groening, Bill Walton, Elliott Smith, etc.). Portland still has a hole in its front court, despite Carmelo Anthony and his Player of the Week award. He’s still Carmelo Anthony, still shooting 40%, and he still can’t play center. Rodney Hood is out for the season, and Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins should both be back before April, so for now, why don’t the Blazers go all-in on their all-offense, no-defense lineup?
Portland can trade Hassan Whiteside and his expiring deal to make the contracts match and to get him off of the floor, and it can put Love at center and gain a huge advantage with him spacing out the other team’s rim protector.
The downside is that Love’s deal could put the Blazers in tax hell for years, and they already have Collins and Nurkic. But they’re not going to have cap space anyway once Damian Lillard’s supermax extension kicks in, and Love might just be a better sidekick to Lillard than C.J. McCollum. They should get Love now, then figure what to do about him and CJ in the off-season. Plus, if he’s in Portland, Love can switch his endorsements from chocolate milk to oat milk.
Another ideal destination for K-Love is Atlanta, where everyone except Trae Young is having a nightmare season. Even though he is putting up 28 points per game, the Hawks’ record (6-18) is grating on Young, who reportedly got frustrated in the locker room over his lack of help. Atlanta intentionally sat on its hands last summer, taking on bad contracts and amassing draft picks, but the result is the shallow team fell apart when John Collins got suspended. But the Hawks have four recent first-round picks and at least $62 million coming off the cap in the summer, maybe more. Are they going to spend that money on Derrick Favors (Pelicans) or Paul Millsap (Nuggets)? Probably not.
Love can pick-and-pop with Young, play center and power forward, and mentor Kevin Huerter about outside shooting and responsible use of sunscreen. The addition of Love surely would punish defenses for doubling Trae. He can rebound, he’s not embarrassing defensively, and if the Hawks made this move now, they could even climb into the playoff race. They play in the East, after all.
As for what they’d offer the Cavs, Atlanta has expiring contracts of Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Chandler Parsons, plus two extra first-rounders and at least four extra second-round picks, some of which they eventually must sell or trade anyway. There’s no reason a team with Young should be 23rd in the league in offense. Love would ensure that doesn’t happen.
In Minnesota, Karl-Anthony Towns is a monster and Andrew Wiggins seems to be realizing his potential, or at least no longer seems like one of the worst draft busts in history. Aside from a few threes from Robert Covington, Wiggins and Towns are the only legit scorers on this terrible offensive team. Even with Towns hitting 3.6 three-pointers per game at a 42% clip, the Timberwolves are still 26th in the league in three-point percentage. That’s why it’s time to bring back Love, who starred for the T-Wolves from 2008-14.
Love would be an excellent complement to Towns in the front court, creating the stretchiest center-forward combination in the league. He’s a great outlet passer, too. Minnesota has promising, young players Josh Okogie and Jarett Culver on the wing, but its bigs are rough outside of Towns. Jordan Bell can’t even tuck in his jersey!
Although Minnesota might aspire to add players in free agency, the Twin Cities is not a prime destination for players who can choose their own destiny. A list of the best signings in T-Wolves history includes Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell –- superstar free agents will not play there. So why not commit to Love, make the playoffs, and make KAT happy for once? After all, Minnesota loves bringing back its old star forwards once they’re past their prime, such as Kevin Garnett and… ah. Actually, that’s all their star forwards. Ever.
The other intriguing option is Orlando, who has zero outside shooting apart from Evan Fournier. The Magic probably has too many forwards on long-term contracts –- and too many forwards in general –- to make the move feasible, but Love would be great there. Orlando is always at its best with a sweet-shooting big man, whether it’s Rashard Lewis, Dennis Scott, or that one month where Aaron Gordon could actually make an outside shot.
Wherever Love goes, his new team is getting a really good offensive player and a guy who has won a whole lot of playoff games. And he knows Uncle Drew! He may be overpaid, but there are plenty of overpaid players who aren’t making the Hall of Fame, and who won’t get you to the playoffs this season.