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While the words “Kevin Love” and “trade rumors” have gone together like peanut butter and jelly for years, it feels like this may finally be the time the Cleveland Cavaliers part with their five-time All-Star forward.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday on SportsCenter the Cavs are ready to listen to offers for Love, just a year after signing him to a four-year, $120.4 million extension. The rebuilding Cavaliers are in a free fall, dropping 13 of their past 14 games, while Love looks less and less engaged.
“Nothing’s changed,” Love told ESPN.com’s Tim Bontemps. “What I mean by that is, since I got here they’ve been … since I f—ing got here, there’s been talk of me being traded, so it’s nothing different. If they decide to go that way, I’ve just got to know it’s part of the business, or if we decide to go that way, it’s part of the business.”
The Athletic and Stadium’s Shams Charania reported Love prefers a move to a contending team, which is not a surprise given his age (31) and four straight trips to the NBA Finals from 2015 to 2018. Love re-signed with the Cavs in what he knew would be a reduced role in 2015, willing to sacrifice shots for the chance to get a championship. With the Cavs looking nowhere near a playoff team this year, a return to a competitive, veteran-filled environment should jump-start his play.
Love is averaging 15.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and shooting 35.7 percent from three, surprisingly taking fewer shots per contest (11.2) than in any of his other five seasons in Cleveland.
While Love’s age, injury history and hefty contract are all concerning, the significant drop in available stars on the trade market and in 2020 free agency should boost his value. Especially among teams that lack cap space or aren’t considered free-agent destinations, a trade for Love may be the best option to add significant talent.
It’s only natural the Cavaliers would want to move Love to the Western Conference, and teams on the playoff/lottery line seemingly make the most sense as franchises that would be willing to make such a gamble.
For Cleveland, getting salary relief isn’t as important as acquiring young talent and draft picks, given the $66.8 million in expiring salary from Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Jordan Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson. The Cavs’ primary needs are on the wing and in the paint, given the theoretical loss of Love.
Considering all the factors and potential obstacles surrounding a Love trade, here are the three destinations that seem most likely for him to land in.
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Suns Receive: PF Kevin Love
Cavs Receive: PF Dario Saric, SF Mikal Bridges, G Tyler Johnson
The Suns’ 7-4 start quickly settled into what’s become an eighth-place 11-12 standing.
Reaching the playoffs didn’t seem likely entering the season, especially after Deandre Ayton was suspended 25 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. After the team got a taste of playing like a postseason-caliber squad, general manager James Jones should be aggressive in keeping the Suns from falling back into the lottery.
Love and Jones are good friends after they spent three seasons in Cleveland together, with Love calling the former sharpshooter the “best teammate” he’s ever had. If there were ever a GM unafraid of taking a chance on Love, it would be someone who’s already won a championship alongside him.
Love would be an immediate upgrade in the starting lineup at power forward over Saric, spacing the floor for Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr. while feeding off passes from Ricky Rubio. As Jones once mentored Love, the 31-year-old would take over that role on a young Phoenix team.
For the Cavaliers, Saric is a 25-year-old 2014 lottery pick who’s averaging 11.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game with .435/.345/.854 shooting splits. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, and the Cavs will have the cash to lock him up to an extension, provided Saric continues to improve.
Bridges, 23, is a defensive-minded wing with an insane 7’1″ wingspan. Cleveland is 28th overall in defense this season (114.2 rating) one year after finishing dead last in the NBA. Bridges gives them a potential elite on-ball defender who can play passing lanes and is averaging 2.0 steals per 36 minutes in 105 career games.
Johnson’s value comes in his expiring $19.2 million deal—although keeping him around as a veteran for the Cavs’ young backcourt for the remainder of this season could prove useful as well.
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Kings Receive: PF Kevin Love
Cavs Receive: SF Bogdan Bogdanovic, PF Harry Giles III, SF Trevor Ariza
The Kings are 10-8 since the beginning of November, and that’s while getting just four total games from De’Aaron Fox (ankle sprain) and Marvin Bagley III (thumb injury). They sit only a game out of the final playoff spot in the West after also finishing ninth a season ago.
For all the strengths Sacramento offers, it doesn’t possess a big man who can shoot threes aside from Nemanja Bjelica. Harrison Barnes splits his time between the forward positions but can’t match Love’s production on the boards.
A trade for Love and the return of healthy starters would mean a five-man lineup of Fox, Buddy Hield, Barnes, Love and Bagley—a strong mixture of developing talent and veterans with championship experience.
The Kings are just 18th in three-point percentage (35.4 percent), a total Love would help raise. With money tied up in last summer’s free-agent haul (Barnes, Dewayne Dedmon, Ariza, Cory Joseph) and an extension for Hield, Sacramento won’t be a factor in free agency for a while. Swinging for the fences with Love would not only help the Kings, but it would also take a major trade piece away from other playoff hopefuls.
The star of the package for Cleveland is Bogdanovic. At 27 he’s still young enough to fit a rebuild timeline but can also carry a heavy load right away. Bogdanovic would probably become the best passer on the Cavaliers immediately, and his production as Sacramento’s sixth man (14.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 37.7 3P%) is among the league’s top reserves. He’d slide into the Cavs’ starting small forward spot immediately.
Giles has battled plenty of knee issues, but at 21 he carries some upside for a Cavs team that can afford to be patient. He’s averaged 17.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 block per 36 minutes in 65 career games.
Ariza is a money filler, with only $1.8 million of next year’s salary guaranteed—though he can’t be traded until December 15, so this deal would have to wait until then. The sides would likely agree on a buyout.
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Blazers Receive: PF Kevin Love, C Tristan Thompson
Cavs Receive: C Hassan Whiteside, SG Kent Bazemore, F/C Zach Collins, SF Nassir Little, 2020 1st-round pick (lottery protected)
If the Cavs want to do right by Love, he’d likely be thrilled to return home to Oregon, especially with Thompson tagging along and former teammate Channing Frye residing there.
As good as Carmelo Anthony has been for Portland, the Blazers are still just 4-6 with him. After losing Rodney Hood to a torn Achilles on Friday, the team needs more firepower.
Getting Love to Portland has long been a popular trade suggestion, and adding a high-motor center such as Thompson would bring another dimension to a team that reached the Western Conference Finals last season. At 9-15 overall, the Blazers may be more desperate than anyone to roll the dice and avoid such a major step back.
While Whiteside’s numbers are once again impressive, Thompson is two years younger, plays hard all the time and has been a starter on a title team. Putting together a career season (13.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 blocks per game), he’d be an overall upgrade over Whiteside for Portland.
Love would slide in as the starting power forward and open the floor for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while Thompson inhales all the offensive rebounds available. Giving up two good, young players would hurt Portland’s future, but Collins is still out following shoulder surgery. The 12th-place Blazers can’t afford to wait.
For Cleveland, it sends two franchise staples off happy while cashing in on two big expiring contracts ($46.4 million total for Whiteside and Bazemore) and rebuilding pieces. Little, 19, is a high-upside, athletic wing and Collins, 22, can shoot from deep and protect the paint.
Portland gets to keep its pick if it can’t climb out of the lottery, with the protection coming off in 2021.