NBA Daily: The Kevin Love Conundrum

Cleveland has some important decisions to make in the second year of its rebuild. There’s a fork in the road ahead, and no one knows which route they will ultimately take. Chad Smith examines.

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Sports Editor
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The first person LeBron James called before he returned to Cleveland was Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers wanted to trade for the big man, but his agent claimed he had no intention of re-signing with them long term. That quickly changed after LeBron’s phone call. The deal was made, and a championship was won.

Now that the dust from LeBron’s second departure has settled, Love finds himself in a similar situation. After putting up big numbers on a bad team for six years in Minnesota, it could be déjà vu for him in Cleveland.

Love is still a great offensive weapon. He remains a terrific rebounder and an excellent passer. The defense is concerning, but there are different ways of dealing with that. He could be a tremendous help to the young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland with his pick-and-pop game. Love’s ability to get to the free-throw line will also help them improve. The Cavs had the fourth-fewest free throw attempts per game last year.

Should Love not be the same player though, things could drastically change.

Kevin seemingly doesn’t fit Cleveland’s timetable very well. In addition to the young guards, they have a new head coach in John Beilein. Just like the players, the former Michigan man will undoubtedly have some growing pains while adjusting to the NBA. The Cavs have no incentive to win now, and moving the five-time All-Star may be the most logical decision.

The Cavs could very well be one of the worst teams in the league this season, regardless of how well Kevin plays. They are in the second year of a rebuild and have a mixed bag of guys on the roster. They have several expiring contracts (Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Knight, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova) that could be moved during the season. Moving these guys could prove more rewarding in terms of getting back assets in return. It could be a busy year for general manager Koby Altman.

Injuries have always been an issue with Love, especially these past two years as his body has aged. He appeared in just 22 games last year and will turn 31 years old this weekend. In total, he has missed 105 games over the last three years. The last time Love played more than 60 games in a season was in 2015-2016 when Cleveland won the NBA title.

The one thing that is scaring teams away is the contract. Last summer, Love signed a four-year extension worth $120 million. He will be making $28,942,830 this year and will make more than $31 million in the next two seasons. There is still one more year after that at the same amount as this season. He is going to have to play unbelievably well this year for an organization to make the move to bring him in.

Should Kevin have a resurgence, the question then becomes: Who would trade for him?

Moving a player like Love is easier said than done. It would have to be a team that believes that, by making this move, it puts them over the top in terms of a championship. Finding the necessary pieces could be challenging, as they will have to match salaries. It’s a tall task, but not impossible.

There have been plenty of potential trade ideas thrown out, such as a deal to Boston for Gordon Hayward, to Charlotte for Nicolas Batum, and even a straight-up swap for D’Angelo Russell in Golden State. Those all just simply don’t appear to be beneficial for all parties involved. The caveat would be if the Celtics are open to the idea of trading their draft picks instead of players.

Since duos are the new thing in the NBA, there is one team looking for acquiring another top-tier talent. Pairing Love with Jimmy Butler in Miami is intriguing. On paper, a deal for Justise Winslow and James Johnson would get it done – should Cleveland be open to it. The Cavs would get a 22-year old wing with a lot of upside, and the Heat would have a formidable pair that could easily get into the playoffs in the East.

In the end, the best solution may be going home.

The one place where Love could potentially flourish would be Portland, which is nine miles from where he grew up in Lake Oswego. The Trail Blazers would be an excellent fit, where he wouldn’t have to carry the offense. In the wide-open West, the Blazers’ time to go “all-in” might be now. Moving Hassan Whiteside, whom they just dealt for this summer, could be the play here. He has an expiring deal of more than $27 million, which would prove to be beneficial for Cleveland in terms of cap space going forward.

If a deal were to materialize, it would likely be just before the annual trade deadline in February. For Love though, it might be in Cleveland’s best interest to trade him earlier, in the unfortunate event that he gets injured again. It is important to note though that most of the players in the league right now cannot be traded until December 15.

Should Love’s tenure in Cleveland come to an end this year, both he and the Cavs can rest easy knowing that they achieved so much together.

It all came to fruition with one simple phone call.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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