The Cavaliers were reportedly resistant to the idea of moving star forward Kevin Love amid the free agency chaos of this past summer. It appears their stance has changed.
Cleveland is now willing to listen to trade offers for Love, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The team is preparing for the market to expand on Dec. 15, the day when players who signed contracts during the offseason are eligible to be traded.
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Love has found himself at the center of trade rumors nearly every season since he was traded from the Timberwolves to the Cavs in 2014, yet he somehow outlasted Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, the other members of Cleveland’s championship “Big Three.” With the Cavs in the middle of a major rebuild, it makes sense that he would finally be thrown into a deal, allowing the organization to gather assets for the future.
There are hurdles, of course. Love has three years and approximately $90 million remaining on his contract beyond 2019-20, creating significant salary-matching problems. He also has an alarming injury history, so contenders may be hesitant to send back draft picks or promising prospects.
It’s a strange situation because the Cavs could argue Love is a valuable complementary piece for a team (17.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 37.4 percent on 3-pointers from 2014-19), while a trade suitor could say it is helping Cleveland by taking his money onto its books. Knowing that issue is at the center of trade talks, here’s a breakdown of possible destinations for Love.
Kevin Love to the Celtics?
Love would be an offensive upgrade over Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams in the frontcourt. His shooting and passing would fit well with Brad Stevens’ egalitarian system, and using Love as the screener in the pick-and-pop with Kemba Walker would be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
This one can be ruled out pretty quickly, though. Boston’s two huge contracts (Walker and Gordon Hayward at over $32 million each) aren’t going anywhere, and every other player is under $13 million. Marcus Smart holds the only middle-of-the-road deal ($12.5 million), and he’s been integral to the team’s success. Plus, the Celtics aren’t exactly struggling with the fourth-best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference through the first quarter of the season, and Gordon Hayward just returned from injury.
The Celtics are always floating around the trade rumor mill, but this feels like a reach.
Kevin Love to the Heat?
Similar to Boston, the Heat would gladly slide Love into their power forward spot. Imagine Love as a better version of Meyers Leonard next to Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup. Miami also possesses a number of contracts (Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk) that could be used to match Love’s number.
Here’s the thing: Would the Heat eliminate the potential opportunity to use 2021 cap space on a marquee free agent? Remember, Love isn’t on an expiring deal — he is signed through the 2022-23 season. Does he put the Heat over the top right now?
Miami is doing fine with its current group, not far behind Milwaukee in the standings. Heat president Pat Riley could be aggressive ahead of the February trade deadline, but chasing Love seems short-sighted.
Kevin Love to the Jazz?
The Jazz have been pretty disappointing through 20-plus games following the offseason additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. Utah is sputtering in the scoring department with a bottom-10 offensive rating, so Love would provide a boost on that end. With reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert lurking near the basket, Love wouldn’t be as much of a defensive liability.
It’s too early for the Jazz to panic — they are in playoff position despite their struggles — but this is a team worth monitoring as the deadline approaches. If Utah slides a little too close toward the eighth seed, could the front office consider building a package around Dante Exum and a draft pick?
Kevin Love to the Suns?
This is a sneaky-good spot for Love. After nearly a full decade of basketball without a postseason appearance, the Suns are right in the thick of the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Ricky Rubio (reunited from the Timberwolves days!), Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Love and Deandre Ayton (or the suddenly spectacular Aron Baynes) — there would be some defensive breakdowns on the back end, but that’s a strong starting five on a nightly basis.
Tyler Johnson’s expiring contract ($19.2 million) makes the math less difficult, but would Phoenix be forced to relinquish a youngster like Mikal Bridges in order to push a deal through? Maybe put a draft asset on the table, and Cavs general manager Koby Altman would at least pick up the phone.
Kevin Love to the Trail Blazers?
Love will always be attached to the Trail Blazers because he grew up in Lake Oswego, Ore., and he is exactly the kind of stretch-4 that Portland has been lacking for years. Love’s presence as a spot-up shooter and screener would create more opportunities for ball-dominant guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and Hassan Whiteside (or Jusuf Nurkic when healthy) could operate as a rim protector behind Love. (That would require Whiteside being consistently engaged, which… yeah, can’t bank on that.)
Portland could start with Kent Bazemore’s expiring deal ($19.2 million) and fill in the salary from there. Anfernee Simons is probably unavailable, but it’s not a huge stretch to put together a trade to boost the Blazers’ playoff chances this season. The real problems would arrive down the road.
The Blazers would be locked into the Lillard-McCollum-Love trio through 2023 with little room to improve. Next year alone those players would cost more than $90 million. That doesn’t have the look of a championship-caliber squad, even in a post-Warriors universe.
This could come down to Portland’s level of desperation.