Another week passes, another rumor pops up about the Phoenix Suns interest in Kevin Love.
I don't think anyone denies that the Suns would love to acquire Love. So would 29 other teams in the NBA. There's really not a team in the NBA that wouldn't appreciate Love's services, as long as they could fit him under the cap.
But what does Kevin Love want? And does that coincide with what Kevin Love needs?
We have heard he wants a big market, but he's already on tons of national commercials and the big NBA markets just finished praying to the ping pong ball gods.
We have heard he wants a contender, but what about wanting to join a team he would instantly turn INTO a contender?
Does Kevin Love research the current NBA teams to find which team would be the perfect fit for his skills, while also having the perfect scheme and personnel to cover his weaknesses?
If he does, he would focus on the Phoenix Suns.
The missing piece on offense
It just so happens that when you look at the Suns team as constructed, it appears to scream to all the world that the missing piece is Kevin Love.
The Suns roster, as it stands, is built around dynamic play-making guards who score and dish. The perfect offensive compliment to the Slash Brothers is a power forward (or center) who can shoot on the catch, or create his own shot going to the rim or pass it off for a nice assist after the defense is scrambling from the initial dribble-drive. The reason this player needs to be a power forward (or center) is to pull the opposing big man out of the paint for the initial drive that disrupts the opponent's defensive strategy.
The Suns approximated this player with Markieff Morris and Channing Frye last season. Morris was the more well-rounded threat who could shoot on the catch, or make his own shot or occasionally pass off for an assist. But Morris is not really a three-point threat, so he'd only pull his man 3/4 of the way away from the basket. Frye could shoot on the catch from greater distance, but struggled to make his own shot and doesn't pass well.
Ultimately, the Suns finished 8th on offensive efficiency. Kevin Love can do everything the Suns want on offense without changing one thing about his game, and the Suns would easily finish in the top 5 of league offenses with Dragic, Bledsoe and Love in the lineup together.
The missing piece on defense
The Suns defense is oriented around defending the ball handler and the rim with aggression, then gang-rebounding the missed shot. The theory was that the more you make them miss, the better your odds of getting the rebound. This strategy often took the Suns out of ideal rebounding position because, on the shot, defenders were moving toward the ball handler rather than retreating to position for the box out.
Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. The Suns did finish 15th in overall defense, 14th in overall rebounding and in the top 10 in opponent shooting percentage in 2013-14, a fact often lost on Suns fans who cringe whenever the opponent gets finishes at the rim on multiple offensive boards.
What the Suns really need is gobble-up rebounder who can clean the glass after the other big and the wing players defend the shot. Kevin Love could provide that high-volume rebounding to clean the glass and get the Suns back on offense.
Love's perfect fit
Kevin Love doesn't need the Suns offensively as much as he does defensively, but its hard to imagine an offensive scheme more tailor-made to a player than the Suns' offense for Kevin Love. He is a perfect fit around the current team, able to provide a better power forward option than either Frye or Morris, though you'd still need Frye and Morris in supporting roles if you can keep them.
Where Love needs the Suns more than anything is defensively. You can't win 60+ games and/or the Finals without playing excellent defense. Love sucks at defense, other than rebounding.
The Suns defensive scheme can cover for Love's weaknesses while they lead the league in scoring. Last year, the Suns implemented a defense that had only one missing piece: rebounding opponent misses. Plumlee and Len will get themselves out of rebounding position when they aggressively defend the rim, often leaving the other team's big open for the putback. With Love in the lineup, Plumlee/Len could trust that a missed shot would be gobbled up Love most of the time.
Love needs the Suns as much as the Suns need Love. Love wouldn't have to change anything about his game, but would be able to enjoy a lot more wins than he ever got in Minny.
By simply adding Love to the mix of the current Suns team, you might see the Suns top 60 wins and compete for the Western Conference berth in the NBA Finals over the next four or more years.
But it's not that easy.
The problem #1: Does Love even know what he needs?
Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Plumlee/Len and a 3-and-D small forward (Tucker) would make the Suns a formidable team who could win 55-60 games and contend for a Finals berth.
Yet Love (even through unnamed sources close to his situation) has never hinted at Phoenix as a preferred destination. All we've heard is that he wants a big market and/or current contender. That he hasn't seen the perfect fit in Phoenix tells me that Love doesn't really know what he needs, and he doesn't see himself as a difference-maker to turn a team into a contender.
If Love wants to join a current contender, then he doesn't want the burden of making a team into a contender. He wants to just fit in. That's not a leader. In fact, new/old coach Flip Saunders says that Kevin Love needs to look in the mirror.
If Love wants to join a big market, then he's not thinking about team quality is he? Why would a guy who wants to win games right now want to join the Lakers or the Knicks or the Celtics? None of them are one player away from winning a title. All of them are worse than his current team.
So, we just don't know if Kevin Love really cares about winning AND believes he can make a team into a contender. And if we don't know that, we don't know what he will do in the summer of 2015, do we?
The problem #2: Love is a free agent in 2015
I have already documented the problems around giving up too much to acquire Love, who has the right to become a free agent next summer.
Is Kevin Love this year's Chris Paul? Or this year's Dwight Howard?
Both players forced a trade with one year left on their contracts. Paul forced a trade to the Clippers, but then showed some loyalty by opting in to his final year of his contract so there would be two seasons before he became a free agent. Howard forced a trade, but got sent to an undesired destination (Lakers) and eventually left a year later after the Lakers had given up a ton to get him.
Who is Kevin Love? So far, he's profiling more like Howard than Paul. Is that who the Suns want to clear the cabinet for?
The problem #3: The "perfect fit" will be diminished by the trade
I repeat: Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Plumlee/Len and a 3-and-D small forward (Tucker) would make the Suns a formidable team who could win 55-60 games and contend for a Finals berth.
Unfortunately, that core would likely be broken up by the very trade to acquire Love. A winning bid to acquire Love looks increasingly like one or both of Bledsoe and Dragic are gone. Sure, the perfect offensive and defensive schemes are still intact but the top end talent would be missing.
Is a Suns team with Love, but without the Slash Brothers combo a 55+ win team? Eric Bledsoe might be overpaid next year at $14 million, but is there a good replacement out there to give the Suns the offense and defense he brings? If it were that easy, Bledsoe wouldn't be worth $14 million a year, would he?
The waters get muddier if the Suns can't keep all three together. And even if the Suns can keep all three together, a year from now those three could take up 2/3 of the salary cap all by themselves.
It's not easy being in Love.