Until this season, Kevin Love was widely considered one of the top 10 players in the entire NBA. He'd languished on losing teams his whole career, but consistent 25-point, 12-rebound stat lines as a new-NBA power forward made him the guy every team wanted to add when he demanded a trade. He eventually was traded for the last two #1 overall picks in the NBA draft.
But then 2014-15 happened. Love became an afterthought in Cleveland. Just "a guy" around two other stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. You'd think his game would complement those two, but he just became an outlet option most of the season.
In the playoffs this season, he suffered a badly separated shoulder - causing him to miss the next 4-6 months - but the Cavaliers have barely missed him. Tristan Thompson, who as a restricted free agent will cost barely more than half what Love costs, has provided great work at the PF spot in Love's absence and clear future with the team. The Cavs cannot responsibly keep both Thompson and Love this summer and hope to keep a strong team together in the future, so it's highly likely one of them leaves the team.
What if Cleveland cuts its losses (namely Wiggins) and lets Love bolt for cash money greener pastures?
That's looking more and more likely, especially since it's Thompson and not Love who has shown to fit best in the Cavaliers schemes this season.
Would Love stay East?
Remaining in the Eastern Conference is the easy way to the playoffs. The Bucks lost 15 of their first 20 games after the trade deadline and barely split the games after that but NEVER LOST THEIR HOLD on the 6th spot in the playoff standings. That's how bad the East is.
Love could stay in the annual playoff picture with just about any team with money. So he can afford to be wooed by their pitches in July.
If he wants to stay in the East, the Atlanta Hawks would be quite intriguing if they want to move on from Paul Millsap (or if he jumps ship). They have the playing style and cap space to make Love a stats darling all over again by playing his favorite style. Surrounding Love with Horford, Korver, Carroll and Teague could be another Finals contender in the East.
Frankly, if the Hawks call Kevin Love on July 1, he would be stupid not to disconnect his number and book the plane trip immediately afterward.
But Atlanta decides Paul Millsap is better for them, or even LaMarcus Aldridge, then Love will have to look elsewhere.
Some will make the case for Boston, and they definitely have the cap space. After winning 40 games, they can't play the "high pick" card anymore - at least with their own picks - so they might as well win games. Could Love get them to the playoffs? Sure. But why leave Cleveland for a less-sure thing in Boston?
Detroit has the money, especially if Greg Monroe leaves, and their coach made Ryan Anderson a shooting star as a stretch four around a dominant post player. So that's a stylistic match. But just like the Boston question, and maybe even moreso, why leave Cleveland for Detroit?
The Knicks are a huge market with a boat load of cap space for new blood around Carmelo Anthony. They might want to throw that money at both Greg Monroe and Kevin Love to see what sticks. In New York, you get the bright lights, big city but do you get wins? Building a winning team around Anthony, Jose Calderon and Langston Galloway seems a bit misguided.
But hey, the playoffs are easy to make in the East. If that's what Love wants - money, #1 spot on the team, playoff appearances - then staying in the East is best for him.
Going out West
Love knows how hard it is to make the playoffs in the West. He came up short in Minnesota for six straight seasons.
But if he wants to join the better conference and have a greater chance to win a ring, he might just want to come back to the West next season.
But which team?
The Lakers have enough room, but would Love want to join a team on Kobe Bryant's last legs? And if Love does join the Lakers, what happens to Julius Randle? He's an offense-oriented power forward as well. Either way, the Lakers don't offer immediate playoff hopes in the loaded West. You don't win 50+ games with a 90 year old shooting guard who's barely played in years and a few young players. Love himself isn't the difference, as he's already proven in Minnesota. If I'm Love, I see Minnesota all over again in LaLa Land and stay away.
The Mavericks have room, but only if they renounce Tyson Chandler. Since they have a pretty good power forward named Dirk Nowitzki on the team already, would a pairing of Nowitzki and Love be good for them, with Chandler Parsons as the starting three? Highly doubt it.
The Grizzlies are an interesting situation. Both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are free agents this summer, potentially leaving the Grizz barren in the front court. With Mike Conley becoming a free agent in a year, the Grizzlies need to stay in the playoff hunt now. Gasol likely wants to stay, so would Love be a good replacement for Randolph, who is getting older now? The Grizz have
never only once made a conference finals, so a shakeup may be in order. A floor-stretching big man might allow Gasol to feel his low-post oats more than ever before.
The Spurs are everyone's wild card. With Duncan and Ginobili coming off the books, along with Danny Green, they appear to have a bunch of cap space. But it sounds like Duncan will be back again, at least. And Splitter and Diaw are two of the only five players under contract on July 1. Why would the Spurs blow their cap on Love and Duncan before extending Kawhi?
The Trail Blazers may turn to Love if for some reason LaMarcus Aldridge skips town. They would likely have to renounce either Matthews or Robin Lopez to have enough room for a straight signing.
What about the Suns?
Suns fans have been clamoring for Love for years, and for very good reasons. He would improve their rebounding, their shooting, their passing and their ticket sales as the biggest name in town since Nash left. The Suns would be an instant playoff contender and would be back on the national stage overnight.
The Suns could make cap room with a trade or two, but don't have the clear cap space unless they renounce Brandon Knight as well as Brandon Wright. Without renouncing Knight, the Suns could only muster about $16 million in cap room. Sure, some trades could be made to clear room. Shedding Tucker's contract gets them there, for example. But that's a lot of maneuvering just to make an offer to Love.
But let's say the Suns make the room.
Why would Love want the Suns? The Suns style fits Love perfectly, and they've proven to be on the cusp of the playoffs the last couple of years in the West. Adding Love to this young team could make the Suns a contender for years to come.
If the Cavaliers, Hawks, Spurs, Grizzlies, or Blazers come calling, you never even take the Suns call. Then the Suns could just turn to whoever is let go to make roster room for Love (Thompson, Millsap, Randolph, Aldridge) if they really want a big name over continuing the rebuild.
Depends. The Suns have the best team, but three of those are bigger markets and the other has a coach who would find a perfect role for Love.
Kevin Love has better options out there than the Phoenix Suns.
From Love's point of view, going to the Suns is basically going back to Minnesota, except in a better climate. He'd have to carry the team on his shoulders to the postseason. The Wolves had good teams that were picked to touch the playoffs once or twice. While the Suns might be better poised for deep playoff runs with him, there's no guarantee adding Love makes the Suns a playoff team. He might not want to "believe" he's the difference in Phoenix.
If Love wants playoffs, he has better options if any of the Cavaliers, Hawks, Spurs, Grizzlies or Blazers want him as their starting power forward.
Memorial Day Note
So many soldiers have given their lives to maintain the freedom of our country. On this Memorial Day, please take a moment to remember those we have lost and to honor those who continue to carry the torch for the great US of A.