A first-round pick. Salary relief. Maybe an underachieving young player.
When it comes to the haul that the Cavaliers might expect for big man Kevin Love, that’s probably about it, according to executives around the league. While we’ve seen teams like the Knicks, Thunder and Pelicans bring in multiple first-rounders and promising players when giving up well-paid star players in the past year, Love just doesn’t rate that high on the trade market.
Two reasons: Health and contract.
“He’s 31 and he is not a young 31 if you know what I mean,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy.com. “He’s had injuries lately and he’s had injuries throughout his career. There isn’t a lot there to make you think he’ll play 70 or 75 games a year. And for what you’ve got to pay him, it’s going to be tough to justify that to your owner.”
Love is now in the first year of a four-year, $120 million extension he signed in the summer of 2018. He will be owed $91 million after this season. ESPN reported that the Cavs would be open to dealing Love, who reportedly has not been happy this season in Cleveland.
He has played 18 of the Cavs’ 22 games, missing three games with a back injury and one with an illness. The back injury is a concern–it’s something that has bothered him, on and off, for years. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Cavaliers, a rebuilding team in its first season under former Michigan coach John Beilein.
But Love missed nearly all of last season after having surgery to relieve pain around his left big toe. He missed significant time in 2017-18 with a fractured right hand and 14 games in 2016-17 with surgery on his left knee. Love has been out for more than 40 percent of his team’s games in the last four seasons.
Who Could Be Interested in Kevin Love?
It was something of a surprise when, after the departure of LeBron James in free agency two summers ago, the Cavaliers handed Love an extension rather than looking to deal him away and begin a rebuilding process. Instead, Cleveland treated him like an asset worth locking up long-term, making him the face of the franchise—at least until the full rebuild was underway.
One of the benefits of signing Love to a long deal was that the Cavs could control him as a trade asset and attempt to sell high. Given his recent injury history, Love’s relatively reliable play in the first two months of this season makes this a pretty good time to begin that selling process.
Roping in a buyer is the tricky part. The teams most often mentioned around the league:
Portland. Love is from Oregon and has long been linked to the Blazers on the rumor mill. Portland badly wants to give the tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum a real shot to reach the Finals, and they were hopeful this would be the season for it. But center Jusuf Nurkic’s return from a broken leg is still hazy, young forward Zach Collins might miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury and now Rodney Hood has torn his Achilles tendon.
If the Blazers try to hold this season together, they could build a package for Love around Hassan Whiteside and a first-round pick. Should the market for Love prove competitive and the Blazers persist in making this season a winner, the team could be forced to add a promising youngster like Collins, Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little.
Phoenix. The Suns are rich in young players who have not established themselves but still have upside—Elie Okobo, Ty Jerome (not that the Cavs want more point guards), Mikal Bridges. They could build a package around the expiring $19 million contract of guard Tyler Johnson but would have to add another rotation player, like Frank Kaminsky or Dario Saric, to make things work. A 3-8 run has taken some of the steam out of the Phoenix’s early playoff momentum, but the addition of Love and the return of Deandre Ayton could give them a boost.
Denver. The Nuggets have not been terrible, at 14-7, but there has not been the sort of breakthrough that was expected from this team, especially with Gary Harris (10.7 points) in Year 6, Nikola Jokic (15.7 points per game, down from 20.1 last year) in Year 5 and Jamaal Murray (18.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds, about the same production as last season) in Year 4. Love could be an ideal role player with the Nuggets, if they could cover for he and Jokic defensively.
A trade could focus on Paul Millsap’s expiring contract ($30 million), but Millsap has been very good early in the season. Another option would be to package Harris and Mason Plumlee. Denver does not have its own pick this year but could give up its 2022 pick or include Michael Porter Jr. in a deal.
The Cavs can still get value out of Love, at least a first-round pick to go with the salary relief. It won’t be a deal on the level of the trades of Anthony Davis, Paul George, Russell Westbrook or Kristaps Porzingis. But it’ll be something.