Kevin Love Sweepstakes: NBA Execs Sound off on Veteran’s Buyout Prospects

Kevin Love, Cavaliers

Getty Kevin Love, Cavaliers

Typically, this time of year in the NBA provides a lot of drama around ultimately inconsequential players—the post-deadline buyout gang. Remember last year, when Goran Dragic was the hot name in the buyout market? Well, he signed with the Nets, averaged 7.3 points in 16 games and helped the Nets … get swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Don’t get too excited, in other words.

But there has been some hubbub around this year’s buyout boys, especially after news that the Cavaliers have reluctantly begun talking to veteran big man Kevin Love about a deal to get him out of Cleveland after nine years with the team. The Cavs wanted to keep Love around, but his production has dipped (8.5 points on 38.9% shooting, all career lows for a full season) and he has not played since January 24.

Love has been a good soldier through thick and thin for the Cavs, so the team was willing to work with him. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Cavs would like to steer Love to the Western Conference in any buyout negotiation, but one NBA source tells Heavy Sports that is not technically allowed.

“You could do that on a wink-wink kind of basis,” the source said. “But the only thing you are supposed to negotiate is how much money the player is going to give up. You cant’ tell him where he can and can’t go.”

Love is slated to be paid $29 million this season. He is said to have given up a relatively significant amount to secure a spot elsewhere—Love is a free agent this summer and wants a fresh start to show that he can still play and is worth signing in the offseason. That will be a major factor in his decision about where next to play

A group of NBA front-office executives spoke with Heavy Sports about what might happen next with Love, and where he could land.

Top Contenders for Love

Phoenix Suns

This is one of Love’s top options because he can accomplish his two goals—win and play. The Suns have a roster spot open and have a need for a sharpshooting big guy, especially with the injury and subsequent departure of Dario Saric. But the Suns could have other needs in the way.

Eastern Conference executive: “They feel good about a lot as far as depth goes. Getting T.J. Warren in that (Durant) deal was a key for them, they need bodies to make up some kind of bench. They got (Terrence) Ross, they have (Josh) Okogie playing really well lately. The big hang-up would be, what are you going to do at point guard? They are not 100% confident in Chris Paul and Cam Payne staying healthy all through the playoffs. If you are really trying to win a championship can you have Saben Lee or Landry Shamet in that role? If they don’t get Love, it is probably because they went for a point guard.”

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have done well to fill out the roster with offseason additions like P.J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton, and added Jalen McDaniels at the deadline. But they’ve not solved the big-man depth problem, with the Sixers still on the lookout despite Dewayne Dedmon getting a buyout deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Love would consider the Sixers.

Eastern Conference executive: “They’re going to rest Joel (Embiid) and P.J. a lot down the stretch, they want them ready for the playoffs. So they can tell Love, ‘Hey, come here and you will start some games, you will have a spot in the rotation, we need a stretch 4, a stretch 5, and we’re going to the NBA Finals. That’s an attractive offer. And they could tell him, ‘Hey, if it works out, we will have a lot to talk about in the summer.’ They’re definitely in the mix”

Miami Heat

If Love is purely looking to rebuild his career and set himself up to keep playing after this season, a spot with Miami makes the most sense. They’re not a real contender on the level of Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, even if they add Love, but they should advance to the postseason’s second round, giving Love ample opportunity to have an impact. Miami wants to shoot 3s (34.8 per game, 10th in the league) but the Heat are terrible at it (33.4%, 28th in the NBA). Love could change that.

Eastern Conference GM: “They can give him more money and stay under the tax (the Heat can offer Love in the range of $4 million following the trade of Dewayne Dedmon), the Spurs did them a big favor with that. They tried a lot of things to fill that power forward spot, they tried (Jae) Crowder and (Kelly) Olynyk and (Jarred) Vanderbilt but they did not have much to offer in those situations so they struck out, basically. They’re looking at Love now as a way to make up for all that. You are not hearing any promises and the Cavs would not like it but he could go there and really, he could start for them or at least play 24-28 minutes a night, show he still belongs. They’re looking at (Serge) Ibaka as an option but Love is the guy they want.”

Longshots for Love

Los Angeles Lakers

How about a Love-LeBron reunion? The two were teammates in Cleveland from 2014 through James’ departure in 2018 and, certainly, rejoining James in Los Angeles would keep Love’s profile high. But the Lakers just had an overhaul and added young big men Rui Hachimura, Mo Bamba and Jarred Vanderbilt to their mix. With Anthony Davis entrenched in the frontcourt, minutes for Love would be scarce.

Western Conference executive: “They have a bunch of guys who are 23, 24 years old. That’s who they want to play. They have a couple months to figure out what they’re going to do in the summer when they have to pay these guys. You could add Love to all that but then what are you going to do? Play him and not the guys you’ve got to pay? It would be good TV so you can’t rule it out but it would not make a whole lot of sense.”

Golden State Warriors

Injuries have helped keep the Warriors bench from developing any kind of chemistry, but if healthy, the group headed by Jordan Poole and Donte DiVincenzo at least has some potential. They are lacking a floor-stretching, ball-moving big man, though, along the lines of Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter last season. Love certainly can stretch the floor and move the ball, and Warriors star Klay Thompson is his childhood friend—in fact, Love was nearly traded to Golden State in 2014 for Thompson before coach Steve Kerr intervened and wanted to keep Thompson.

Western Conference executive: “Their pitch has to be, we can get to the Finals but we need you to do it. I mean, that has to be the approach there. They have a bunch of guys who are solid when they are healthy, but the one thing they do not have is that real stretch big guy, and Love can be that. Now, realistically, he probably can’t. There is a reason he was not playing much in Cleveland. But they have a roster spot and a need, and he has a lot of good relationships there, with the coaches and the front office and players, too.”

Portland Trail Blazers

Love grew up in the Portland area, and has said on more than one occasion that he’d like to return home to play for the Blazers. But is this really the year for it? Not likely. Portland’s 9-3 start to the year has unraveled into a 28-30 record and the team is looking to the future. Love could be part of that down the line, but with 15 players on the roster and a commitment to give a look to younger guys, logic dictates Love will look elsewhere first.

Eastern Conference GM: “They’ll try to find a deal this summer for (Jusuf) Nurkic, but they’re in on him now with the contract they gave him (four years, $70 million last summer). He just has not been healthy in four years. They need to get him back on the floor and playing if he is going to have any kind of value. So, how does Love fit in there? They could look to do a sign-and-trade on (Jerami) Grant, too, so they need him getting minutes. Not much reason for them to get Love, or for him to want to go there right now.”

Not Lookin’ for Love

Boston Celtics

For a few years there, it looked like Kevin Love was destined to be a Celtic—remember his 2014 visit to Boston, which had all of the Celtics universe atwitter with possibilities? He never wound up in Boston but there is a chance he could sign on with the Celtics now, with a roster spot open and Love heading to free agency. But …

Eastern Conference executive: “I do not see it. It would be an embarrassment of riches if he went there. But it is also like, they got (Mike) Muscala and they got him because they want to play him. Love is a good emergency (option) if you have an injury with Al Horford or (Robert) Williams, but if everyone’s healthy, where is he gonna play? That is Boston’s trouble in finding anyone on the buyout market. They can give more money than most teams because they have the (Danilo) Gallinari (disabled player exception) money but Love is thinking, hey, I want to play two, three more years. I am not going to get on the floor for this team.”

New York Knicks

The Knicks will look to fill at least one of the team’s remaining roster spots, but it remains uncertain how they will go about that. They stand six games above .500 in the No. 6 spot in the East, and could catch Brooklyn for No. 5. So, they’d like to bolster the roster for the stretch run. But they’d like to continue developing their young players and might be looking to add a young free agent who could perhaps fit into the long-term plans—the front office is harboring no illusions about how far this team can go as currently constructed.

Eastern Conference GM: “I can’t see either side pushing for a deal there. The Knicks have to deal with getting minutes for Obi Toppin and Jehrico Sims as it is, and putting Love into that mix is not going to get you anywhere. They have depth up front, why would Love want to go there?”

Chicago Bulls

If Love can still knock down a 3, then Chicago—like Miami—would be a good place for that kind of thing. The Bulls are a one-time contender that has gone flat and could use an influx of new blood, and Love is a quality veteran who can address a need. There are some problems with that notion, though.

Western Conference executive: “They’re close to the tax for one thing, they can be outbid by other teams. Not that money is the only thing that matters in this deal but if you’re Kevin, money kind of shows you’re committed here. The other thing is, who do you cut? One thing about the Bulls or anything that (Jerry) Reinsdorf has ever been involved in, they do not like to pay people not to play. So, you cut, say, Tony Bradley? Still paying him, and they hate that. I’d say they will stand pat here.”


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