Despite four-consecutive Finals appearances, things are bleak for the Cavaliers as they head into 2018–19. With no LeBron James to carry Cleveland through the Eastern Conference, head coach Ty Lue will be forced to cobble together wins with a motley crew of role players, youngsters and specialists. The non-LeBron Cavs shot 29% from three in the Finals; how poorly will they fare without a slew of open looks on a nightly basis?
Despite the presumed slide down the East and potential tumble out of the playoffs, the Cavs’ brass has insisted the team will try to compete for the playoffs next season. However, barring a massive resurgence from Rodney Hood and George Hill or a rookie-of-the-year campaign from Collin Sexton, this reads as little more than wishful thinking.
Assuming the Cavs fall out of contention in the East, their best move will be to acquire young talent and picks for the limited assets on their roster. And no asset looms larger for Cleveland than Kevin Love.
The five-time All-Star’s value has depreciated considerably since he came to the Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Wiggins in 2014, but Love can still be a valuable piece for a contender. Move Love from a corner jump shooter to a pick-and-roll piece and occasional low-block bully, and shades of his former self can emerge. Don’t forget that Love was a double-double machine in his time with the Timberwolves.
So if Cleveland does opt to move on from Love, where should he go? Here are the five most intriguing trade destinations.
After jettisoning DeMar DeRozan in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, Toronto put a precise timetable on its championship window: one season. Yes, there’s the slight chance that Leonard falls in love with The 6, but the California kid is much more likely to leave Toronto following 2018–19.
With that in mind, it may be prudent for Toronto to make a push for Love, a stronger option at the four than Serge Ibaka. Leonard will fill DeRozan’s role as a mid-range maestro, and with Love and Kyle Lowry dotting the three-point line, Toronto’s offense could vault to the top of its conference.
Love is a sieve defensively, but Leonard would make up for his deficiencies. And while Toronto would be foolish to deal their most promising youngsters (OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam), it still has plenty of assets to make it worth Cleveland’s while. Delon Wright and Normal Powell are both young contributors with upside. Pair Fred VanVleet with Sexton, and Cleveland could have an intriguing backcourt for years to come.
If the season starts poorly and Leonard pouts, Toronto will rightly avoid making a push for a vet. The Raptors may even opt to ship Leonard and begin their rebuild with a treasure trove of assets, but if the Finals are truly in sight, adding Love could put them over the top.
Oklahoma City Thunder
This year’s Thunder project to be a menace defensively, long and athletic at all positions. The trio of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson will rack up the steals, while Steven Adams and Jerami Grant hold down the back-line. Yet for all it’s defensive prowess, the current iteration of OKC remains light on outside shooting.
Westbrook often looked more like Westbrick in 2017–18, shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. Adams and Roberson are non-shooters, and while Grant showed nascent ability in the corner last year, the Thunder often seem unable to get out of their own way, clogging the paint as Westbrook settles for triples and pull-up jumpers.
Love would be an instant antidote to the Thunder’s spacing problem. Similar to his time with James in Cleveland, Love would feast off open threes created via Westbrook drives. He’ll also serve as a cagey pick-and-pop partner for the league’s resident triple-double machine.
Adding Love would only exacerbate OKC’s luxury-tax burden, and nearly wipe out the savings from Carmelo Anthony’s departure. But as general manager Sam Presti—and previously A Tribe Called Quest—said: scared money don’t make none.
With the departure of Jabari Parker, Milwaukee finds itself with a dearth of talent surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yes, Khris Middleton is still in the fold, but the roster as currently constructed sits far outside the likes of Boston and Philadelphia in the East.
The backcourt pair of Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe struggled against Boston in the playoffs—more notably Bledsoe, who got torched by Terry Rozier—and don’t look the part of impact players in a postseason series. As currently constructed, Antetokounmpo will need to go full LeBron for Milwaukee to even think about winning the East.
Love isn’t likely to vault Milwaukee to the top of the conference, but he’d be an important piece for the Bucks. He’d serve as more than a three-point marksman with Milwaukee, able to eat-up possessions on the block similar to Parker.
Antetokounmpo still has three years left on his contract, but the clock is ticking nonetheless. Just like with Anthony Davis in New Orleans and James in his first stint in Cleveland, the Bucks must show Antetokounmpo that the organization can bring in enough talent for title contention. Love could be a significant step toward that.
Portland Trail Blazers
Given Love’s defensive deficiencies, this seems like a curious pairing at first. The thought of a Damian Lillard-Love pick-and-roll defense will give Blazers fans nightmares, especially against dynamic big men like Davis. But allow Terry Stotts to get creative, and adding Love could be a boon to Portland’s playoff chances. With Jusuf Nurkic anchoring the paint, Love’s defensive duties would shrink. And a jumbo front-line of Love, Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu would allow Love to hide on most nights.
Despite the firepower of Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland’s offense was far from a juggernaut last season. The Blazers ranked No. 15 in the league in offensive rating, and No. 16 in points per game, getting little production from its front line. And despite betting big on Nurkic with a four-year, $48 million deal this offseason, don’t expect him to morph into his former teammate Nikola Jokic on the offensive end. Nurkic lacks playmaking ability in traffic, and is a subpar passer. Love would alleviate those issues immediately.
A third scorer could do wonders for Portland, who despite the third-best record in the West last year, could very well find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. Expecting Lillard to erupt on a nightly basis isn’t sustainable, and adding Love could boost Portland’s offense near the top of the league.
After missing out on the chase for George, James and Leonard, Love could be a nice consolation piece for a Philadelphia team ready to compete for the Eastern crown in 2018–19. He would mesh well with Ben Simmons and has proven to be a heady passer inside the arc, which would compliment Joel Embiid. And the shooting punch wouldn’t hurt, either.
Embiid enters next season following a second-place finish for Defensive Player of the Year, and should shield Love from punishment against any big man not named Al Horford. Robert Covington is a versatile chess piece who could provide additional cover as well. Love would steal minutes from Dario Saric, but the young Croatian may end up better served as a elite sixth man.
Aside from his on-court contributions, Love would give a veteran presence and championship pedigree to Philly. The Process brought the 76ers to contender status in the East. Love could vault them to the NBA Finals in the weakened East.