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Should the Knicks Make a Run at Kevin Love?

Want to make any Knicks fan shudder? Say the name "Kevin Love." But is the reputation warranted? Taking a closer look could be more useful that it seems at first glance.

One of the more fascinating developments that popped up among Knicks Twitter circles in the months preceding the summer of 2019, and has come up again as we slowly but surely approach the 2020 offseason, is the concept of "Same Old Knicks" becoming outdated in real time.

For many, "Same Old Knicks" evokes a particular image: a team full of overpriced, good-but-not-great players who aren't talented enough to bring the team to the playoffs (let alone make them a contender) but are just competent enough to keep the team away from the very top of the lottery. 

Any Knick fan over the age of 30 knows that image well. If you're new to the fan base, just say the names "Shandon Anderson" or "Othella Harrington" to one of these older folks and watch them recoil in fear. That muscle memory never goes away.

Fast forward to last summer. Many fans, while acknowledging the fact that the team wasn't successful in its pursuits, were at least encouraged that they didn't fall into old habits; i.e., James Dolan won't be writing very large checks to Tobias Harris until Bronny James is an NBA player.

But looking at how this season actually turned out, many fans have been forced into an about-face. Minus the long-term contract part, the 2019-20 Knicks looked an awful lot like the motley crews Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas put together over a decade ago. Veterans who won't be a part of the next great Knicks team were doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and if indeed the season is over, the Knicks are most likely to draft seventh overall.

Which brings us to today (or rather, whenever the offseason officially begins). While no one knows exactly what Leon Rose is going to do with his first chance to make changes to the roster, one thing is for certain: there will be changes, and likely wholesale ones, after what most rational observers seem to agree was a waste of a season.

The goal is as it always was: get a star to call MSG home. Once upon a time, "Same Old Knicks" made that pursuit an impossibility. They weren't bad enough to get a star through the draft, didn't have the cap space to sign one in free agency, and didn't have any assets appealing enough to pull off a blockbuster trade.

While you can never rule anything out, the smart money says that Rose will not want his first year on the job to be an outright tank. Thanks to the new lottery rules, this doesn't mean that the Knicks won't end up with a top pick anyway, but as opposed to the designed futility of 2018-19, next year's team will probably attempt to win games. Which means they will attempt to upgrade the talent.

Which brings us to Kevin Love. Of all the ways the Knicks could improve their on-court product - sign young free agents like Fred VanFleet and/or Christian Wood, ink an older vet like Danilo Gallinari to a shorter contract, trade for Chris Paul, or swing a deal for a young talent like Lauri Markkanen or Donovan Mitchell (keep dreaming) - trading for Love is the single move that probably has the least universal support throughout the fan base.

It's not hard to see why. For starters, he is as close to the combined ages of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson as he is to either of them individually. He also isn't cheap, with a contract that lasts three more seasons at an average of $30 million, and has been injury prone throughout his career, including playing just 22 games in 2018-19. Finally, while he isn't exactly the antithesis of the modern game (he is, after all, a seven-footer with a better career 3-point percentage than Chris Paul), he doesn't exactly embody a plethora of modern trends either.

To top it off, Love's childish on-court tirades last season were about as classless as you'll ever see.

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But all of this has to be considered along with something else that Love is: a damn good NBA player who (putting his contract aside for the moment) would make eminently more  sense on the Knicks than their current starting power forward, Julius Randle.

This may come as a shock to those who merely look at the Cavs record since LeBron left, but of all the problems Cleveland has had, Love hasn't been one of them. During his injury-shortened 2018-19 campaign, the Cavs had a negative 4.2 net rating with Love on the court and were a desultory minus 11.1 with him off. 

This season, Love was a pouty train-wreck under John Beilein - who he openly feuded with - but turned it on after Beilein's ouster. The Cavs actually outscored their opponents by 3.9 points per 100 possessions during Love's minutes in the 11 games J.B. Bickerstaff coached. Without him, they were outscored by 15.6 points per 100, which is a discrepancy that would have been among the league leaders over a full season.

Point is, when healthy and in the right frame of mind, Love can still be an immense help to an NBA team. Is there a contender that would take on the remaining years and dollars on his contract? Almost certainly not. 

But what about a team that needs to get from terrible to mediocre? And whose young core is several years away from possible contention, to the point that by the time it gets there, Love's contract would be an expiring deal, or perhaps even off the books entirely? In the interim, could Love get the Knicks from wherever they are right now to a place of competence, and in the process, make the franchise more appealing to the free agents that have thus far turned their backs?

Of course, this is the exact line of thinking that led Cleveland to re-sign Love in the first place. They now find themselves saddled with a player who is as much albatross as asset (although they would never admit it, which is likely the reason why Love isn't going anywhere). 

But if the Knicks could get Love essentially for free, and unload Julius Randle in the process, would it be a return to "Same Old Knicks," chasing the eighth seed to the detriment of long term gain? Or would it be just the opposite: an escape from the new "Same Old Knicks" of the last several seasons - the ones that can't get out of their own way on the court, and thus remain an utterly unappealing destination for the very best players around the NBA?

In the end, there are probably younger, cheaper options to swap out for Randle that make more sense for the franchise at the current time. There is almost no scenario where a trade for Love is the best option this offseason - not unless the Cavs pay a premium to unload his deal, something they've shown no sign whatsoever of wanting to do.

But Love is a useful avatar to get us all to revisit our long-held beliefs about what is holding the Knicks back and what it will take to move them forward. Those ingrained fears about chasing mediocrity have nearly buried the current reality, which is that mediocrity is not only nowhere in sight, but that it may not be all that bad of an outcome in the immediate future (presuming a tank is off the table.

The Knicks have young players. They have draft picks. And most importantly, they have immense financial flexibility in a league where contracts are much shorter and easily movable than they were when the Layden's and Thomas' of the world boxed the organization into a corner with seemingly no daylight on the horizon.

All this is to say that Leon Rose needs to consider every option in the moves he makes moving forward (hiring one of the best cap wizards in the league is a good start). Kevin Love may not be the answer, but asking the questions about whether he could be a help are valuable in and of themselves. 

That alone is a step in the right direction.