After reporting that Kevin Love may be on the market for the first time in his career, a wide variety of teams have surfaced as potential landing spots. The pursuit of Love differs from some other major sweepstakes because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it functionally impossible for him to sign a long-term extension as part of any trade. That means we could see this saga continue in some form even if he wears a different uniform in November, similar to what happened with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul in recent years.
While there should be 29 teams interested in one of the league’s best players, many franchises fall out of contention for a trade because of lack of compelling assets or unwillingness to trade what it would take to get him. Of the remaining teams, the Golden State Warriors stand out because they possess the pieces to make a move without sabotaging their present or future, while also fitting Love’s strengths and weaknesses with their remaining roster.
How Kevin Love would help in the immediate
While Kevin Love’s primary weakness sticks out like a sore thumb, his strengths are legitimately impressive. Simply put, he has been one of the ten best offensive players in the entire league for the last few seasons long before his likely peak. If you like Offensive Rating, his last two healthy seasons were two of the 20 best over the last three years for players with a heavier offensive load.
PER? #7 and #14 even if you relax the restrictions a little more. Love also stands out because he makes that impact from the power forward position, a rarity even as the position evolves and gets deeper. I should also note that in most circumstances a player gets more efficient when lowering the proportion of possessions he uses, something even more likely happen with better teammates, especially one like Stephen Curry who can do so much damage with the ball in his hands. Shouldering less of the load could help Love on both ends of the floor.
The stats are there but what makes Love far more interesting for the Warriors is how well he fits with Golden State’s current talent. Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala can anchor the defense and bookend power forwards in a way that protects them well. I attribute part of David Lee’s improvement on defense to playing heavy minutes with those two since they provide him with both easier assignments and additional cover if something goes wrong. (Of course he deserves credit as well for shedding some weight and being more active on that end in 2013-14.)
On top of that, Love and Curry would have a chance to become the best pick-and-roll combination in today’s NBA due to their combined shooting prowess. Love became one of the best shooting big men in the league somewhat out of the blue, having only attempted 19 threes his rookie year and not breaking 33% from deep until his third season when he exploded for 88 made threes on 41.7%. That shooting would be a major help for the Warriors because Andre Iguodala did not force opponents to respect his range last season. Having a third floor spacer would open up the lane for the guards to penetrate and also create some fascinating fast break looks since Love is one of the best outlet passers in a long time and also works as a trailer three point threat which teams often lose track of.
Love also makes sense with the Warriors because of his excellent defensive rebounding. While he has been a poor defender for most of his NBA career, defensive rebounds end possessions and help reduce second chance opportunities that can be hard for even the best defensive units to handle. Love was fifth in Defensive Rebounding Rate last season, with only Kevin Garnett, DeMarcus Cousins, Omer Asik and Andrew Bogut ahead of him. The Warriors taking a place in the top-five of that category as a team last season played a major role in their overall success on defense.
While Minnesota’s overall Rebound Rate was largely the same with and without Love last season, the gains came from improvement on the offensive boards, which makes sense because their other PF’s did not spend as much time away from the basket. Using NBAWowy, we can see that Minnesota’s Defensive Rebound Rate dropped 3.1% from what would have been tied for eleventh in the NBA with Love to third from the bottom in the league without him.
Many of the challenges of being a general manager stem from having to balance future and present success. In many situations, working towards one of these goals actually helps the other- think of a hit on a draft pick or a smart trade. Unfortunately, other times they run against one another and create some of the toughest decisions in sports.
Thinking about this balancing act for the Warriors requires moving forward in time about three years. Stephen Curry will be an Unrestricted Free Agent for the first time and we have learned over the last few years that the first shot at true freedom can be incredibly unpredictable. Since the difference in finances between staying with the same team and heading somewhere else are muted on max-level players, the Warriors have substantially less leverage than under previous Collective Bargaining Agreements. That means the franchise must have affirmative reasons for Curry to stay that will be present at that point since the current CBA basically eliminated extensions for players like him as discussed above.
Keeping that in mind, we need to imagine what the team could look like at that point. Bob Myers has structured the salaries so that Curry, Bogut and Iguodala all expire at the same time. This helps open up some possibilities but remember that whoever remains among Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli will be on new contracts that likely pay them substantially more than they make presently. Unfortunately, Golden State will not have a ton of different ways to improve the team without shifting around players already on the roster since they are without draft picks for 2014 and 2017 while also likely carrying enough salary to not have available cap space much if at all between now and then.
Additionally, we have also seen a substantial reduction in the value of expiring contracts in the last few years. Once a desirable commodity around the league, shorter contract lengths have helped lead to less bulky deals that franchises are desperate to shed. That means that even if the Warriors wanted to take the uncertainty out by trading either Bogut or Iguodala in 2016 or 2017 they are unlikely to get a quality player in return. It would be possible but not fair to bank on even with so much we do not know. It is also worth noting that Bogut will be 32 and Iguodala will be 33 when Curry becomes a free agent so they will be firmly on the downside of their careers.
Love could become the bridge between the current teams and the next generation of the franchise if he can be locked up in the 2015 or 2016 offseason. He will be young enough then at 28 to be both a short and long-term selling point for Curry as well as other potential free agents. Without bringing in someone like Love in the interim, management will have to rely more heavily on personal connections and whatever success the team has in the next three seasons. At best it stands as a harder pitch to make given the context.
Why the Warriors are extremely unlikely to acquire Love in 2015
Should we get through another 12 months of Kevin Love in Minnesota, the Warriors would have a very shaky chance of acquiring him due to their salary obligations already on the books. While we do not know exactly where the 2015-2016 salary cap line will be, the combination of Curry, Bogut, Iguodala and Lee make it prohibitively unlikely that they will have the space to sign a max-level player outright. In fact, adding in cap holds for Thompson and Green (which would be lower than any extension either would sign) makes it so that even shedding Lee’s deal for no 2015-16 salary (like what they did to acquire Iguodala last summer) would not be enough.
In effect, the only way the Warriors could get Love at that point would be as a giant favor from Minnesota if, and only if, they were Love’s preferred destination since teams like the Los Angeles Lakers should have the space to sign him outright. In order for the Warriors to get Love then, some combination of existing assets would need to go to a team with plenty of leverage since they would represent the only way it could happen unless management was willing to sacrifice even more assets to get under the cap.
That reality means that the 2015 trade deadline functions as a drop-dead date for any realistic chance at bringing Love in unless he elects to pick up his player option while still in Minnesota.
What I would give up
While we do not know exactly what Minnesota might want for Love, it proves easier to explain what I would be willing to move in order to make a deal happen.
One way of explaining the process is to put players/assets into tiers:
Tier One: Stephen Curry – not on the table
Tier Two: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut – Take one
Tier Three: Everything else (including Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, the 2015 No. 1 pick after the draft and David Lee) – Pretty much any combination would be OK as long as the total package works as a valid trade. I would hesitate to add Barnes and Ezeli in combination with one of the Tier Two players, but would probably cave if Love showed an interest in committing long-term even though he cannot firm that up right now.
Additionally, the Warriors can and should offer to take back any non-Pekovic contract Minnesota would like to move. In a strange twist, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and JJ Barea would all make a degree of sense on Golden State’s roster after a Love trade. Corey Brewer would fit less if Draymond and Iguodala were still on the squad, but it would still be worth it.
Will it actually happen?
We have absolutely no idea what Minnesota would want in return for their best player since Kevin Garnett should they even decide to entertain trading him.
If they want players who can contribute immediately, Golden State can put together an incredibly strong offer. A deal built around Klay Thompson, David Lee and Harrison Barnes could give the Wolves three starters, two of which would still be on cheap rookie contracts. No other suitor can offer that level of immediate help while still retaining a team good enough that Love would be interested in sticking around. Houston and Chicago have good collections as well but neither meshes particularly well with what Minnesota already has in players like Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic should Flip Saunders see them as building blocks.
However, if Minnesota wants anything other than immediate help the Warriors fall down the list dramatically. With only one tradeable first round draft pick (2015 after the completion of the upcoming draft), the Warriors would have to hope that the Wolves really like some of their young players in order to find their potential offers more compelling than the picks and young players franchises like the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics can offer.
If a move to acquire Love can be made, Bob Myers and the Warriors front office would be wise to do everything they can to get him. Love makes sense with both Golden State’s current team and their future aspirations. Their unusual combination of young talent and a lack of long-term salary flexibility makes this offseason the best time to strike though the trade deadline could be possible as well.
If Minnesota values players who can help immediately, which I consider likely with their lack of recent success, the Warriors can put together a competitive offer. Should the Wolves see David Lee as an asset (and remember they tried to sign him when he was a free agent all those years ago under the David Kahn regime), it makes the possibility that their offer would be the best that much greater.