There are a number of reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers reversed the tide in Game 3 and blew the Golden State Warriors off the floor. There was the change of venue, there was a lineup shift with LeBron James and there was Kyrie Irving significantly outplaying Stephen Curry.
But most notable -- though almost certainly not the most influential -- was the absence of Kevin Love. Love started in the first two games, and Cleveland got smoked. He missed Game 3 due to a concussion and the Cavaliers rampaged over the defending champs. Given the long narrative about Love's struggle to find his place in Cleveland, it's only natural that this is where we go.
So ... where are we?
SHOULD THE CAVALIERS TRADE KEVIN LOVE THIS SUMMER?
Yes, probably. The Cavaliers are best when LeBron James is playing power forward, especially now that his outside jumper has become wildly inconsistent to the point James only trusts it when there's no other choice. Now, LeBron may not be comfortable committing to playing power forward full-time, and that's understandable. There are still a lot of brawny power forwards in the East and it's exhausting work. But against other elite teams, that's where he needs to be.
As such, paying through the nose for a power forward who can't regularly play center or small forward -- that'd be Love -- doesn't make much sense. Even if James only plays heavy minutes at power forward in the playoffs against certain teams, there's probably a much better way to use the resources going to pay Love. The Cavaliers have a $170 million payroll, including the luxury tax. You can find cheaper options to give what Love offers and avoid the discomfort when you have to sit them against the best teams. Having Love in this spot is like using ground filet mignon in your Hamburger Helper: it's completely unnecessary and wasteful.
So yes, the Cavaliers should probably trade Kevin Love this summer, even if they win the championship.
WILL THEY TRADE HIM?
Yes, probably. This payroll level is unsustainable. While there will be a touch of cap relief as Timofey Mozgov exits, LeBron will get more expensive due to the exploding salary cap, and J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova are likely to seek massive pay raises. Keeping or replacing those two won't come cheap.
Should the Cavs lose this series, trading Love would become the best way to improve the roster and shape it to challenge Golden State. Should the Cavs stun the world and win, trading Love becomes a lower priority -- who has time for transactions when you're drunk and/or hungover for all of July and August? -- but still makes sense.
WHY DID THEY RE-SIGN HIM LAST SUMMER ANYWAYS?
Oh, the Cavaliers had to re-sign Love after giving up Andrew Wiggins to get him. Signing him was a smart move on its own: Love is far from dead weight, especially on a deal signed before the cap explosion. Losing Love for nothing in free agency in 2015 would have prevented the Cavaliers from having such a strong tradable asset in 2016. If you can sign a valued player at a reasonable rate in free agency, that's a huge win. Plus, the Cavaliers were in a cap situation that would not have allowed them to sign a replacement if Love bolted.
The original trade to bring Love to Cleveland can be questioned and criticized, but the decision to re-sign him is beyond reproach.
DOES LOVE HAVE A SAY IN ANY OF THIS?
Not really. He's under contract until at least 2019, so he can't reasonably threaten to walk if traded somewhere he doesn't want to be. He does not have a no-trade clause. He's represented by Jeff Schwartz, who is rather powerful and could exert some pressure. But Schwartz doesn't represent LeBron, Kyrie or anyone else particularly important to Cleveland.
SO WHERE WILL LOVE GET TRADED?
Oh, the options Cleveland could have!
CELTICS: Boston has been ground zero for Love rumors and speculation for a long time. Something involving Jae Crowder and one of the Nets' upcoming picks just might get this done. Avery Bradley is a name mentioned frequently, too. The reason the pairing is such a fit is that Boston needs top-level talent and has lots of young, cheap assets and maybe too much wing defense, while Cleveland needs young, cheap assets and wing defense. Presuming the Celtics wouldn't even discuss Marcus Smart, Bradley is the best Cleveland could possibly do here.
BLAZERS: Love is from Oregon. Portland badly needs a big man who can score. Cleveland could use a younger two-guard with upside and a good shooting stroke. Love for C.J. McCollum checks the boxes and saves the Cavaliers tons of money. It doesn't solve the Cavs' backcourt defense issues or Portland's overall defense issues, but it helps both teams. Al-Farouq Aminu would help Cleveland quite a bit, but it's doubtful Neil Olshey would give up one of his two quality defenders (Ed "Cheap Tristan Thompson" Davis being the other).
SUNS: Like Portland, Phoenix needs a frontcourt scorer to relieve pressure from Eric Bledsoe and to give Brandon Knight a strong pick-and-roll partner. That said, Bledsoe might be the cost of Love. Bledsoe is famously represented by Klutch Sports (LeBron's agency) and King James even flirted with Phoenix a couple years ago. Bledsoe, if healthy, could be a perfect fit with Kyrie and LeBron, and Love might average 25-12 again on a Suns team minus E.B.
WIZARDS: Sign and trade for Bradley Beal? Anyone? Love is just what the Wizards need, but there probably aren't enough of the right pieces to send back to Cleveland, especially when compared to the other offers likely to be on the table.
ROCKETS: Similarly, Love would be a beautiful fit in a 110-points-per-game Mike D'Antoni system, but the Rockets don't have assets comparable to the Celtics or Suns. One intriguing option would be Trevor Ariza and picks or Clint Capela. Trading Capela is difficult given that Dwight Howard is almost certainly out the door, but if Houston can pick up a top center in free agency, this becomes more palatable.
MAVERICKS: Sign and trade for Chandler Parsons! Consider how well Richard Jefferson is working with LeBron during this series, and realize that Parsons is essentially an updated RJ. I don't know exactly how Love fits with Dirk Nowitzki except in the sense of a replacement, and I understand that the Mavericks have far greater needs than a shooting power forward. But Dallas loves stars, and Parsons is potentially leaving anyway.
MAGIC: Orlando has plenty of young pieces and a need for offense. Aaron Gordon would be a dream target for Cleveland. Victor Oladipo would be magical on the Cavaliers, too.
NUGGETS: The Cavaliers probably wouldn't want Emmanuel Mudiay (because of Irving) or be able to nab Nikola Jokic, but Denver has some young bigs (Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne) and some good wings (Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, both of whom comes with injury concerns), plus the Nos. 7 and 19 picks in the draft. In reality, Denver is just a step below Boston in terms of the actual potential for a deal, assuming the Cavs are interested in Chandler or Gallo. (Kenneth Faried isn't a fit on a team that pays Tristan Thompson that much money.)
HORNETS: Charlotte wants to retain Nicolas Batum and fared quite well without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist this season. MKG is an elite individual defender with a killer work ethic and no need or desire to ever shoot. In other words, he's perfect for the Cavaliers. Add a pick (Charlotte has No. 22) or one of the big men (clearly not future G.O.A.T. Frank Kaminsky) and this makes sense.
CAN WE GET A LITTLE MORE CRAZY WITH THESE IDEAS, PLEASE?
SIXERS: Jahlil Okafor and the Kings' 2018 pick. Philadelphia doesn't need it anyways. Love averages 35-15 next season and is reunited with Kyrie and LeBron as an All-Star starter.
LAKERS: Kevin Love belongs in L.A. The No. 2 pick (Brandon Ingram, basically) is too steep a price, but the Lakers can offer Julius Randle, Larry Nance, future draft considerations -- maybe some package of those assets goes to a third team listed above who can offer the right talent to Cleveland? The Mavericks could be a candidate for this role, if they don't plan on keeping up with this "lose in the first round" business.
RAPTORS: Rivals don't usually make trades involving stars, but Toronto is potentially the perfect match for Cleveland in a Love trade. The Raptors can offer a cheaper forward who will happily come off the bench if needed (either DeMarre Carroll or Patrick Patterson), the No. 9 pick in this year's draft and a young asset, including maybe Norman Powell. Love would be a perfect counterweight to Kyle Lowry and (hopefully) DeMar DeRozan, and would allow Masai Ujiri to pay through the nose to keep Bismack Biyombo knowing he can be a starter with a high-scoring power forward in place. Cleveland saves tons of money, gets a grinder in place of Love and up to two young pieces. Win-win!
THUNDER: We have two options here. If Kevin Durant commits to staying in Oklahoma City, how about a deal straight up for Serge Ibaka? He's $10 million cheaper and defensive-minded; Oklahoma City is interested because they need some more shooting, want to give Russell Westbrook a new best friend and have the excellent Steven Adams to provide some rim protection. (The problem: Cleveland's Love-vs-GSW problem becomes OKC's Love-vs-GSW problem.) The other option only comes into play if Durant declares he is leaving the Thunder immediately. In that case, maybe he's interested in being LeBron's co-star in Cleveland? OKC pulls the trigger on the sign and trade just to get something back from a guy who is leaving anyway. Let's unify the two biggest storylines of the summer!
CRAZIEST OF ALL!
If the Celtics aren't interested in giving up productive talent, there's an intriguing three-team option. The Knicks' two best players are more than a decade apart in age. Carmelo Anthony is one of LeBron's very best friends, and the two talked about eventually playing together a few months ago. New York could use some draft picks (especially since they don't have their own this season). Send Love to Boston, picks and a young player or two to the Knicks and Melo to Cleveland.
This probably doesn't solve any problems for the Cavaliers, but who cares? Melo and Bron! Polish it off by trading Kyrie to L.A. for Chris Paul, cajole free agent Dwyane Wade to sign a one-year deal to play in Ohio, call it Team Toast and roll the ball out there.
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Shaun Livingston is the NBA Finals' coolest story
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