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Trail Blazers Need to Stay Away from Kevin Love

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It’s one of the hottest rumors in the NBA trade market. It’s also a bad idea.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NBA Trade Deadline is approaching. Few teams are in position to make mid-season deals like the Portland Trail Blazers. Few names have been linked with Portland more hotly than Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. With the disgruntled forward more available than ever, let’s pronounce final judgment on all proposed Love-to-Portland deals.

Dave,

Your man [ed. trade target Blake Griffin] is out for the season and maybe forever as far as useful play. Who’s next? Ready to hop on the Love Boat? Come on! It’s got to be better than what we got!

Sam

Hahaha!!! I published this version of this question just for the Love Boat reference. Standing ovation. And you’re right, Kevin Love would help Portland. Heck, getting Gopher and Julie in the frontcourt would probably help the Blazers right now.

Even so, the Blazers need to stay away from Love. He’d make them better by spreading the floor, useful now and next season when the roster normalizes. He’d not contribute enough to raise them into contention, though. This move would enshrine the Blazers into mediocrity for the next 2-3 years exactly when they need to grow beyond it. The only reason to do the deal is if they know they’re not going to get better anyway and they want Love as a really expensive distraction from that reality. That’s a bad reason to make any trade, let alone a cap-consuming one.

Love is 31 this season. That fits Portland’s profile. He’s been a prolific scorer throughout his career. 2019-20 ranks in his mid- to low-middle range for points and rebounds per minute and per possession. He is not producing at his peak levels with the Cavaliers or Timberwolves; likely he’ll never do so again.

That said, Love still packs plenty of punch. His current average of 16.4 points per game would place him beneath only Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on Portland’s scoring chart. His per-minute scoring nestles nicely between Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony. He’d stand among the players who have boosted the Blazers most this season, except he’d also have tenure, job security, and incentive to help the team win long-term.

On the surface, this appears like a wheelbarrow full of awesome. But the wheels are flimsy. Put too much weight on it—including the weight of contending—and the thing’s going to fall apart.

Injuries have haunted Love as he’s aged. He’s appeared in 61% of Cleveland’s regular-season games over the last four seasons, including this one. Those four years comprise 33% of his total tenure in the NBA, but they account for only 23% of his overall minutes. This is not out of line with an injured star slipping past his prime, which is exactly the point. That’s what the Blazers would be acquiring.

This would be more than acceptable if the former star ticked off several boxes for them. K-Love might not.

Love hits 37.6% of his three-point shots. That’s above league average, but nowhere near revolutionary. Carmelo Anthony is shooting 39% from that distance. Rodney Hood was at 49% before he went down. Neither one has transformed the season. 37.6% is the kind of number you nod at, appreciate, but then ask, “OK, what else have you got?”

The “what else” is a little slim, even on offense.

  • Love is brilliant shooting long two-pointers. The jury’s out whether a team can ride those to a title. They’re a much smaller part of his repertoire than the three-point shot.
  • He’s a great free throw shooter, but doesn’t draw many fouls.
  • He’s not an offensive rebounder, as he spends most of his time on the perimeter.
  • He keeps the ball moving and will usually make the right pass, but he’s not going to create the kind of multi-threat, defense-confounding possessions that Griffin did in Detroit last year.
  • He’s also averaging a career high for turnovers

On offense, Love is good...maybe really good. He’s no longer great. The difference between him and other good offensive forwards is incremental. The difference between him and league elite offensive forwards is far larger. The latter gap won’t be closed even if he gets cleaner looks in Portland than he is in Cleveland currently.

The cost for that incremental improvement is high. Love has never been a great defender. He’s depended on less-talented, more dedicated teammates to cover for him. That describes 75% of the players in Portland’s rotation now, and it’s not working.

The Blazers already have a top ten offense. Defense robs them of the chance to parlay points into wins. Love cannot help with that; he exacerbates the problem. Envisioning him guarding pick and rolls with any of Portland’s starting guards will turn your hair gray and cause coaches to spontaneously lose theirs.

We have not broached Love’s contract yet. He’s making $29 million this season. That’ll jump to $31.3 million for each of the next two years before returning to $29 million again for 2022-23,

Assuming the Blazers trade away commensurate salaries to obtain him, Love wouldn’t affect the balance book much this year. Acquiring Love would obliterate Portland’s 2020 cap space for free agency, reducing their summer maneuvering room to pedestrian cap exceptions. This is not a bad thing if Love is better than any free agent they could have acquired with that space, but the impact ranges farther.

Assuming Rodney Hood picks up his option and Mario Hezonja finds another home, the Blazers are obligated to $100 million in guaranteed salaries next season without Love. Adding Love’s $31.3 million contract would push them far past the salary cap line, straight to the luxury tax threshold. They would have 11 players under contract: Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Love, Hood, Zach Collins, Skal Labissiere, Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., and their 2010 NBA Draft pick.

Some of those players might depart in the Love deal, but that would create more roster vacancies than cap room, as everyone below the Love line is on a cheap contract. Even if the Blazers pay practically nothing to get him, they’ll pay for years to keep him.

The real question is not whether Love would make the Blazers better. He would.

The real question is whether acquiring a somewhat-better version of Carmelo Anthony pushes the Blazers over the top for the next three years. Will that 11-man lineup remain solid and injury-free over that span? Is that collection of players worth drifting into repeater-tax territory? These questions are far more demanding. It’s not likely the Blazers will clear those bars even with Love on board.

I get the temptation. If Portland does trade for Love cheaply and sanely, I’ll hope to be proven wrong. From my vantage point, though, a Kevin Love trade is a solid no. This is the kind of deal the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat should make, not a 15-23 team in an overcrowded Western Conference. If they’re going to drop $100+ million, the Blazers need someone with tougher defense or more remaining potential.

We’ll make a deal, though, Sam. If the Blazers get Love, I’ll write out the theme song in your honor. Until then, all of you can send your Mailbag questions to blazsersub@gmail.com!

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Click this link: Trail Blazers Group Ticket Portal

Type in this promo code: BLAZERSEDGE

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Please help out if you can, and Go Blazers!

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