Championship Move: Can Brooklyn Get a Foot in the Door of the Kevin Love Sweepstakes?

The Cavaliers are currently down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, but certainly not due to any lack of effort. Even in their Game 4 loss, Cleveland led by 5 points after the first half--they were close to Golden State for all but the last two minutes or so of the game. However, one common narrative about the series is that Kevin Love has simply not played up to par. This statement is more than a little unfair to Love, who suffered a concussion in Game 3 and had plus-minus numbers that matched up pretty well with those of stars Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. The complaints about Love have circled for the past year-and-a-half plus for one pretty clear reason: Kevin Love does not fit well with the other two stars on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it’s possible that Cleveland might consider trading him. So how does this potential trade, looming ever larger as a possibility as the offseason approaches, affect the Brooklyn Nets? While Brooklyn is currently low on valuable assets, they have a couple of players on hand that should interest the Cavaliers: Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If Cleveland ends up deciding to trade Kevin Love, the Nets could put together a decent offer that might just be enough to lure the star to Brooklyn.

 

Given that his counting statistics have dipped notably while on the Cavaliers, many people have been under-rating Kevin Love's game over the past two years. It's easy to see why: After 3 All-Star appearances in his last 4 years in Minnesota (and a lost 2012-2013 season where he played only 18 games and was hurt even in his rare on-court moments), Love hasn't yet made the All-Star team while in Cleveland and has suffered a lot statistically. However, Kevin Love was one of the best players in the league a short while ago; just look at this video from his Minnesota days:

 

Source: NBA YouTube channel

Notice how many of these plays start out from LeBron’s absolute favorite spot on the floor: high post, left hand side of the court. Kevin Love is unlucky in that his second-greatest offensive skill is completely overshadowed by LeBron’s greatest offensive skill—if LeBron is the best player in the world at scoring from the left block, Kevin Love is pretty close to, if not actually being, second-best. Love just has an arsenal of moves that he can whip out when he gets to that part of the floor: he can turn around and shoot a fade-away jumper, he can release a pretty accurate hook shot from over his right shoulder, and he can drive to the rim after one or two quick dribbles. In his best year in Minnesota, the 2013-2014 season when he started at power forward for the Western Conference All-Stars, Kevin Love shot 63.6% within 5 feet of the rim and averaged nearly 7 points a game from that range. Even with his great three-point shooting and incredible knack for rebounding (third in the league in 2013-2014 with 12.6 per game and still just a shade under 10 per game in his two years in Cleveland), Kevin Love’s best offensive touches were usually generated from that left-post area where LeBron tends to camp out. Kevin Love is a great player but has just been in his own head while on the Cavs, as Bill Simmons noted in a recent podcast.

 

For Cleveland in these playoffs, he is shooting awfully in those same areas of the floor where he used to star, and is getting drastically fewer touches there; furthermore, LeBron’s jump-shooting woes and Golden State’s frenetic defense give him even less room there than usual. Over the whole 2015-2016 playoffs, Love has averaged fewer than one field goal PER GAME in the restricted area, and is shooting a sub-par 34.1% while there. His post-ups on the left elbow, never stellar, have fallen into disrepair from under-use:

 

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYdyXb5y4Y0

This used to be the best part of Love's game, and points to just how many of his old touches he no longer gets simply because of Cleveland and LeBron James' basketball excellence in reaching two straight NBA Finals. Love isn't working well in Cleveland at the elbow (as evidenced by clanking midrange jumpers from there and not getting to the post) not because he is bad there, but in spite of it. If Cleveland wants to beat Golden State going forward, Kevin Love should no longer get touches there because he understandably hasn't practiced those shots in two full years as he worked his butt off to become an above-average starter in Cleveland. It's not hard to imagine how he could be benefited by being the secondary or primary option on offense, since he did a fantastic job as a primary scorer on offense in Minnesota.

 

In addition to his fall-off from his old hunting grounds on offense, Love is not helping Cleveland in these Finals on defense. Kevin Love's defense (which has never been his strong point), is getting exploited over and over again by the Warriors’ unprecedented shooting gravity (hello, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson). Kevin tries his best, and through sheer force of will has made himself a decent defensive player. His Defensive Box Plus-Minus was a decent 0.9 this regular season and an above average 0.4 during these playoffs. One could argue that this is because he now plays with LeBron and Tristan Thompson as his frontcourt mates--LeBron has always been a great defender, and Thompson has gotten much better in that regard, especially when he plays center   Despite his incredible basketball skill, Kevin Love is just not working out as many predicted he would for this Cleveland team. He’s still an effective player, averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds per game in this year’s playoffs and shooting a scorching .437% from three, but he could be so much more in a situation that allows him to do what he does best.

 

Enter the Brooklyn Nets. While the Nets don’t have many valuable assets, they certainly have a couple of assets that would be useful for these Cleveland Cavaliers. It might sound crazy to offer Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to Cleveland as a solution for their Kevin Love problem, but both players would fit remarkably well on their roster. Brook Lopez in particular would be very helpful for the Cavs against this Golden State team. While Brook is a 7-footer with rebounding troubles and a distinct lack of foot speed, he allows LeBron James and Tristan Thompson to play their natural positions (power forward in both cases) while he is on the floor. LeBron is a pretty good rebounder and a remarkable athlete for his size and Tristan Thompson is excellent as both a rebounder and an athlete; between them they can more than make up for Brook Lopez’s lack of speed and rebounding, and both can run pretty much any power forward in the league off the floor with their remarkable quickness. Thompson can get some minutes in as a small-ball 5 when Lopez sits, and LeBron could play power forward for 45 minutes if need be. Draymond Green can score on Brook Lopez defensively, but he simply isn’t tall enough to guard Lopez if he plays center in Golden State’s noted death lineup. Brook Lopez’s greatest skill is his midrange jumper from near the free throw line (where he shoots 9% better than the league average), and is above-average overall at shooting from 15-19 feet away from the basket; he could be incredible for Cleveland if he learns how to shoot three pointers, but in the meantime can shoot 18-foot jumpers over Draymond all day long. If Brooklyn includes Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the deal, they give Cleveland another useful piece: someone young and improving who can stay with Andre Iguodala on defense and cut to the rim on offense. Oklahoma City already proved how valuable someone like Andre Roberson can be even if he can only do those things, and Rondae can do those two things already and has room to grow.

 

If Brooklyn sent Brook Lopez and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to Cleveland, they would get back a player in Kevin Love that was fourth in the league in points and third in the league in rebounding just two short years ago. They would be incredibly thin at center if this trade went through, but looking for and signing pieces like that is exactly what the offseason is for. Kevin Love carried a team in Minnesota that was about as devoid of talent as the Nets would be without RHJ and Brook Lopez to 40 wins and nearly to a playoff berth, and that was two years ago. He could easily do it again, for a growing team in one of the biggest media markets in the U.S.

 

At the end of the day, Cleveland is likely to have some better options than Brooklyn on the table if they choose to trade Kevin Love. When they traded for him in the first place, they had to give up the previous two #1 overall picks, including arguably the most-hyped high schooler since LeBron himself in Andrew Wiggins. However, Kevin Love’s trade value is at its lowest point since before his second season. If Cleveland looks to trade Love this offseason, they won’t be able to get the same value as they did when they managed to secure his services. If the Cavs want to beat Golden State in the future (especially if they end up losing these Finals tomorrow in Oakland), they need to trade Kevin Love for players that will help them going forward. Although other teams might be better to field more competitive offers, Brooklyn can put together a decent package for Kevin Love that is absolutely an offer worth making for them. Only time will tell how Cleveland reacts to these Finals, but if Kevin Love enters the market, Brooklyn should put their best foot forward in trying to secure a superstar.


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