SAC Roundtable: The Kevin Love Trade

Cleveland Falls for Love by Frank Ross

Recently, a confirmation has occurred that Cleveland will exchange a 2015 first round pick, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love.  Part of the agreement is supposedly that Kevin Love will agree to a future deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The future exchange will have multiple effects for each franchise.  It also sparks the age old debate of “winning now” versus “wait for the future.”

The first aspect I would like to write about is the fact that Cleveland gave up one of the most athletically gifted prospects in a long time.  If developed properly, he may very well be one of the best players in the NBA.  However, as of now he’s still an unproven rookie.  Yet, you have to wonder if he’d develop better with LeBron as a mentor instead of Minnesota, where many high draft picks such as Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, and Johnny Flynn fail to develop properly.  However, Cleveland seems very passionate on the idea of winning a championship now and within the immediate future, instead of waiting for a rookie to develop.  The trade shows this mindset, and as LeBron ages, the championship window will not last for a window that is say, five years, which may be when Wiggins reaches his potential.  So, the trade makes sense in the regard to winning now for Cleveland, but will it be effective?

Kevin Love is a proven player.  He’s terrific.  He can shoot bizarrely well from deep as a Power Forward.  He doesn’t need the ball to be effective.  He can rebound well.  Sure, he didn’t make the playoffs when he was with the Wolves, but it wasn’t completely his fault.  Rick Adelman lost some of his cunning as a coach with the Wolves, the management didn’t help him, and he fundamentally didn’t have much help from his teammates.  He and LeBron will be a good fit because Kevin Love can play the pick and roll well, and he can draw double teams to him and allow LeBron to have an easier time to score.  I think there will be an issue with chemistry in the beginning for the new look Cavs, but it’s not because of Love.  It’s because with a new situation for two star players, it will take at least a year to understand what needs to be done in order to play at their best. Also, I doubt Kyrie will be as effective with LeBron, seeing as how Kyrie needs the ball in his hands to be at his most effective.  Granted, I still think the Cavs will be favorites in the East and will have one of the most potent offenses in basketball.  They will, however, struggle with defense.  LeBron is a good defender, but he cannot serve as an anchor for a defense, and neither can Love.  Kyrie is not that good of a defender, and many people on that Cavs team cannot defend all that well.  If they acquire Shawn Marion like rumors have suggested, than the defense will be better but they lack a good defensive center.  If they can acquire one, then they may be able to overcome chemistry issues and first year struggles that would otherwise impede their success.  Overall, this trade is certainly one that makes sense and while I believe Wiggins will be the next great player, it’s logically sound they acquired a proven star to win a championship immediately. However, the Cavs still need to worry about defensive holes and the first year woes before they can be true title contenders.  What about the Wolves though?

The Wolves have gotten more than what many people expected due to leverage reasons.  They may not win many games, but they have a lot of talent that Flip Saunders can potentially turn into a contending unit in the west. Zach LaVine has a lot of potential and is very athletic, but very raw.  Andrew Wiggins is due to play starter minutes and can develop his offense, show athleticism, and can defend the perimeter. Gorgui Dieng has the ability to possibly become a defensive anchor.  There may be question marks, but there is talent.  Even though point guard Ricky Rubio is a bad shooter, he’s a passing machine who should set up some fun dunks and the Wolves should, if nothing else, be entertaining and have a bright future with an additional draft pick.  So while they did lose a top ten player, they gained assets, a rare talent who I believe can still become a top player in the NBA over time, and the ability to no longer be stuck in mediocrity hell.  Overall, they may not have made out like bandits, but they did get more than expected and can develop a good team in the next few years.

The Kevin Love trade has implications for both teams involved.  The Cavs have the potential to be a top offense and a title contender, but questions loom about defense and how long it will take for the team to gel.  The Wolves lost a top ten player, but they gained a future that isn’t as gloomy had they kept Kevin Love, and even the ‘next big thing’ potentially.  Both teams overall should be happy about the trade, but perhaps the Cavs more so because they are very close to their ultimate goal if everyone gels and if they gain a defensive center.

The Power of Love by Divya Parmar 

Let me be Mr. Captain Obvious for a minute: Kevin Love is very good. But how good? According to the Win Shares metric created by Basketball Reference, Love was the third best player in the league last season, trailing only Kevin Durant and soon-to-be teammate LeBron James. Add in Kyrie Irving, and that gives the Cavaliers three of the top-50 players in the league by Win Shares.

win shares

With any trade, there is always price to pay. Forget about Anthony Bennett, who had negative Win Shares last season, and the protected 1st round pick, likely to be very late in the first round. We’re talking about Andrew Wiggins, one of the most anticipated draft picks of the past decade.

To understand the dynamics of this trade, we must first understand the economic concepts of time discounting and risk. Time discounting is the idea that getting $100 today is worth more than $100 five years from now; this is because waiting for pleasure in the future is worth less than pleasure today. And risk is the possible downside of future uncertainty. In trading Wiggins for Love, the Cavaliers are acquiring a better return in the short term with an expected loss in the future. Conversely, the Timberwolves are sacrificing immediate production for better production in the future.

With those principles, if both players produce the same amount, then waiting is not worth the cost. Plus Wiggins is a risk whereas Love is a proven All-Star in his sixth season. Thus Wiggins in his prime must be clearly better than Love in his prime. How likely is that to happen?

Let’s examine the top picks of each draft with at least six seasons in the league. I used the 2005 through 2009 NBA Drafts, and looked at the number one pick as well as the best performers (to estimate Wiggins’ ceiling) in each draft. I then compared their first six seasons to Kevin Love’s first six seasons.

This plot includes Andrew Bogut (1st pick in 2005), Deron Williams (3rd pick in 2005), Chris Paul (4th pick in 2005), Andrea Bargnani (1st pick in 2006), LaMarcus Aldridge (2nd pick in 2006), Greg Oden (1st pick in 2007), Kevin Durant (2nd pick in 2007), Derrick Rose (1st pick in 2008) and Blake Griffin (1st pick in 2009). All these players are being compared to Love, the 5th pick in the 2008 Draft.

win shares 2

In looking at the plot, we can see the progression of Love’s career. Except for an injury ridden 2012-2013 season, Love has steadily improved (dotted red line). He has been trending upward, and seems to have done better than anyone in the sample except for Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. However, Love must stay healthy and continue the growth trajectory to stay elite. If he can do this with less ball usage and fit into the offense, then the Cavaliers have got great value.

Despite this, if Wiggins is truly an all-time great along the lines of Durant, then this trade will have backfired. But if he is merely a solid top pick, this will turn out in the Cavaliers favor.

Wolves Both Winners and Losers by Dean La

Wiggins’ recent quote about being just “being a piece” really sums it up. By going to Minnesota, he has the time and opportunity to really showcase his skills. He might be wasting away his potential by staying in Cleveland during this new era LeBron is bringing in. Lavine-Wiggins-Robinson-Dieng is a great young core to build around and with Ricky Rubio (endless passing machine), Pekovic, and some solid role players, Minnesota isn’t completely horrible. It should be really interesting to see what the Timberwolves do with Ricky Rubio’s contract situation and how they ultimately want to develop Gorgui Dieng (behind Pekovic, or deal Pekovic?). It’s an exciting young team, and I wonder if Minnesota can prosper and stay together in the long term. Cleveland may, indeed, be making the same mistake that Charlotte made with Kobe. I’m happy for Kevin Love who finally has a teammate that is in the top 40, let alone the best player in the league and the real winners- the Cavaliers. For Andrew Wiggins, however, the stage is set.

Despite what I just mentioned, this is a tough time for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. They haven’t been relevant since 2004 and there doesn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. Flip Saunders was already on the hot seat, and I wonder if Glen Taylor will fault Flip for his efforts or remain patient- if he comes down on Flip that just illustrates the reason why Minnesota continually fails to rebuild. It disgruntles me when organization leaders spew out “I expect Kevin Love to be here” and then flip flop a month later. Respect your fan base, they already know the writing on the wall, you know you have no other choice. If you are a little more honest (some sleight of hand is normal) you wouldn’t be feeling so much pressure all the time (now would you Flip?) Young talent is exciting, but when will Minnesota really get somewhere? Hopefully this is the start.

Do the Wolves Have a Chance in the Western Conference? by Justin Block

As we all have now heard, Kevin Love is officially with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and this is one of the most trending topics in the NBA today.  When I heard about this trade, the first question that popped in my mind is, can the Wolves remain competitive in the Western Conference?  The Wolves were nine games behind for the eight spot to participate in the 2014 playoffs.  The Western Conference teams have shown improvement as compared to the Eastern Conference teams who had a tough break.  With the Western Conference teams showing growth, the Wolves have to keep up with the pace if they are to make it to the 2015 playoffs.

With the fresh talent from Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (who is expected to be sent to Philadelphia for Thaddeus Young), the Wolves could have a shot to at least obtain an eight spot for the playoffs or get a better record than they did last year.  I believe Wiggins and Bennett (or Young) will provide some help for the Wolves in alleviating Kevin Love’s loss.  If the Wolves are not able to reach the playoffs then they can use the 2015 first round pick provided from the Cavaliers to get another young building block for their team.  So to answer the question if the Wolves are ready for the Western Conference, I would say they have shot for an eighth spot, but we will have to wait and see.

What Does This Trade Truly Mean? by Robert Petrosyan

The Kevin Love trade has had great impact on the league today. After all, this may be the biggest non-LeBron related offseason move of the century. He is a superstar who is moving to the now title favorites Cleveland Cavaliers. The new Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving could actually be better than the Miami incarnation. And if he plays for Cleveland the way he played in Minnesota last season, then that would make the Cavaliers extremely tough to beat. However, lost in the fog of hype is reality. As good as Kevin Love was for the Wolves statistically, he is not a true superstar that could be the leader of a contending team. During Love’s stint as a Timberwolf, the Wolves failed to make the playoffs, and could not even reach .500.  This is unlike another Kevin from Minnesota, Kevin Garnett, who in eleven years as a Timberwolf led his team to eight playoff appearances and a conference final, and even won the MVP Award. Obviously the struggles of the Wolves post-Garnett are not Love’s fault (failure to properly develop draft picks like Jonny Flynn and retain Chandler Parsons are more to blame). However, the track record does show that Love is more of a secondary superstar like Kyrie Irving, as opposed to a true lead superstar like LeBron James.

Fortunately for Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers are exactly where he belongs. With LeBron James being the main man, Kevin Love will not face nearly as much pressure, and will not have put forth herculean efforts day in and day out for his team to win games. While the offense will not revolve around Love in Cleveland as it did in Minnesota, the fall in opportunities will be more than negated with the double and triple teams around LeBron James that will lead to open three pointers from Kevin Love. The number of shots will go down for Love, but the quality of the shots will be much better, which will could potentially increase an already sky high 26.97 Player Efficiency Rating. However, as good as his game is on the offensive end, Love’s game does not come without issues. Even though he is a good rebounder, Kevin Love doesn’t have too many blocks, having only 0.5 per game last year and in his career. Kevin Love is a stretch four, and the best one in the league, but unless Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson improve to become more than above average, the Cavaliers could have defensive issues that could prove to be their Achilles’ heel. For the time being however, this move should improve the Cavaliers and set them on their way to a title or two, especially in a very inept East.

Losing Kevin Love is a big blow to the Timberwolves, but snagging one of the most anticipated draft prospects since LeBron James is a more than adequate consolation prize. With that trade also came Anthony Bennett and a first round pick. The pick is likely to be a low first, so I wouldn’t expect much out of it. As for Bennett, he had a historically bad rookie year, but he also showed some signs of life, especially in Summer League. He had potential for a rebound year, but he is expected to be traded to the 76ers for Thaddeus Young, who is a great defender, albeit one who could leave as a free agent next summer if he so chooses. My colleague Dean compared the Andrew Wiggins situation to that of Kobe Bryant, but for my comparison, I will travel further back to 1979, when the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson first overall to add to a playoff worthy roster that included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Instead of trading Magic away for an existing star, the Lakers kept him, and not only continued to win championships, but managed to make Magic their superstar when Kareem started to decline. While the Cavs made themselves a superstar better in the short term, they traded away the type of flexibility that the Showtime Lakers chose to retain. As for the Timberwolves, they are back to square one, and are building around Andrew Wiggins. It is doubtful that the Wolves will be competitive this year. Next year, however, I would expect them to contend for and gain a playoff spot if Andrew Wiggins lives up to his potential. Five years from now, he could very well be a bona fide superstar a-la LeBron James or Kevin Durant, especially if the Wolves build the team around him. Retaining Ricky Rubio at a manageable price would be a good start, since Rubio is a great passer who will be able to find Wiggins while also not taking away too many scoring opportunities from him.

The biggest takeaway from this trade is the sad state of small market teams in the NBA. Basketball is a superstar driven sport, and without one, winning a title is next to impossible. While teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics can simply trade for or sign free agent superstars, small market teams can only hope to draft well, and succeed with their stars while they still have them under contract. Before the Cavaliers entered the fray, two of the biggest suitors for Kevin Love were the Lakers and the Celtics, two big market teams coming off bad seasons. Despite them having worse records than the Wolves, Love thought of them as better destinations since they can attract free agents to build a potential superteam. The Wolves don’t have that luxury. Not even successful small market teams like the Thunder and the Pacers have that luxory. The only reason that the Cavaliers have become a premier free agency destination is because of LeBron James and the likelihood of winning a title. And this is precisely what Minnesota is hoping for with Wiggins. The Wolves have never had great free agent acquisitions, and they’ve always had to overpay for merely good players in order to put together a team. While Kevin Love added a lot of excitement and memorable performances for the Wolves, he was not the superstar that would singlehandedly lead his team to success, and was not someone that could attract other stars to the Land of a Thousand Lakes. Minnesota is now hoping Andrew Wiggins will be that guy. Even if Kevin Love reaches new heights as a Cavalier, a bona fide superstar in Wiggins would more than make up for that.

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