A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Some closing words on the Warriors and the Klay Thompson-Kevin Love saga

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Kevin Love has been unofficially traded to Cleveland, so I wanted to revisit Golden State’s side of the Love saga, which has been more fascinating than either Cleveland or Minnesota’s.

Golden State refusing to trade David Lee and Klay Thompson for Kevin Love may go down in infamy one day. More or less, the only people who don’t think it’s a bad move is them.

The best article about the Warriors end of this is from Tim Kawakami in late July. In in he stated what I had been suspecting at the time. This is as much about David Lee as Klay Thompson. It’s not so much the Warriors prefer Klay to Love, it’s just they don’t see the difference between two offensively gifted PFs in Lee and Love as worth giving up Klay. Along with other requests Minnesota made like Golden State taking Kevin Martin’s contract or giving up Harrison Barnes.

Golden State thinking Lee and Klay provide as much value as Love and Martin at the same positions, isn’t batshit insane. It’s probably wrong still, I mean, Golden State with Curry, Love and tons of defensive role players like Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green could be an incredible team, which last year’s Warriors weren’t. But nevertheless, it crosses the line of defense-ability to choose the Lee/Klay combo. Klay Thompson had better raw on/off +/- than Kevin Love last year, it’s possible the Warriors think his combination of floor spacing and defense is a key to their starting lineup.

Where this decision really breaks down is in the long term. In the NBA players value does not extend to the previous or next season, but the long term after that as well. David Lee is 31 and his value to the Warriors should not last long. In 2016 he will be a 33 year old free agent. If they don’t lose him outright to another team, they may regret overpaying a player well on the backside of his career. At the same time, Love will be entering his absolute prime, which much more longevity both as a superstar and then valuable post-prime star. The difference in value in 2014 between Kevin Love and David Lee is significant, but that difference only grows in time. Even if the Warriors somehow convince themselves Klay bridges the gap now, will that be the case in 2017 and 2018 when Lee is either old or on another team and Klay is on a maximum contract?

In other words, in the short term Kevin Love and Kevin Martin is probably more valuable than Klay Thompson and David Lee. In the long term, it likely ceases to be a question which combination is more valuable. In the NBA there’s no easier way to build an every-year contender with 2 superstars who only need role players plugged and rotated around them. The Warriors trying to build a contender with Klay and Lee on the other hand is a tightrope. Even if they manage to contend next year (something I’d personally bet against), in the long run the age and free agencies of Lee, Andrew Bogut and David Lee means the Warriors have to do the dance of avoiding overpaying older players and trying to find new core players in free agency in the draft. If making mistakes, this balanced team could collapse to also-ran and lower level playoff team. But a team with Stephen Curry and Kevin Love is probably in good shape no matter how the pieces are refit around them. Compare them to the Houston Rockets who lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but because they have James Harden and Dwight Howard, it seems inevitable they’ll restock the roster around them to contend. That’s the type of “easy” reshuffling having Curry and Love would do for the Warriors. Superstars are consistently valuable, while balanced lineups could one day become unbalanced. I understand the Warriors are in “all in” mode and aren’t thinking about the long term as much right now, but it’s already hard enough to make the argument Lee and Klay are better than Love and Martin, when virtually all statistical evidence supports the latter. It isn’t like there’s a decisive indication Klay and Lee win the short term battle while Love and Martin win the long term one.

Just to mention, there’s the question of whether Love would resign in Golden State next summer after the trade, but I don’t see it as much of one. In addition to a fantastic roster to play with, the Warriors would be able to offer him far more money than alternatives. Just as Cleveland has already gotten a commitment out of Love to resign, I suspect the Warriors would have. It’s no excuse for not making the deal.

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Written by jr.

August 10, 2014 at 7:57 pm

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