A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

On Kevin Love’s 2015 or 2016 free agency and the San Antonio Spurs

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The parallels between Kevin Love’s season with the Cavaliers so far and Dwight Howard’s with the Lakers have not been missed. Both teams traded for a superstar and free agent to be assuming they would resign after a contending season. Howard’s season with L.A. brought unhappiness and diminished statistics and he left for the Rockets who boasted a younger roster and better management. It’s unclear whether Love will pick up his 2015-2016 player option to get a bigger deal in 2016’s TV market conditions or whether he’ll take the security of a max early, but there’s a chance Love leaves as early as this summer after 1 year like Howard. Even if he picks up his option and gives Cleveland a shot for 1 more year, he then becomes a risk to leave in 2016 anyways which makes this discussion similar.

Like Howard in L.A., Kevin Love’s reputation has taken a dive this season. His statistics are far below his recent Minnesota years enough that he was left out of the all-star game in favour of Kyrie Irving. The Cavs defensive struggles have been pinned on him, fairly or not. Add in his lower offensive numbers and frankly, the combination is starting to look like a standard David Lee season. Unlike Lee Love still provides valuable floor spacing to the Cavaliers offense but floor spacing remains not quantified and thus under appreciated by the media.

When Kevin Love was in Minnesota, I speculated repeatedly that he’d have no interest in being traded to the Lakers or signing there. My reasoning for this was Love had never made the playoffs and the biggest danger to his ego and reputation was being branded a loser. The Lakers are a losing team and poorly run and Kevin Love going there would likely lead to many more painful seasons like in Minnesota. This ended up being correct. Love instead embraced playing in Cleveland which was a situation the opposite of L.A. Instead of going after home-state nostalgia or a big market Love simply went for the wins and the chance to contend.

What Love wanted out of Cleveland – wins and playoff appearances, he will get. The Cavs are likely to only get better from here as they fit together and the bench gets deeper. This is a 50 win core for the foreseeable future whether they break the mark this year or not. But it’s unclear whether Kevin Love will reclaim his reputation as a star. Kyrie Irving has so far TKO’d Love in terms of the “who will be the 2nd option in shot attempts” question and as the Cavs pick up more established players like J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov there will be more mouths to feed in terms of shots. In Chris Bosh’s 4 seasons in Miami he averaged 18.7, 18.0, 16.6, 16.2 points, a decline every season. But Bosh remained a star because his defense improved to star level, which may not happen with Love. With his physical limitations it’ll always be hard to prove to anyone he’s a good defender even if he does improve to an adequate level.

A factor that would scare me about resigning in Cleveland if I was Love is the concept of control. Kevin Love signing a 4 year max contract for Cleveland doesn’t mean Cleveland commits to keeping him for 4 years. There’s so many reasons why Kevin Love will end up being the fall guy if Cleveland’s core disappointed in the playoffs. It’s widely accepted defensive big men are crucial to contending in the playoffs, Love is the one who’s statistics are floundering and unlike Kyrie who was a homegrown draft pick, Love took a future crippling trade package to acquire and the media crows are already circling around that trade. If Lebron, Kyrie and Love don’t make the Finals in the East their first few seasons together, could Dan Gilbert push the panic button and split them up? Absolutely.  It’s conceivable Love could resign in Cleveland this summer, then as early as something like 2 seasons into his Cleveland tenure, only 1 season into his new contract, fall into a nightmare situation of getting traded to another bad team like he had in Minnesota without his control. This could also be a reason why Love would want to prolong his free agency until 2016. As for the idea of Love avoiding this just by asking for a no-trade clause in a max deal, only a few players in the league have them and after a non all-star season, I question whether Love has to clout to get one from Cleveland.

This brings me to what I consider a threat for Love this summer: San Antonio

Now the Spurs becoming a pursuer for Love or another free agent like Marc Gasol (who has many more reasons to stay with his team than Love), would take a few things to happen. It all but definitely requires Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to retire instead of the Spurs signing them to new deals. Even then, having max free agent capspace likely mean letting Danny Green walk and replacing him would Love would be a blow to the Spurs defense. Green could get a max contract this summer in my opinion as teams give inflated deals preparing for the post 2016 TV deal salary conditions, thus the Spurs may not be a lock to want to resign him at that price anyways. To pursue a max FA it’s also unlikely the Spurs could resign an appealing PG in Cory Joseph. With Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson signed and a max deal to Kawhi Leonard, I believe they’d still be a few million short of the type of contract Love would settle for. Thus they may need to move a package like Mills and Anderson’s contracts to another team, unless they can find a way to trade Boris Diaw’s 7 million a year deal.

In any case, the short version is the Spurs as a Love suitor works if Duncan and Manu retire and the Spurs internally decide they’d rather have Kevin Love than Danny Green. On the other hand, even if Duncan and Manu don’t retire, or the Spurs prioritize Danny Green, or Kevin Love picks up his player option, the concept Love to the Spurs doesn’t die, it just might get delayed until the summer of 2016 when the new TV deal would erase cap concerns in terms of having the room for him.

What San Antonio gives Love is a little of both worlds. On one hand like in Cleveland he gets to win games and contend like he didn’t in Minnesota. Even with a depleted roster without Duncan, Ginobili and Green, playing with a star in Kawhi Leonard and other good players like Parker and Splitter, is a quality squad. Popovich would provide elite coaching if he stayed, if he retired I’d still count on the Spurs management to know who to hire as his replacement. Moreso the Spurs roster with an aging Parker, Leonard and Splitter as the other featured pieces do not have the high usage superstars that the Cavaliers presently have. Thus feeding Love like a #1 option would make sense not only because the Spurs have the management and coaching gameplan to take advantage of him, but because the talent on the team makes him a likely top option too. Leonard and Love in particular are a perfect combination together as the defense-first small forward and the offense and spacing-first power forward and it’d be easy to build the rest of a contender around them.

Another way to sell Love on a Spurs partnership is the ways they could improve the team. Giving the Spurs extra capspace because of the upcoming TV deal could be scary in their hands, as is their history of drafting and development success likely to continue. The Spurs with Love could be great now and better later. But all in all, it’s really the management and coaching that separates the Spurs from the Wolves and Cavaliers. That’s what the Spurs can promise to him that he hasn’t gotten from Minnesota or Cleveland. The Spurs are a good bet to invest your future in.

Written by jr.

January 30, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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