How Did It Work Out? Cavaliers Trade For Kevin Love


It’s the end of July and the slow period of the NBA year is upon us. Summer league is over, free agency is dying down, and the start of training camp is over two months away. With that in mind, King James Gospel will run a series of pieces taking a look back at the moves the Cleveland Cavaliers made in the last year to assemble the 2015 Eastern Conference Champions. First up, a look back at the trade for the newly resigned Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers acquired Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-team trade on August 23, 2014. While the team and its fans were thrilled to add the three-time All-Star to their roster, acquiring Love came at a heavy price. The Cavaliers gave up Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the first overall picks in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts respectively, as well as a top ten protected 2015 first round draft pick belonging to the Miami Heat. While Bennett had a historically abysmal rookie year and seemed to be on his way to bust status, Wiggins was looked at as a future star by many. Whether or not this trade was the right move for the Cavaliers was hotly debated, and likely will be for years to come.

Today, we look at Kevin Love’s first year with the Cavaliers, what worked, what didn’t, and where Love and the Cavaliers go from here.

What Worked

If you listen to some of the more common narratives out there, Kevin Love’s first year with the Cleveland Cavaliers was at best a disappointment, and at worst a disaster. Love’s ability to space the floor as a three point shooter was a huge part of the Cavaliers’ offense as it pulled an opposing big man out of the paint and helped open up driving lanes for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. His passing was also essential in helping create ball movement in an offense that too often stagnated into isolation shots. With Love out after the first round of the playoffs, the Cavaliers either had to play big and sacrifice spacing, or play smaller and give up size and rebounding. With Love, they could space the floor and win the battle of the boards.

Love’s rebounding is undoubtedly his saving grace on the defensive end. There’s no doubt Love isn’t a great defender, due to lack of effort, poor fundamentals, and a lack of elite length and athleticism. One thing he does have going on that end of the floor is his rebounding. Love is an elite defensive rebounder and his ability in that area has allowed him to have a positive defensive rpm for several years now, and his teams are not statistically worse on the defensive end of the court with Love in the game.

The analytics support Love’s impact as well. Love ranked second in WAR and third in RPM among all Eastern Conference big men last season, and the Cavaliers were significantly better with him on the floor. In terms of simpler statistics, the only Eastern Conference player to lead Love in both points and rebounds was Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic, who was the number one option on his own team. While the popular narrative was that Love was correctly left off the Eastern Conference All-Star Roster last season, a strong case could be made that he should have been there with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

What Didn’t

Not as much as many would have you believe, but there were some concerns about how Love fit with the rest of this team. He did complain at times about not getting more touches, and was on the bench during the fourth quarter of a couple of close games. This was due to both his defensive issues as well as the way the lineup on the floor was playing. The Cavaliers also didn’t do a great job keeping Love involved in the offense, and it wasn’t until later in the season that he began getting the ball regularly at the elbow, his preferred place to work from. Love also had occasional conflicts with James, the most famous being the fit in/fit out fiasco. Finally, Love battled back issues the entire season, and was lost for the playoffs due to a dislocated shoulder just as he seemed to be hitting his stride with the team.

What’s Next

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Despite rumors throughout the season that he would leave for another team, Love resigned with the Cavaliers on the first day of free agency, agreeing to a five-year maximum contract with a player option after the fourth year. In his announcement with The Players’ Tribune, Love credited watching his teammates in the NBA Finals and a poolside meeting with LeBron James as two of the bigger reasons for him resigning, along with the fact that Cleveland always seemed like the best option to him. Now, the Cavaliers will work to help Love fit better in the lineup and try to use all of their talent to the best of their ability. With Love alongside James and Irving for the long term, the Cavaliers have their Big Three in place and will not be happy until they bring a championship to the city of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

Final Grade: A

No matter what happens with Wiggins for the rest of his career, the Cavaliers have, in Love, an All-Star caliber power forward at the beginning of his prime to pair alongside James and Irving. By the time Wiggins is an All-Star (if he ever makes it, nothing is guaranteed), James will be past his prime. Love gives the Cavaliers the better chance to win now, and when you have LeBron James, that’s what really matters.

Next: Phil Jackson Calls Out Former Knicks