For some, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ potential acquisition of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love represents the final touch for a lineup that already features LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. However, Minnesota’s steep asking price may force the Cavaliers to mortgage their future to acquire a player that some say is overrated.
In the hours after James announced his decision to sign with Cleveland Friday, various reports suggested the Cavaliers had approached the Timberwolves about a trade for Love. ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday the Cavaliers had opened negotiations for the 6-foot-10 forward by offering talented-yet-troubled guard Dion Waiters, 2013 first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round draft pick.
However, Minnesota has its sights set on a different asset -- Andrew Wiggins, the first player selected in the 2014 NBA Draft and one most NBA executives say they expect to be a star within a few years. While sources familiar with the situation told ESPN Wiggins has already been informed he won’t be traded for Love, “multiple team" executives told CBS Sports’ Ken Berger they believe Wiggins “will be in play in [a] Kevin Love trade.”
Thus, the Cavaliers are left to determine whether Love or Wiggins is more essential to future plans. In terms of sheer star power and offensive production, Wiggins likely has the higher ceiling. And yet, at his peak, Love represents one of the NBA’s rarest commodities: a stretch four who can shoot from the perimeter while still finishing near the top of the league in rebounding.
In his first six NBA seasons, Love has averaged a double-double -- 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds -- per game. He’s finished in the top five of the league in rebounds per game in three of the last four seasons and finished top-five in points per game twice.
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The Timberwolves haven’t won much since Love’s arrival in 2008, but when they did win, Love was a big reason why. During the 2013-14 NBA season, he finished third in the league with 14.3 win shares, a stat used to measure an individual player’s contribution to his team’s victories.
Love is an accomplished perimeter shooter, shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc for his career. Yet his propensity for outside shooting hasn’t affected his efficiency. He’s finished in the top-five in player efficiency ratings three times.
Despite his various statistical accolades, the “overrated” tag has dogged Love ever since his days at UCLA, with critics questioning his ability to play winning basketball. ESPN’s Skip Bayless once noted Love failed to lead UCLA to an NCAA championship despite playing alongside three future NBA players in Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Love’s struggles as an interior defender are also frequently criticized. Last season, former New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler praised Love’s offensive abilities, but flatly told a reporter he “can’t play D.” Meanwhile, in 2013, Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors seemed to imply Love is overrated, stating he treats him “just like any other stretch 4 in the league.”
Critics often point to the Timberwolves’ constant losing as evidence Love is unable to “elevate” his teammates, a trait often attributed to the NBA’s top players. Since he was acquired in a 2008 draft day trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota has never made the playoffs and never won more than 40 games.
However, the Timberwolves’ front office has failed to provide Love with an adequate supporting cast. Top draft picks such as Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Derrick Williams have floundered in recent years, and Minnesota hasn’t shown the ability to add quality players in free agency. In 2013-14, Love and journeyman guard Kevin Martin were the team’s only consistent scorers.
In fact, a study by Pro Basketball Talk in 2014 found Love is one of the best players in NBA history to never reach the postseason. In his first six seasons, Love has amassed 47 win shares. Only Elton Brand has compiled more.
For Love, the supporting cast in Cleveland certainly wouldn’t be a problem. Regardless of which prospects were dealt to acquire him, Love would play alongside a four-time MVP in James and a two-time All-Star in point guard Irving. Meanwhile, potential frontcourt mate Anderson Varejao, a defensive stalwart, would help to mask Love’s interior limitations. Even without Love, the Cavaliers are already favored to win the 2014-15 NBA title.
In Wiggins and Love, the Cavaliers have a choice between two players who have the ability to be major difference-makers in their bid to bring an NBA championship to Cleveland. At this point, it’s just a matter of preference.