The worst kept secret in the NBA is that Kevin Love will likely don a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey next season alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Ever since James made his triumphant return to Cleveland last month, Love’s trade to the Cavs seemed imminent, with the 25-year-old former rebound champion eager to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and appear in the postseason for the first time in his six-year career.
What the Cavs were going to surrender to Minnesota for Love was up for some debate, until they reportedly allowed the rights to No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins into the discussion. And now ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who made his name tracking James’s career since his high school days in Akron, Ohio, stated in a radio interview that a “handshake agreement” is in place.
"The deal is done but not done," Windhorst said. "The teams have agreed but can't say they've agreed because we're in this weird moratorium period. Between now and then could a team come in with a trade that Minnesota doesn't see? Yes, so it's not done. But there is this handshake agreement."
The “handshake” is necessary since the Cavs aren’t allowed to trade Wiggins per league rules until Aug. 24, the 30-day mark since he signed his rookie contract. Windhorst also indicated that a third team might be involved in the blockbuster, with Wiggins going to Minnesota, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett headed to Philadelphia and forward Thaddeus Young joining the T-Wolves.
Still nothing is official, and Minnesota could still be blown away by another team’s offer. Other than the potential to land Wiggins, the most acclaimed prospect to enter the league since maybe James, the Golden State Warriors nearly sent forward David Lee and rising sharpshooter Klay Thompson to Minnesota for Love until new head coach Steve Kerr and team advisor and Hall of Famer Jerry West refused to include Thompson in the deal. The Warriors could blink first and agree to part with Thompson, possibly upending the Cavs chances.
There was also a report from the Lake County News-Herald that stated Love would refuse to sign a contract extension with any team that acquires him. The three-time All-Star holds a player option for the 2015-16 season, and reportedly told Minnesota he planned to opt-out and test free agency in 2015. That put the entire league on alert, and the T-Wolves were left with the choice of getting something in return for Love or allowing him to walk for nothing.
Cleveland should have been taken aback with the news that Love wanted to take a free agency tour next summer, with big market teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers able to entice him with a lucrative long-term deal. However with the deal supposedly in place, it seems likely that Love will agree to a sign-and-trade agreement that sends him to the Cavs.
How long Love’s extension will remain an issue. James, 30, signed a two-year, $42.2 million agreement upon his return to Cleveland, and will be a free agent in 2016. But that was seen as a move for the four-time MVP to cash in on the NBA’s expected new television deal with ABC/ESPN and TNT, when the salary cap and maximum-level contracts will increase. It’s believed James’s next, and likely last, max-deal will be with the Cavs so he can fulfill his promise of bringing Cleveland its first pro title in 50 years.
The issue of tampering might come up as Aug. 24 draws closer as well. Based off the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union, tampering prohibits teams from directly or indirectly negotiating with a player under contract with another team. New Knicks president Phil Jackson was recently fined $25,000 by the NBA for making comments to the media about then-Oklahoma City point guard Derek Fisher and how he was interested in making him New York’s next head coach. Fisher is now the Knicks coach, but Jackson wasn’t supposed to talk about it with Fisher still under contract with the Thunder.
Minnesota owner Glen Taylor is all too familiar with the league’s rules and penalties for tampering. Back in 2000, the team was fined $3.5 million and wound up forfeiting four first-round draft picks for signing forward Joe Smith to three illegal contracts. Taylor was also suspended for nearly a year, according to CBS News.
At this point, there’s been no report or any indication that Love has had any contact, direct or indirect with Cavs officials, or Wiggins with Minnesota’s. But both teams will make sure the deal remains on the up-and-up in order to avoid any league sanctions and consummate the deal well before training camps open.
It also appears the Cavs are already luring players to complement Love. ESPN reported Thursday that Cleveland is targeting veteran swingman and free agent Shawn Marion. Now 36, but still considered a strong defensive player, Marion might be entertaining offers from the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers, who are seeking a replacement for injured superstar Paul George. New Lakers head coach Byron Scott has emphasized defense, and the Lakers are somewhat weak defensively at the small forward position.
The Cavaliers could have the inside track on L.A., however, as Marion and Cavs general manager David Griffin have a relationship dating back to their days with the Phoenix Suns. Love’s offensive skills can’t be questioned, but his defense has come under criticism, and that’s where Marion could really help the Cavs.