Golden State’s MLK Day thrashing of the Cleveland Cavaliers wasn’t any more important than the other 81 games either team will player this season. You do not get a trophy for road victories, beating a team by 34 points or taking a season series. Objectively speaking, the Warriors’ 132-98 win over a full-strength version of the team they beat in last year’s NBA Finals was exactly that. A win. That’s it.
Subjectively speaking, however, we all know what that masacre meant. The Cavs, as they are currently constructed, cannot compete with the Golden State Warriors. Clearly something has to change if this team expects to have a shot at bringing Cleveland a title in the next [insert length of Steph Curry’s existence]. So what changes? Considering that head coach David Blatt is essentially a piece of furniture hand picked by LeBron, the alteration that is most frequently proposed involves trading something that’s 6’11” and has curly hair.
No, not Anderson Varejao. It’s Kevin Love and his five-year, $113 million contract.
Love’s been a wallflower since Kyrie Irving returned from injury a month ago, averaging five points fewer, punctuated by a whopping three-point outing against Golden State on Monday. Everyone assumed that when he came to Cleveland he’d struggle to maintain the identity he forged in Minnesota as a 21-and-13 guy — there’s only one basketball, right? — but he’s somehow become markedly less efficient, which wasn’t expected. Why? For starters, Love doesn’t get as many looks as he used to, so it’s harder for him to get into a rhythm on a nightly basis. But he’s also been pushed out of his offensive comfort zone, relegated to a lonely spot on the three-point line because LeBron and Kyrie’s offensive priorities take precedence over his own.
Worse still, he can’t really do anything about it because the guy would implement the changes that would help Love’s game also happens to be the same guy who benefits the most from Love standing in leftfield. In effect, LeBron has lopped off Kevin Love’s balls and banished him to the corner. He’s become shadow of a cardboard cutout of his former self. He’s become the most expensive third wheel since Deron Williams left Brooklyn. His statistics say he’s become a replacement level player — and Bill Simmons thinks he should be traded like one.
“Kevin Love for CJ McCollum, straight up,” Bill Simmons told former Grantland author Chris Ryan on his podcast Wednesday. “You laugh but it’s a great trade.”
“The Cavs would save, like, $18 million and $50 million on the luxury tax. Portland has $20 million in cap space. McCollum and Damian Lillard, where am I going with that? Two under-sized shooters? It’s fun, but congratulations I’m the eight-seed for the next ten years. Whereas if you put McCollum on Cleveland, he’s now playing over J.R. Smith and now shooting over 40% from three. You have another shooter, I get JR Smith off the court because that dude cannot be on a championship team, and I’m probably better even though it makes no sense.”
We consulted with ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, and believe it or not [wink wink], the numbers work.
McCollum is averaging 20 points this season, mostly due to his improved accuracy and increased shot volume from behind the arc (he’s taking 6.3 threes a game). Meanwhile, Love is shooting/making fewer threes and playing fewer minutes than ever because the Cavaliers’ stable of big men have been more or less interchangeable in the last month. Could Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Varejao collectively supplant Love’s contribution on the boards if he were exchanged for a 6’4″ shooting guard? Would Love agree to be traded to a sub .500 team, even though they play in his home state? Does any of this actually make sense?
The trade talk starts around the 35-minute mark, below…