The 2018-2019 NBA offseason can now move forward with LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. If this offseason is a high school prom then LeBron is the prom king and the Miami Heat might have better luck focusing their attention now on the power forward lingering near the punch bowl. With trade assets sure to be flying all over the map this summer, the market for Kevin Love could shrink. The Heat should capitalize.
Kevin Love’s status as a superstar in this league has diminished, in fact its disappeared. He gets treated like a shadow of the star he once was. Teammates even call him ‘Minnesota Kevin’ when he plays well, referencing a bygone version of the stretch forward now relegated to spot up duty.
Much of this is unfair. Any offensive player boxed into the role of 3rd scorer or off-the-ball weapon is going to suffer. Heat fans saw this first hand with Chris Bosh. Rarely can a player put up superstar numbers without having the ball in their hands. That doesn’t mean he can’t resume his former level of play if a team uses him as a focal point. Bosh’s numbers rehabilitated nicely after LeBron left, Love’s would do the same. Peak Love functioned as an inside-outside threat excelling at passing, especially from the elbows. Basically, he was the superstar version of Kelly Olynyk. Coincidentally, Olynyk (along with Ellington) was the common factor in the Heat’s three most effective lineups by +/-.
Late last season, coach Erik Spoelstra started using his big men as the hinges of his offense. He gave his bigs the ball at the elbows and ran handoffs around them, using them as standing screens. Kelly Olynyk and his passing were part of the reason for this change. Kevin Love would be an even better fit. He averaged 4.4 assists per game in his final season in Minnesota, thriving at the elbows and from behind the three point line.
In short, he would supercharge Miami’s best lineups. Spoelstra could start Love and use Olynyk as a bench weapon, or play them both and see what happens. This combination would afford Spoelstra the spacing he prefers without punting the team’s rebounding. If Love can return to his superstar form, it gives Miami the star player they lacked while allowing Love one last go at being the best player for a playoff team.
Could it happen?
The Heat don’t have as many trade assets as other teams in the market. Teams like the Celtics and 76ers could beat Miami’s best offer if they choose too, but they have so far refused to do so for Kawhi Leonard, so it seems unlikely they’d change tact for Kevin Love. The Heat’s best hope is that these teams decline or the trade market depletes other bidders of their best assets while Love is still available.
So, what would the Heat’s best offer look like, and would it be enough? Any trade would likely begin with Justise Winslow. He upped his value at the end of last season with a string of excellent play, he’s young and still has plenty of upside. Not to mention, the Heat front office might be amenable to trading him as his restricted free agency looms. If Pat Riley can flip him for a more well known commodity, he almost certainly will.
Both teams are capped out, meaning Hassan Whiteside might need to be included here as salary matching. However, expecting the Cavaliers to want the malcontent center might be a bit too optimistic. They’re unlikely to be keen on trading their current best player for a lesser, but equally expensive one (he’s actually more expensive). Instead, the Heat could look to package Dion Waiters with another one of their mid-level salaries, probably James Johnson. Dion Waiters showed he still has potential before he got injured — hopefully that audition is enough to sell the Cavs on him. If they don’t like that package the Heat could include their (now trade-able) 2019 1st round pick. Usually it’s prudent to hold onto your own pick, especially if your future is uncertain, but come on, it’s Pat Riley, we’re lucky he hasn’t traded it already. This passes the NBA trade machine.
Heat receive: Kevin Love
Cavaliers receive: Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, 2019 1st round pick
This would leave the Heat with a few holes in their roster and even more of an overabundance of bigs, so it would probably necessitate the jettisoning of Whiteside. Even so, it nets Miami the star player they've desperately needed, gives Kevin Love a new start, and provides the Cavaliers with a pick and a couple upside players. Another team could certainly beat this offer, but with assets tied up elsewhere, Pat Riley should swoop in and nab a system-friendly star.