Kevin Love Trade Alters Rebuilding Plans of NBA Flagship Franchises

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  Western Conference (L-R) Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets sit on the bench during 2014 NBA All-Star game against the Eastern Conference at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The East defeated the West 163-155.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kevin Love's relocation affects more than just the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

When the trade that Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says will become official actually is official, it will leave a trail of disappointed and slighted parties that is far longer than two teams. 

At least three more clubs will be impacted by Love joining LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, probably more. But three of them are especially noteworthy in that they're flagship franchises, all transitioning, all rebuilding at the same time: the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.

Rare is the time when three such esteemed organizations are pining for better days together. Even rarer is the time their fate—even if only part of it—is manipulated by the same player none of them have. 

Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 16: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves boxes out Jeff Green #8 of the Boston Celtics on December 16, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Of the three, Boston's rebuild is the one most loosely tied to Love's Minnesota exit.

Or maybe not.

Unlike the Lakers and Knicks, the Celtics were considered legitimate trade suitors, armed with enough draft picks and young talent—though mostly just the draft picks—to wedge their way into the expansive conversation.

Talks between the Celtics and Timberwolves appeared to cool following the NBA draft, but they gained serious traction ahead of it. So much so that Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald (via NBC Sports' Dan Feldman) indicated the Celtics were Love-or-bust: 

If the Celtics cannot get Love, they are planning to continue with the longer and more methodical rebuilding process, a process that would likely see Rajon Rondo traded. (An NBA source said they would also have a taker for Jeff Green if they chose to move him.)

With Love heading to Cleveland, the Celtics are free to continue their conventional rebuilding efforts by bidding adieu to Rajon Rondo and his expiring contract. Not that they will, or that they weren't free to do so before. 

Drafting Marcus Smart and re-signing Avery Bradley were moves some saw as writing on the wall. Factor in former Celtics player and current analyst Cedric Maxwell saying Rondo is seeking a max contract, per's Ben Rohrbach, and the groundwork for his departure has already been laid.

Little of this would have to do with Love. If the Celtics trade or inevitably part ways with Rondo, he won't be the lone reason. But in the event Rondo leaves as Boston continues laboring through a protracted restructuring period, Love can be remembered as the last hope that didn't pan out.

Had the Celtics acquired him, their rebuild would have been effectively over. Pairing him with a pass-first, All-Star point guard like Rondo—who is, in fact, an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the moment—would have vaulted the Celtics back into playoff contention.

Attentions could have turned to assembling a strong supporting cast around two stars. Perhaps president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would have began lusting after a third one. 

Whatever happened, the end result would have come in quicker fashion. Instead, the Celtics and their fans are left wondering "What if?"—likely for years to come.

New York Knicks

Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Western Conference forward Kevin Love (42) of the Minnesota Timberwolves handles the ball against Eastern Conference forward Carmelo Anthony (7) of the New York Knicks during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie K

Phil Jackson is going to be so upset—assuming, of course, the Zen Master is familiar with that emotion.

New York had no chance of acquiring Love via trade. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

But according to Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal, obvious inability didn't stop the Knicks from trying. Jackson apparently dangled a "Hey! We had to try!" package built around Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Amar'e Stoudemire in front of Minnesota. 

Reaction to said proposal was mixed. OK, fine; it was pretty one-sided—a side NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff excellently encapsulated:

Phil Jackson is aged, but he’s not yet delusional.

He knew that New York had little chance of appealing to the Timberwolves here, and nothing would make the Knicks more immediately ready to build some semblance of a decent team than to unload the uninsurable final year of Stoudemire’s deal in trade; getting an All-Star back in exchange for doing so is so far beyond the realm of possibility that Jackson likely couldn’t get through pitching such a proposal with a straight face.

New York’s market size will always have the Knicks at least initially in the conversation to land All-Stars like Love. But until the team can assemble some legitimate assets, most stars are going to pass up the bright lights for a more readily available winning situation.

The Knicks were never going to acquire Love by trade. Their proposal was only noteworthy because of who they are and what they plan to do: sign another star next summer, as Sporting News' Sean Deveney reminded us once Carmelo Anthony's return became official.

Free agency was always their best chance at acquiring Love, and Marc Berman of the New York Post confirmed they were definitely interested. Like Wojnarowski's report alleges, though, Love has assured the Cavaliers of his return, rendering his impending free-agency status a mere formality.

Where can (and will) Jackson turn next summer?
Where can (and will) Jackson turn next summer?Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Pundits and fans and anyone else with a vested interest in the Knicks' long-term plans can argue whether or not Love would be a good fit next to Anthony until kingdom come. But the fact is, Anthony seems to be preparing for a move back to small forward, and a playmaking big man is one element of Jackson's famed triangle offense—which the team is expected to run—that the Knicks sorely lack.

Love is exactly that. He could have played center or power forward within the Knicks' new system, all while giving Anthony the superstar comrade he doesn't yet have.

The list of star free agents isn't nearly as impressive after him. The Knicks could give chase to Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson or Goran Dragic, among others, but none of the remaining talent compares to Love.

One way or another, the Knicks are forced to regroup—even if that only means operating under the assumption that there will be one less superstar ripe for the poaching in 2015.

Los Angeles Lakers

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Kobe Bryant #10, Kevin Love #11 and James Harden #12 of the US Men's Senior National Team celebrates on the podium with the Gold Medal after their Men's Gold Medal Basketball Game against Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Oly
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

That Love won't be parading through Staples Center draped in purple-and-gold attire is huge for the Lakers.

In a bad way.

Love and the Lakers were supposed to sync up in the eyes of so many. One anonymous general manager told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) that their future marriage was a "100 percent certainty." 

Now it feels like they're divorced, even though they were never joined in holy basketball matrimony. Worse still, the Lakers and their fans are forced to accept a new reality, per USA Today's Mark Whicker:

The latest destiny’s child was supposed to be Kevin Love. From the moment he expressed weariness with Minnesota, Lakers fans nodded their heads expectantly. Let’s see –- win the lottery, draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, get Kobe Bryant rolling again, and trade whomever’s left for Love and sign him. How could Kevin Durant or any future legend resist that? ...

There are roadblocks, but the trade reaffirms an important point about Tiffany free agents. It is not where they want to play. It is with whom they want to play.

The absence of a superstar in his prime has always been a deterrent for the Lakers, who are trying to expedite their rebuilding process. Kobe Bryant isn't a selling point on his last legs. Neither is anyone else on the roster. 

Cap space is all the Lakers will have next summer. If they wish to build a powerhouse, they'll need an initial domino to fall.

Said domino could have been Love. He would be only 26 upon entering free agency. He attended UCLA. He was born in Santa Monica. The opportunity to headline and revive the Lakers would hopefully appeal to him. And if he came, others—like Kevin Durant in 2016—might, too.

Perhaps that's true. Maybe Love could have been seduced by the Lakers' allure. Maybe additional stars would have even followed his lead, instantly or in due time. It doesn't appear to matter now. Things would have to go real bad, real quick with the Cavaliers for him to desert James for a transitioning faction in Los Angeles.

Similar to the Knicks, this leaves the Lakers to look elsewhere, where they could find Gasol and Aldridge and Rondo and Dragic and maybe even Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe, depending on how their restricted-free-agency situations play out. 

Any one or two of them would be stellar choices and solid acquisitions. They just aren't Love, nor are they guaranteed to give the Loveless Lakers a second look. 

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 14: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during a game against the Golden State Warriors on April 14, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Gasol will be 30 when he enters free agency. So will Jefferson. Rondo will be 29. Aldridge himself will turn 30 next July. Of all the available stars, no one is young enough or better suited to anchor a franchise for the next five-plus years than Love, so you can understand any interest the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics and various suitors would show.

"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love said while on ESPN's SportsNation July (via "At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing."

Los Angeles could have been his next destination. Boston, too. Even New York. But Love will most likely be taking his fortune-turning abilities to Cleveland, forcing prominent restoration projects to adjust their plans—whatever they may be—to account for his premature departure from the Land of Possibility.


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