Recent news seems to have pushed the Warriors further and further down the "probable Kevin Love" destination ladder, which Cleveland and now Chicago emerging as the most likely destinations.
There have been persistent rumors that the Warriors could have closed a deal for Love had they included Klay Thompson, but they declined to. Now, it is important to stress that we do not know if these rumors are true.
After all, there have been rumors that the Cavs thought they had a deal, and then Minnesota asked for more. There have been rumors than Timberwolves GM Flip Saunders doesn't want to saddle Timberwolves Coach Flip Saunders with a mediocre team, and would rather take no deal than a bad deal. It's entirely possible that the Warriors sussed out that Saunders was trying to launch a bidding war that they might not be able to win, and simply declined to dance to his tune.
And, of course, with all the focus on Klay Thompson, if there was an offer on the table that the Warriors turned down, we don't know if it was Klay Thompson and David Lee for Love and Kevin Martin, or Thompson, Lee, Draymond Green, our 2015 first-round pick, and Harrison Barnes for Love, Martin, and Barea - a much worse deal.
It's important to remember that we really don't know. We've heard all sorts of conflicting rumors. But what if? What if we really could have landed Kevin Love for a reasonable package centered around Thompson and Lee? Why didn't we pull the trigger? Isn't that the obvious deal?
It sure seems like it. The conventional wisdom is that if you can get a superstar, you do, and I believe I posited as a thought experiment that it would be smart for the Warriors to offer everyone on the team except Curry for LeBron James (which is, substituting Wade for Curry, is essentially what Miami did, leading to two titles).
That being said, I have a lot of respect for the intelligence of the Warriors front office. I think Lacob, Myers, Kirk, West, and Kerr know an awful lot about basketball. And one of my guiding principles of life is that when a very smart person disagrees with something I think is obvious, I double-check my thinking.
So in this article we're going to explore why the team might have turned down a rumored Klay+Lee for Love+Martin swap. Emphasis on the rumored because I've noticed that for many readers, that rumor is slowly solidifying into fact.
What if the Warriors aren't posturing?
The first and most obvious reason not to make the deal would be if you don't think you can re-sign Kevin Love. Love can opt-in to the final year of his contract, giving him a two-year deal (and all the superstars want two-year deals right now). He can opt out, making him a free agent next summer. It's not clear if he can opt out and then sign an extension, but the simple truth is that given the expected rise in the cap, it really doesn't make sense for Love to do that.
Love has connections to both Los Angeles and Oregon, so while the Warriors might feel they have a good shot at re-signing him, there's no guarantee and there are three other logical destinations (the Lakers, Clippers, and Trailblazers) which might have a bigger location-based appeal and one of them will have max room. Certainly, there's a world of difference between giving up Thompson for 4-5 years of Love, versus giving him up for one or two years of Love. If you trade Klay for Love, then don't re-sign him, the franchise takes a big step backwards. That's not a "whoops we didn't get Bosh so we sold Lin for too little" level setback. It's a potential reversal of the franchise's upward trajectory.
The Warriors' ability to talk to Love's rep is extremely limited, but you can bet somebody, somewhere, is engaging in back-channel communication to figure out how likely Love is to re-sign.
The second reason to be skeptical of Love is that there's a chance that he's something of a stat padder. He's put up fantastic numbers on really bad teams. Now, he's done so in ways (eg good efficiency, positive effect on team rebounding) that suggest it's sustainable, but is possible West and Kerr have come to different conclusions about that? Certainly the fact that Love has never made the playoffs, and in fact never won more than 40 games, raises concerns.
Last year might be forgivable, given the Wolves high pythagorean and the notoriously tough conference. But what about 11-12, when Love played in 55 of his team's 66 games, and they only managed a .394 winning percentage (which in a regular season would be 32 wins). Removing the games when he did play they still won under 44% of their games. And the year before that, Love played 73 games ... and his team won only 17. (They won none of the 9 games in which he didn't play). Remember that a team consisting entirely of replacement-level players is estimated to win about 12 games. Wins are not an individual stat, and some of those Wolves teams truly had nothing else, but even still that's got to give you pause.
Love got all-star honors that year, and started his run of 4+ RAPM numbers, but isn't that exactly the sort of situation where RAPM is going to struggle - when your replacements are barely replacement-level players? In the same way that Mark Jackson's hockey subs seem like they might have inflated Iguodala's RAPM this year, is it possible that the complete lack of competent teammates inflated Love's?
Offensively, his career numbers don't scream superstar: 21.1 pts/36 on .566 TS% is very good, of course. Of course, his last three healthy seasons have been much better than this (25.9, 24.0, and 20.4 pts 36 on .591, .563, and .593 TS% respectively) . If last year is his true baseline, elite volume and top efficiency, then he's an offensive superstar. On the other hand, if those other two years are his real level, and last year was an outlier, then he's merely very very good. And yes, he's a great "stretch 4" - but he shot only 37.6% on three pointers last year. A solid number, especially given his volume, but lower than you might think given the amount of hype he gets for them.
Then there's the question of defense. Love's defensive RAPM have hovered in the 1-1.5 area (solidly above average) for his last few healthy years. On the other hand, it's hard not to notice flaws when you watch him. He isn't great at boxing out, instead leaving his man to go for rebounds. He doesn't protect the rim. It's possible that his DRAPM is so high merely because of his elite rebounding skills, which would have less of an impact on a team that already has Bogut and Ezeli.
There are questions of work ethic and attitude, as well. Love has become a player who doesn't hustle back on defense, particularly if he thinks he was fouled. That sort of thing can be toxic if role players decide it means they don't have to hustle, either. (Superstars like Jordan and Bird were notorious for working harder than their role-playing teammates, challenging them to put in more hours. Sometimes with their fists). The Warriors successfully remolded David Lee into a player who works hard on defense (at least most of the time), but there's no guarantee they could work the same magic with Love.
Certainly, when talking about big men, "not great at boxing out" "leaves his man to go for rebounds" and "doesn't protect the rim" don't make you excited. "Takes a ton of jump shots" isn't thrilling, either - it's not surprising that Love took both the most three-point shots of his career, and posted the lowest offensive rebounding numbers of his career last seasons. When bigs decide that they don't want to go inside anymore, bad things can happen, and Love is a player on a clear "playing outside more on offense" trajectory over his last three healthy seasons. That's cause for at least minor concern.
On the Warriors side, Klay Thompson's contributions are easy to undervalue. As has been pointed out by a lot of people, Curry has said he wants Thompson to stay, and keeping Curry happy matters. I don't think that should be decisive, but if the difference is only a couple of wins (or less, if, say, Draymond was included in the trade) how much value do you put on that? Is making it more likely that Curry re-signs here when his contract is up worth a win or two a year? Does the team need to be extra careful with Curry given that they recently fired a coach he publicly supported?
Defensively, of course, Klay tends to cover the elite point guards in the league. He's a very good man defender. While some people talk about this derisively, in terms of "protecting" Curry, the other way to look at it is that the team doesn't want an elite offensive player spending more energy than he has to on defense. If trading Klay means Curry has to work harder on defense, and that hurt's Curry's offense, that could reduce the wins gap between Klay and Love even further.
A lot of people are worried about Klay's expected max contract, due next year - and with some concern. Klay hasn't yet shown that he's really worth that much. On the other hand, if the cap shoots up as expected, that might not matter. A max-ish (starting around $14m) deal for Klay could, by the end of the deal, be $4-5m below the new max. In other words, compared to the cap, it would look a lot like Curry's $10m deal does with today's cap. Maybe not quite as bad as people fear.
Is any of this absolutely conclusive? I don't entirely think so. To a certain extent I'm playing Devil's advocate here. But the more I look at this, the more it seems closer to a "reasonable disagreement" than "only an idiot wouldn't make that deal!"
Of course, that still leaves the team Warriors the question of how to get into the 55+ win territory where they can realistically start to call themselves a contender, but that's a post for another time.