The sweepstakes appear to have thinned to two: Cleveland and Chicago. As of last week, it appeared that the Cavaliers were ready to conclude negotiations, ship 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, and a future first-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for all-star power forward Kevin Love.
From the members of the media’s perspective, the deal was as good as done.
— David James (@DavidDJJames) July 17, 2014
Earlier this week, though, Chicago reportedly had manufactured an enticing package of their own: Veteran power forward Taj Gibson, first-rate defender Jimmy Butler, and rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. General Manager Jerry Reinsdorf wouldn’t send them all in a deal, but each has been murmured as a possibility. This might take some time. McDermott and Mirotic already signed their rookie deals Tuesday and can’t be dealt for the first 30 days following, according to league rules. It’s also been reported that Wiggins will soon sign his deal with Cleveland — the same stipulation applies to Cavaliers’ 19-year-old.
Why would A-Wiggins trump any offer for Love from Bulls or anyone else? Because Wiggins is potential superstar Wolves can’t otherwise get — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 22, 2014
With a month to ponder where the three-time all-star will end up — most likely Cleveland — and without knowing what system new Coach David Blatt will implement or a firm conclusion on what the makeup the respective rosters will be following the trade, let’s compare which team would benefit more from Love’s arrival.
No team is bringing on the 2012 three-point shootout champion exclusively to hammer away in the paint or patch a void in the low-block, even if he led the league in rebounding four seasons ago. Love brings a varied skillset to any franchise, and at 25 years old, teams can afford to modify their blueprints for the foreseeable future given his utility.
Cleveland’s roster would likely look something like this post-trade: LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Matthew Delledova, Joe Harris, Brendan Haywood, James Jones, John Lucas III, Mike Miller, Erik Murphy, Malcolm Thomas, Tristan Thompson, and potentially Ray Allen.
Perhaps the most noticeable shift would be on the fastbreak for Cleveland. The Cavaliers ranked No. 23 in fastbreak points per game a season ago (10.7), per Team Rankings. That number likely will skyrocket given how masterful James is on the run. Love isn’t a one-man fastbreak, but his full-court outlet passes have landed him a permanent place in YouTube heaven.
Love’s forte lies heavily in catch-and-shoot situations. He had the sixth-most catch-and-shoot points a season ago, averaging 7.1 per game. His 6.3 catch-and-shoot FGA and 5.0 3PA were sixth-most as well, shooting 41.1 percent and 39.8 percent for a 56.8 effective field goal percentage, respectively. With a recalibrated fastbreak, and an arsenal of shooters, Love would be an ideal fit in Cleveland’s transition game.
Consider how transcendent a shooting team the Cavs could be if they added Love and Allen. Consider it again. The trio of Love, Allen, and Miller have career true shooting percentages of above 56 percent. They have netted 4944 three-pointers and all average above 45 percent shooting from the field. This is an incredible shooting team without mentioning the greatest basketball player on the planet and Kyrie Irving who’s fresh off being named the NBA all-star most valuable player.
In other words, this team could be scary good offensively.
Chicago’s rumor mill has gone haywire, with four active players being tossed around as reported assets in the deal. Without any of them, the Bulls roster would likely look something like this post-trade: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Cameron Bairstow, Aaron Brooks, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell.
It’s unsure how effective Rose will be following two season-ending knee surgeries in two years. But reigning defensive player of the year and first-team all-NBA center Joakim Noah returns and veteran Pau Gasol is a much-needed new piece in Chicago’s puzzle. If Love were to be dealt to Chicago, Gasol would likely come off the bench at either power forward or center, both of which he’s comfortable playing (66 percent of his career minutes have been spent at center, 34 percent at power forward). Pairing Gasol with all-star center Joakim Noah couples the No. 1 and No. 3 power forward/center players in the league last season in the same front court. When playing alongside one another, it’ll be the best passing tandem since Vlade Divac and Chris Webber in Sacramento. Although Love is rarely praised for his facilitating, last season, Love not only dished out a career high 4.4 assists per game, he demolished his prior record of total assists in a season by 157. His assist percentage jumped to 21.4 percent and he created 10.3 points per game by passing. Chicago had the 10th best passing team in the league a season ago, and adding Love would make their ball movement horrifying to defend.
While his defensive abilities have proven more limitation than selling point this offseason, the Bulls haven’t been outside the top 3 in opponents points per game since 2010-11. Thibodeau is a master of hiding defensive weaknesses and once Love grew to understand the system, his poor defending numbers would likely improve considerably.
Chicago’s largest cavities entering this offseason were effective scoring and efficient shooting; issues the Bulls tried to solve by signing New York’s Carmelo Anthony, though a copious amount of money and loyalty eventually prevailed. There’s no denying that Love would abet Chicago’s callous shooting: No. 30 in the league in field-goal percentage (43.2 percent), No. 24 in three-point percentage (34.8 percent), and No. 30 in adjusted field-goal percentage (47.1 percent), per ESPN.
A pick-and-pop trio of Rose, Love, and Noah would be incredible on its own. With Love having the ability to screen and bury catch and shoot jumpers with Noah on the low-block to keep defenses honest, Rose could manufacture in whichever manner he feels most comfortable.
The Love sweepstakes likely won’t be settled for another month at least, if ever. Clearly both teams could use him and are desperately trying to bring him into their system. Cleveland needs him more, Chicago might be able to do more with him, but ultimately—as it is painful to say—the decision isn’t up to the numbers.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).