Throughout the summer of 2014, basketball fans speculated whether or not Golden State had the gallstones to trade for Kevin Love — the price, most likely, being Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
Thompson had averaged 18 points per game with 42 percent shooting from deep during the 2013-14 season, but his play suffered in the team’s first-round loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, and he was due for a hefty contract extension heading into his fourth year.
Meanwhile, Love was a darling of the advanced metrics crowd, a one-man band piling up All-NBA numbers in Minnesota. In the final days before Draymond Green’s destruction of nominal positions, the promise of a Love-Stephen Curry pick-and-roll combination had many — nay, most — believing Golden State should go for broke and do the deal.
Boy, so much has changed in less than two years:
This Vine lasts roughly five seconds, but demands ample reflection. (Was Vine a thing in 2014? Can’t remember.)
It doubles as a whodunit for the murder of Kevin Love, perennial All-Star. Curry and Green of the defending champion Warriors — who rattled off 24 wins in a row to open this season, if you’ve forgotten — are the greatest duo in the NBA. In over 1,200 minutes, Golden State has a net rating of 23.5 when Curry and Green share the floor. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have a net rating of 17.9 in less time, and Love and LeBron James are at an even 12.
This video clip epitomizes every micro decision that went into the Warriors’ choice not to deal for Love. Curry comes off the screen from Green — a player who not only strokes it from deep, but who can rumble to the rim, and who is the seventh-leading passer in the game. Substitute Love for Green and Golden State loses its Swiss army knife roll man in return for a glorified popper. Love, to his credit, is a superb passer, but his stage fright in the drive game and his on-again, off-again jumper since joining Cleveland limit his impact.
Love rushes the action without a plan — his body is straight up like he’s charging the net in volleyball. Green blows past him, yielding a 2-on-1 with Andrew Bogut at the rim after Curry slides a cute bounce pass by the ambling Love.
It also is worth mentioning that the gravity of Thompson and Barnes on the weak side make it impossible for Iman Shumpert or LeBron James to help inside — something that wouldn’t be possible for the Warriors had they truncated their depth by dealing for Love.
Hindsight is totally 20-20. Nobody knew, outside of Golden State and Draymond’s notorious noggin, that Green would lift off and become the ideal modern power forward. Hell, the Warriors were planning on starting David Lee at the 4 until a preseason injury jostled the rotation. One championship (and counting) later, Golden State’s decision to build with Thompson, Barnes and Green around Curry — the game’s best player, period — is the most exquisite performance by an NBA front office since Boston manipulated the Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen trades in 2007.
Cleveland has made a lofty investment in this team; dealing Andrew Wiggins for Love may already be the largest return a team like Minnesota has ever received for a disgruntled star player. The heights of the sky-high luxury tax penalties Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is paying for this team are only eclipsed by the expectations surrounding LeBron James in his second round with his hometown club. Adding Love made the Cavaliers the best team in the Eastern Conference overnight; the subsequent deals by GM David Griffin to add Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov around Kyrie Irving — not to mention correctly moving Dion Waiters — have been great. Exactly 12 months ago, those moves changed a 20-20 Cleveland team into a legitimate force. The Cavs, such a mess in January 2015, lost only two Eastern Conference playoff games the following spring.
Does any of it matter now, though?
Golden State is arguably the best basketball team since Michael Jordan donned blood red; San Antonio boasts a historic defense and the kryptonite (Kawhi Leonard) to LeBron’s now-aging Superman; and Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers have voluminous rosters that can beat anyone on any given night.
Here’s the stark reality for Cleveland: It’s possible that by constructing a “win now” model two summers ago, the Cavs dated themselves. Can you beat these Warriors, Spurs or Thunder with Love and Irving — two defensive sieves — on the floor? The Cavaliers have committed to finding out, and will certainly pay the price if, come June, this talented-yet-limited group fails to secure the Larry O’Brien Trophy.