Why Trading Kevin Love to the Golden State Warriors is a Mistake

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves and Warriors have been talking Kevin Love on and off for a month it seems like. Chad Ford said today that he thought the principals were agreed to, and the problem was ancillary pieces. It would be a bad move for the Wolves. Below I explain why.

Let me start by trying to make the best argument I can in favor of trading Kevin Love for David Lee and Klay Thompson:

Look, trading Kevin Love is nobody's idea of a good thing, but we are where we are. He wants out, bridges are on fire, and if we can get a good deal now we have to take it. David Lee and Klay Thompson is a good deal; certainly a better deal than one that involves the 6th pick in the draft as the centerpiece. Realistically, the chances of the 6th pick ever being as good a player as Klay Thompson aren't great.

Let's start with David Lee. Nobody is excited to pay David Lee $15M a year, but he isn't Rashard Lewis. He's a pretty good player getting paid too much for the next two seasons. That isn't the end of the world; he's a guy that is a net positive on the court and will fill the power forward spot reasonably while he's around. Consider that during the past two seasons he's posted WS/48 of .150 and .160 and he's never been below .110 in his career. He rebounds the ball well, shoots it efficiently (even though he isn't a three point shooter) and has double digit assist% every season.

He isn't known as a good defender, but then neither is Kevin Love. He isn't at Love's level, no, but he does a more than passable job of filling the PF spot for the next couple of years.

Klay Thompson is a terrific young player; one of the best shooting guards in the NBA at age 24 heading into next season. He's shown himself to be durable (1 game missed in three seasons), and he is one of the best volume three point shooters around. Given that the Wolves have had trouble with the three, and losing Love makes it worse, acquiring one of the best shooters in the league is a good thing.

Yes, I understand that the Wolves will likely have to max him out or come awfully close when he's an RFA next year, but having a young and talented back court locked up for 5 seasons (this year, then the 4 years of Thompson's new contract) is not a bad use of resources. The team will then be in position to figure out how to get better around Thompson and Ricky Rubio, and if it doesn't work, Thompson will likely be tradeable at any point during the deal.

How else are we going to get a young player with star potential that has already shown his capabilities? Answer: nowhere. Klay Thompson is the single best piece we can hope to get out of a Love trade,and that's why we should make the trade.

That is almost convincing. But it ultimately is the wrong way to look at it. One of the smartest guys on Canis said this the other day:

You win in the NBA by having underpaid players. This mostly means rookies and stars worth more than a max contract, but sometimes applies to undervalued vets. It is becoming increasingly likely that the Wolves will enter the 15/16 season with (hopefully) Dieng as the only underpaid player on the roster. Absolutely awful.

-vjl110

And this is at the heart of why it's not a good trade for the Wolves.

Let's start here: Klay Thompson is not a great player. He's...pretty good. None of the compiled advanced stats, whether they be box score based or play-by-play or plus-minus based sees him as a big star. He's good. He doesn't move the needle a ton.

He does one thing very well: shoot threes. He doesn't get to the rim, he doesn't get to the line, he isn't a great passer, he doesn't rebound particularly well for his position. Reports of his defense are mixed. Basically, he shoots it a lot and well from behind the arc. That's valuable, but well, the Wolves have a guy who does that and plays the same position. In a vacuum, would I rather have a 24 year old Thompson instead of a 31 year old Kevin Martin? Sure. I suspect his defense is better, and he's clearly more durable. I'm not sure, however. that on a per minute basis he's currently a lot better than Martin.

And of course, it isn't a vacuum. Thompson is cheaper for one more year, then will be radically more expensive. And of course, there's the little matter of losing Kevin Love to get him.

David Lee is going to be paid $30M over the next two season. I see no reason for the Wolves to be the team to pay him that amount.

To bring this around to vjl's quote above: if they make this trade, they are looking at going into the 2015-16 season owing over $50M to Pekovic, Rubio, Thompson and Lee. If I thought that was the core of a competitive playoff team (like, say, the current Golden State Warriors), I would be OK with that. But I don't. It seems much more likely that is the core of a team that will miss out on the playoffs over the next two seasons while tying up a massive amount of cap room on those four players, none of whom are good bets to be all-stars.

Now, Rubio and Pekovic's salaries are not the fault of the Warriors, but the circumstances are what they are. The Wolves are not in position to trade Love for expensive (or soon to be expensive) players who are actively worse than he is. That will simply make the team worse and more costly, and hence less flexible.

They don't give out trophies for having the best managed salary cap; I have no objection to money being spent on players. But to give up any flexibility over the next few seasons while relying on middling draft picks to get better is not a plan that I can endorse.

Love is hugely valuable precisely because the system requires him to be underpaid. Thompson is not going to be underpaid, he's likely to be overpaid. David Lee is currently overpaid. Two overpaid assets for one underpaid asset is not good dealing.

As vjl110 says, good teams are built on having underpaid players. Either good players on rookie deals, superstars who would get more than the max if there was a free market, or the occasional (cough Taj Gibson cough) veteran who has a below market deal. The Wolves currently have two of those guys making an impact: Love and Rubio. Rubio will price himself out of the category, and trading Love leaves us with none.

Under those circumstances, it's hard to see how a rebuild, quick or slow, would actually succeed.

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