There’s a very good reason LeBron James was so vehement in his denial of trade rumors between the Cavaliers and Knicks:
The only way the Cleveland Cavaliers are trading Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony is if the entire organization is drunk on an institutional level.
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We’re talking “rum in the morning coffee, vodka tonic for lunch, highball for happy hour,” drunk. “Out on your feet, three sheets to the wind, the room is spinning,” drunk — from Dan Gilbert to David Griffin all the way down to the trainers and the parking attendants. If everyone in the Cleveland franchise is still celebrating last year’s NBA title with a little of the ol’ bubbly morning, noon and night, then maybe the Cavs will make that trade: Melo-Love, straight up.
Otherwise? Here’s a photographic representation of the list of players the Cavaliers would trade Love for:
Kevin Durant. That’s it.
They’re certainly not pulling the trigger on a move for Melo if it costs Love — because despite Anthony’s extraordinary scoring ability, he wouldn’t improve Cleveland in the slightest. As FOX Sports NBA analyst Chris Broussard explained on FS1’s Undisputed Tuesday, Love’s versatility is simply irreplaceable:
CHRIS: Melo is certainly as good, maybe better than Kevin Love, but for the Cavaliers, Love does some things for them I don’t think Melo could. No. 1, he’s a great rebounder, and they’re not a big team as it is. You bring Melo in there, you lose that. No. 2, he stretches the floor in a way Melo wouldn’t. Even though Melo can shoot the 3 pretty close to Kevin Love, he’s not going to plant himself at the 3-point line for 80 percent of the possessions and be satisfied. He’s going to inch in, inch in, just out of instinct, into the mid-range, and it’ll screw up their spacing.
They would have to play differently, like completely differently in my view, with Melo. And then finally, Love is a very good passer. Not that Melo can’t pass, but Love specifically with the outlet passes. Last night, the 3-pointer that LeBron hits off the glass to tie the game, that was a tremendous pass. I don’t know that Melo can make that play. So, to me, like I said, I’ve been told that it’s wrong, I don’t think it makes sense for them.
I’m sure he wants Melo in addition to Love. But Melo without Love makes no sense.
And Broussard didn’t even mention the most important facet of Love’s game in Cleveland: his defense.
Don’t scoff; your derision shows you haven’t been paying attention over the past couple seasons. Love’s defensive deficiencies were well-chronicled when he first joined the Cavaliers, but he did everything he could to improve on that end of the floor, slowly but surely becoming the fulcrum in the middle for the Cavs’ defense.
He’s not your typical rim protector — Love leaves that to Tristan Thompson and LeBron. Instead, he focuses on snuffing out plays before they happen in the mid-range and on the perimeter.
The most obvious example of Love’s development as a defender came when he locked down Stephen Curry in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, of course, but Cleveland’s two games against the Warriors this season are far more relevant. As Love continues to improve as a defender, he’s turned into a master of anticipating the play and wreaking havoc simply by being in the right place at precisely the right time.
Take the Warriors’ bread-and-butter set, where they get the ball into Draymond Green’s hands after a high pick-and-roll for Stephen Curry. Love has studied that play so thoroughly that he practically beats Green to his preferred spot these days, throwing a 6-foot-10 wrench into Golden State’s offense.
Or against the Spurs, Love will hedge away from LaMarcus Aldridge and toward Kawhi Leonard before the former has even started to pass the ball, as the Cavaliers power forward knows what’s coming next in San Antonio’s methodical offense.
Or against the Blazers, Love will all but ignore his man to keep an eye-and-a-half on Damian Lillard, knowing that just a half-step in the point guard’s direction might be all it takes to let a teammate recover in time to prevent Lillard Time.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
They’re all little things, to be sure, yet added up, they make the difference between an Eastern Conference finalist and an NBA champion.
And most important, LeBron appreciates the hell out of the little things. There is no greater skill for a LeBron teammate to possess than intelligence. If he knows you’ll do your job (Patriots-style), he knows he doesn’t have to cover for you — and a LeBron freed from worrying about his teammates is the greatest force in the game.
Trading Love for Melo would strip Cleveland of that familiarity, and for what? Adding a bigger name to a roster just because the Warriors have four stars these days? Firepower is great, but the Cavs are only winning in this year’s Finals if their chemistry enables them to outexecute Golden State. There’s no time to get Melo up to speed — and even if there were, bringing him on board would be a mistake.
Love has done everything Cleveland asked and more. He’s the perfect LeBron teammate, despite not being part of “The Brotherhood.”