How a vetoed trade irrevocably changed the Warriors and Cavs
The offer was on the table, and both teams were ready to make the deal.
The crux of the trade between Minnesota and Golden State was Kevin Love for Klay Thompson, and Warriors general manager Bob Myers just about to pull the trigger.
It was the summer of 2014, and Love was one of the best players in the NBA, coming off a season where he averaged 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.
Thompson was a solid, but not spectacular 2-guard who was coming off a career-best campaign where he averaged 18.4 points per game.
The Warriors were looking to go to the next level after a tough first-round playoff ouster, and Love was going to be the second superstar, next to the emergent Stephen Curry, that would make the longtime NBA laughingstock a title contender.
The Warriors’ front office, led by Myers, was initially reluctant to include Thompson in a deal, but they knew that they had to make a big move. Eventually, they justified making Thompson the main piece of the trade. It was a go.
There was one problem: NBA legend Jerry West, a Warriors advisor, wasn’t going to let it happen.
The Warriors passed on the trade at West’s request.
Love was soon thereafter traded to the Cavaliers in a three-way deal that sent the Timberwolves No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
West refused to let the deal go through because he saw the future of the NBA and knew Thompson had all the makings of a big-time player. He also saw that while Love was one of the best producers in the league, that he was going to be left behind by the looming pace-and-space revolution.
Just shy of two years later, it’s obvious that West was right.
There have been too many actions and inactions by both teams since the summer of 2014 to count, and all have played at least a minor role in the teams’ back-to-back NBA Finals matchups, but the Warriors passing on Love looms largest as the teams head into Game 3 Wednesday night in Cleveland.
West didn’t mince words when he was presented with the trade that summer. According to several people close to the situation in Golden State, after some conversation, an ultimatum was made by the former Lakers and Grizzlies general manager: trade Thompson and I quit.
That’s all new coach Steve Kerr needed to hear. Kerr was initially on the fence about the trade — he didn’t want to impose himself on the front office too early into his tenure — but when West spoke up, Kerr was quick to join his camp.
Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob, a venture capitalist, believes that open disagreements bring out the best in a company — work it out — but West’s hardline stance threw a wrench in that process. It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel, you can’t take a diametrically opposed stance to The Logo, who possesses one of the great basketball minds in the history of the sport.
Since then, he’s turned into an All-Star, one of the best shooters in NBA history, and a lockdown defender.
Thompson has been, without question, the Warriors’ most consistent player in these playoffs, going up as the primary defender against James Harden (41 percent shooting), Damian Lillard (36 percent), and Russell Westbrook (35 percent against Thompson) all while also being the team’s leading scorer (24.8 points per game).
In short: the Warriors don’t reach the NBA Finals without the otherworldly play of the 6-foot-7 swingman.
The Cavs wish they were getting anything close to that level of impact from Love.
Since arriving in Cleveland, the power forward has found himself out of place in the NBA that West envisioned. The power forward position is being phased out of the game, making Love either an undersized center who can’t protect the rim or an oversized wing who can’t keep in front of his man on the defensive side.
And while yes, Love’s 3-point shot has improved, it’s hardly a surprise that his production has dropped significantly since arriving in Cleveland.
Love’s defense, in particular, has hampered the Cavs in these NBA Finals. His poor pick-and-roll defending has resulted in the Warriors averaging 1.14 points per possession when he’s on the floor, a mark that renders him almost unplayable.
Love might not play in Game 3 Wednesday because of a concussion he sustained in Game 2, but the Cavs might not even miss him — that’s how ineffective he’s been in this, his first NBA Finals appearance.
It’s a fascinating exercise to imagine what would have happened if West was overruled, or if he didn’t speak up in the first place.
Do the Warriors go on one of the greatest runs of all-time if Love is on the Golden State roster? Who would have been the third member of a Cavs’ Big Three (that’s not looking so big right now)? In the Eastern Conference, it might not matter who that third player is, but if it isn’t Love, is LeBron on the verge of winning a title for Cleveland?
Sometimes, the smartest move is the one you don’t make. Two years ago, Thompson was on the cusp of being jettisoned from Oakland, but it’s hard to see the Warriors on the cusp of a second straight title and a permanent legacy as the greatest team of all time without the unheralded, but ever spectacular second Splash Brother.