Much of the NBA talk over the past week has centered on LeBron James and his issues with the Cleveland roster. But the team can’t pull a playmaker out of thin air. With a payroll far over the salary cap and no future assets to flip for a win-now piece, how are the Cavs supposed to improve without parting with one of the very players who made them so good in the first place?
Wednesday on ESPN 850 Cleveland, NBA reporter Brian Windhorst suggested that if Carmelo Anthony were to move to Cleveland in exchange for Kevin Love, it would make for a better Finals matchup with the Warriors. The Knicks are reportedly interested in a deal, but there has been no indication that Cleveland will bite. Reasonably so, because while the trade would provide the Cavs with more starpower, it’s unclear that it would improve the team.
Love is a natural fit at power forward, a position that Anthony has seemed to resist playing in New York over the past two seasons. If Anthony were to become a Cav, he or LeBron would have to play out of position in the team’s heavily used starting lineup. And it’s unclear whether Anthony would boost the Cavs offensively. As far as scoring goes, Love and Anthony exhibit similar preferences in terms of shot selection, and have been similarly successful. The two have shot within one percentage point of each other from within 8 feet of, between 8 and 16 feet of, and farther than 24 feet from the basket. The only notable difference between the two comes in the deep midrange, between 16 and 24 feet away from the hoop, where Anthony shoots more than 10 percentage points better than Love. Of course, Anthony plays for the Knicks, and as we’ve seen at the Olympics, he is at his best when he doesn’t have to create his own shot and can be one of many scoring options, an opportunity he would have on the Cavs. If teams have to worry about James, Kyrie Irving, and a platoon of shooters that includes Kyle Korver, it’s reasonable to believe that Anthony’s shooting numbers could skyrocket along with his number of quality touches.
But on defense (something that just might be important against the Warriors) Anthony isn’t a clear upgrade over Love, and he lags far behind on the boards, where his career mark of 6.6 rebounds per game is about half of Love’s 11.5.
The only way this potential trade would start to make sense is if you consider team chemistry. We know that James and Anthony have been attached at the hip for almost 15 years, while James’s relationship with Love has been … spotty, at best. But it’s risky to mortgage the franchise’s future for chemistry and potential marginal offensive improvement. The two may look like equals now, but Anthony is 32 and will only become less effective in the coming years, while Love is 28 and still in his prime. If the Cavs want to make this “win-now” move, they better be sure that it will actually lead to a win.