Monday morning, as everyone was awaiting the official announcement of the Markelle Fultz trade, the Sixers were mentioned as a possible third team in the proposed Pacers-Cavs swap involving Kevin Love and Paul George.
In this scenario, Indiana chooses stockpiling picks and prospects instead of staying competitive with Love. The Sixers, I assume, would exchange a future pick and a prospect such as Richaun Holmes or Dario Saric for Love.
Acquiring Love is certainly enticing, especially after the blockbuster deal for Fultz. Let’s ponder whether adding Love is a prudent move for the franchise.
On the court, Love is a good, but not great, fit. If the Sixers had traded for Love last season, he would have been the perfect partner for Joel Embiid. Love is basically the All-Star version of Ersan Ilyasova, plus passing skills. Imagine if Ersan had vision and made most of his shots.
This coming season, the addition of Ben Simmons makes Love’s fit a bit shakier. Still, a lineup of Fultz-Covington-Simmons-Love-Embiid would certainly have enough shooting. Love has turned himself into the NBA’s premier stretch four during his last three years in Cleveland.
The problem with that lineup is that Ben Simmons may be best suited guarding power forwards. If Simmons is defending in the paint, he can grab rebounds and push the ball coast to coast. If he guards small forwards, Embiid or Love will have to outlet the ball to him, slowing the fast break. Chasing the other team’s small forward all night will be tiring as well.
Additionally, opposing defenses will match their two biggest defenders to Love and Embiid. On offense, Simmons will likely be more effective against slower big men, who he can use his otherworldly quickness and athleticism to drive around and elevate over.
Another benefit of forcing the opposing power forward to guard Simmons is that power forwards are not used to defending the point guard actions that Simmons will be involved in. Amir Johnson of the Celtics, for example, rarely checks the ball handler in a pick and roll. Having a 6’10 point guard puts the defense in positions that they are unfamiliar with.
Although he isn’t the perfect fit, there are benefits to Love. Unlike, say, Paul George, Love is under contract through 2020, so Love would be committed to Philadelphia for three years. It is easy to see Love winging full-court outlet passes to Simmons like he has done with LeBron in recent years. He would instantly become the best shooter on the team and allow Fultz, Simmons and Embiid more space to operate. He also has playoff and championship experience that would be valuable in the locker room.
Ultimately, however, I would advise Bryan Colangelo against trading for Love. The Sixers have three young stars, and in a year or two, they could be knocking on the door of contention. Right now, Colangelo has about $40 million in cap space to work with. Love’s $22 million salary would cut that to roughly 18. If upcoming extensions for Covington and Embiid are factored in, cap space could be hard to come by for the Sixers in a few years.
If Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid develop as planned, stars will want to come to Philadelphia. Better players than Love who fit better in Brett Brown’s lineup will want to play for the Sixers. Colangelo should not handicap his flexibility by committing to three years of maximum salary for an injury prone, 28-year-old big man.
If the Sixers are going to mortgage promising young players and valuable future picks for a star power forward, I would much rather that player be Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is unhappy in dysfunctional New York and matches up with the timeline of Philadelphia’s core. The Sixers would also be paying him a bargain salary for the next two seasons before having to extend him.
It would probably cost the Sixers more assets to acquire Porzingis than to trade for Love, but I would be willing to cough them up. Porzingis is unfairly athletic and fluid with the ball for a 7’3 forward, so he should be able to gel with Embiid and Simmons on offense. Also, Porzingis would be a better backup plan than Love if Embiid were to get hurt again (knock on wood).
Colangelo displayed great patience this past weekend when he traded for Markelle Fultz. He could have flipped the third pick for Jimmy Butler, but he opted for the cost-controlled, younger option.
Bryan should apply the same philosophy for Kevin Love, even if it may not be feasible to trade for Porzingis, or another star, right now. He may have to wait until the 2018 draft, when either the Lakers or Kings pick will be tradeable again. He should not rush the rebuild and lock the franchise into three years of Kevin Love.