News ‘broke’ this morning that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers had finally agreed to a trade involving Kevin Love. As had already been speculated weeks ago, the Cavaliers will be sending the first overall pick of the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft, Anthony Bennett, and a protected 2015 first round draft pick, to the Timberwolves, in exchange for Love. As part of the trade, Love has apparently committed to opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 season and re-sign with the Cavaliers for five years and approximately $120 million (i.e. the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement). Of course, the trade can’t be finalized until August 23rd, when Wiggins will be officially eligible to be traded, but the teams clearly intend to go forward with this deal.
My immediate reaction: ugh. While we’ve all known about this trade for weeks, I had quietly hoped that the Cavaliers would agree to trade for Love without getting a commitment back from him about re-signing after the 2014-15 season. Theoretically, that would give the Los Angeles Lakers an opportunity to make a pitch to sign Love as an unrestricted free agent (assuming that Love opts out). While Love could still end up signing with another team after opting out, reneging on his ‘commitment’ to the Cavaliers would certainly be considered ‘bad form’ on his part.
Coincidentally, the last time (as far as I can recall) that a player reneged on such a ‘commitment’ was in the summer of 2004, when the Lakers’ very own Carlos Boozer reneged on a ‘handshake’ deal to re-sign with the Cavaliers for $41 million over six years after the team had agreed not to pick up the option year of his contract at the ‘bargain basement’ price of $700,000. Instead, Boozer signed a deal with the Utah Jazz for $68 million over six years. Boozer ended up leaving a young LeBron James in the lurch, although Boozer apparently had LeBron’s blessing given the amount of money he would have been leaving on the table by re-signing with Cleveland. Blessing aside, Boozer’s reputation took a serious hit and the Cavaliers were made to look like fools.
A few weeks ago, after the Lakers ‘rejected’ a plan I had (so generously) laid out for them to return to championship contention, they essentially punted on the 2014-15 season with the idea that they would again go after big-name free agents in the summer of 2015. But after losing out on Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James the past two summers, and with potential free agents such as Kyrie Irving, Paul George, and now Kevin Love (apparently), no longer available, one certainly has to wonder how long it might be before the Lakers can actually acquire one of their big free agent targets. As of right now, there should still be big-name free agents available next summer (e.g. Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol), but as we’ve already seen, they may not even make it to free agency, and if they do, they will probably have the same concerns Kevin Love apparently did about the Lakers (i.e. uncertainty about the direction of the franchise). [For all the people who've claimed for the past year or so that Love was a 'lock' to end up with the Lakers via trade or free agency signing--things change, people's minds change--here is your evidence.]
Of course, it’s very possible that the Lakers had already made several attempts at trading for Love both before and after drafting Julius Randle, and the Timberwolves simply weren’t interested. Wiggins, Bennett, and a protected 2015 first round pick from the Cavaliers or Julius Randle, another young player, and at least a 2015 protected first round pick from the Lakers? It’s tough to see exactly how the Lakers could have topped Minnesota’s offer. We’ll probably never know for sure what the Lakers offered, if anything. To be fair to LA–if the Timberwolves rejected any such overtures because they wanted to send Love to the Eastern Conference, no matter what, and they believe that Wiggins will be the next big superstar, then there wasn’t really anything that the Lakers could have done.
Anyway, it’s hard to stomach seeing the Lakers get rejected time and time again, as well as seeing their options in returning to ‘NBA royalty’ status dwindling day after day. I trust that the Lakers’ front office continues to explore all possibilities, but at some point, you either have to make a big move, or you risk getting left behind for quite a while. Realistically, if the Lakers hadn’t been able to land Pau Gasol in 2008, my guess is that they still wouldn’t have even made it back to the NBA Finals by now in the post ‘Shaq and Kobe’ era. So the Lakers enter another season of uncertainty, hope that Kobe Bryant can stay healthy all season and at least fuel the team to a competitive record, and maybe, just maybe, they can pull off another unexpected trade instead of waiting for the summer of 2015 to be left standing at the altar again sighing and shrugging their shoulders. I’ll tell you this much–Lakers fans, as loyal as they are, will be doing more than sighing and shrugging their shoulders…me included.