You could see this coming.
With Dwight Howard in tow, a need to upgrade at power forward and projected cap space in 2015, the Rockets could survey the NBA landscape last summer to see two elite power forwards in Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge (both free agents in 2015) in precarious situations. Both had the potential to sour on their current teams, with Houston in a good position to catch their eye.
While Aldridge and the Blazers took a step forward this past season, Love and the Timberwolves took a step back, and sure enough — Love wants out. Several reports suggest we could see a Kevin Love trade as early as next week’s NBA Draft.
A three-time All-Star who is just entering his prime at 25 years of age, Love averaged 26.1 points per game (#4 in the NBA) last season to go with 12.5 rebounds (#3 in the NBA), hitting nearly 38% from long range. The Wolves’ big man has averaged nearly 14 rebounds a game over the last four seasons.
So will this be the Summer of Love in Houston?
Think about this: This is a player that scored more points per game than James Harden and grabbed more rebounds per game than Dwight Howard last season. From an offensive view, there is not a better match out there for Houston’s current needs than Kevin Love.
A legitimate power forward with terrific size (6-foot-10, 250 pounds) for the position, Love is an elite rebounder and a strong outside shooter for a big. He may be able to help fill some minutes as a backup center as well given that, in much the same way that Chandler Parsons can play the four, Love can play the five in smallball lineups.
A trio of Dwight-Harden-Love would be deadly dangerous on offense. The Rockets would immediately improve in a critical area where they took a step back last season — three-point shooting. Opponents would not be able to double Howard easily when he’s flanked by Kevin Love and opposing power forwards wouldn’t be able to consistently sag off their man and pack the paint against Harden drives, as Serge Ibaka does so effectively. Love would be the ultimate fit as Houston’s stretch four.
Defensively, well… they’d have a really good offense.
But even if Love fails to significantly upgrade the team’s man defense himself, his rebounding prowess could enable more shot-blocking and position help from Dwight Howard.
There is some history here that would make one think Houston has a chance at catching Love’s interest. Rockets coach Kevin McHale drafted and coached Love in Minnesota and they have a good relationship. Harden and Love also have a history of playing together, as Harden acknowledged here (1:00 mark of the video).
This is the one possibility out there that I think would cost the Rockets Chandler Parsons in a trade… as well as Terrence Jones and multiple draft picks. And even then, this looks like a long shot.
As it stands, it doesn’t appear that “winning big” is the only draw for the 25-year old as there haven’t been any reports of him balking at teams like Phoenix, Cleveland, New York, Boston and Los Angeles (Lakers), all teams that missed the playoffs last season just as Love has missed the postseason in all six of his NBA seasons. While it’s difficult to say with certainty, it appears that his minimum requirement is playing basketball in May rather than June.
While the Rockets would have to satisfy Minnesota with a trade, it is primarily Love himself that has the most control here. If he had Houston on a short list (and the shorter the better) of teams he would be willing to sign an extension with beyond 2015, the trade market would be smaller, giving Houston a better chance of satisfying Minnesota in a deal. Right now, the Rockets can’t compete in a broad trade market where top draft considerations and young players are king. Also, the heavy salary assets that the Rockets have to move in a trade (Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik) are overlap on a Minnesota roster that includes Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic.
Kevin Love is the ideal fit on one side of the ball for the Rockets, but unless they get very creative and move up in this draft — likely into the top 10, at a minimum — they may not be able to pull this off.