Every team in the NBA wants Kevin Love. But does Kevin Love know which of those teams is the very best fit for him?
I don't think anyone denies that the Suns would love to acquire Love. So would 29 other teams in the NBA. There's really not a team in the NBA that wouldn't appreciate Love's services, as long as they could fit him under the cap.
But what does Kevin Love want? And does that coincide with what Kevin Love needs?
We have heard he wants a big market, but he's already on tons of national commercials and the big NBA markets just finished praying to the ping pong ball gods.
We have heard he wants a contender, but what about wanting to join a team he would instantly turn INTO a contender?
Does Kevin Love research the current NBA teams to find which team would be the perfect fit for his skills, while also having the perfect scheme and personnel to cover his weaknesses?
If he does, he would focus on the Phoenix Suns.
It just so happens that when you look at the Suns team as constructed, it appears to scream to all the world that the missing piece is Kevin Love.
The Suns roster, as it stands, is built around dynamic play-making guards who score and dish. The perfect offensive compliment to the Slash Brothers is a power forward (or center) who can shoot on the catch, or create his own shot going to the rim or pass it off for a nice assist after the defense is scrambling from the initial dribble-drive. The reason this player needs to be a power forward (or center) is to pull the opposing big man out of the paint for the initial drive that disrupts the opponent's defensive strategy.
The Suns approximated this player with Markieff Morris and Channing Frye last season. Morris was the more well-rounded threat who could shoot on the catch, or make his own shot or occasionally pass off for an assist. But Morris is not really a three-point threat, so he'd only pull his man 3/4 of the way away from the basket. Frye could shoot on the catch from greater distance, but struggled to make his own shot and doesn't pass well.
Ultimately, the Suns finished 8th on offensive efficiency. Kevin Love can do everything the Suns want on offense without changing one thing about his game, and the Suns would easily finish in the top 5 of league offenses with Dragic, Bledsoe and Love in the lineup together.
The Suns defense is oriented around defending the ball handler and the rim with aggression, then gang-rebounding the missed shot. The theory was that the more you make them miss, the better your odds of getting the rebound. This strategy often took the Suns out of ideal rebounding position because, on the shot, defenders were moving toward the ball handler rather than retreating to position for the box out.
Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. The Suns did finish 15th in overall defense, 14th in overall rebounding and in the top 10 in opponent shooting percentage in 2013-14, a fact often lost on Suns fans who cringe whenever the opponent gets finishes at the rim on multiple offensive boards.
What the Suns really need is gobble-up rebounder who can clean the glass after the other big and the wing players defend the shot. Kevin Love could provide that high-volume rebounding to clean the glass and get the Suns back on offense.
Kevin Love doesn't need the Suns offensively as much as he does defensively, but its hard to imagine an offensive scheme more tailor-made to a player than the Suns' offense for Kevin Love. He is a perfect fit around the current team, able to provide a better power forward option than either Frye or Morris, though you'd still need Frye and Morris in supporting roles if you can keep them.
Where Love needs the Suns more than anything is defensively. You can't win 60+ games and/or the Finals without playing excellent defense. Love sucks at defense, other than rebounding.
The Suns defensive scheme can cover for Love's weaknesses while they lead the league in scoring. Last year, the Suns implemented a defense that had only one missing piece: rebounding opponent misses. Plumlee and Len will get themselves out of rebounding position when they aggressively defend the rim, often leaving the other team's big open for the putback. With Love in the lineup, Plumlee/Len could trust that a missed shot would be gobbled up Love most of the time.
Love needs the Suns as much as the Suns need Love. Love wouldn't have to change anything about his game, but would be able to enjoy a lot more wins than he ever got in Minny.
By simply adding Love to the mix of the current Suns team, you might see the Suns top 60 wins and compete for the Western Conference berth in the NBA Finals over the next four or more years.
But it's not that easy.
Yet Love (even through unnamed sources close to his situation) has never hinted at Phoenix as a preferred destination. All we've heard is that he wants a big market and/or current contender. That he hasn't seen the perfect fit in Phoenix tells me that Love doesn't really know what he needs, and he doesn't see himself as a difference-maker to turn a team into a contender.
If Love wants to join a current contender, then he doesn't want the burden of making a team into a contender. He wants to just fit in. That's not a leader. In fact, new/old coach Flip Saunders says that Kevin Love needs to look in the mirror.
If Love wants to join a big market, then he's not thinking about team quality is he? Why would a guy who wants to win games right now want to join the Lakers or the Knicks or the Celtics? None of them are one player away from winning a title. All of them are worse than his current team.
So, we just don't know if Kevin Love really cares about winning AND believes he can make a team into a contender. And if we don't know that, we don't know what he will do in the summer of 2015, do we?
I have already documented the problems around giving up too much to acquire Love, who has the right to become a free agent next summer.
Both players forced a trade with one year left on their contracts. Paul forced a trade to the Clippers, but then showed some loyalty by opting in to his final year of his contract so there would be two seasons before he became a free agent. Howard forced a trade, but got sent to an undesired destination (Lakers) and eventually left a year later after the Lakers had given up a ton to get him.
Who is Kevin Love? So far, he's profiling more like Howard than Paul. Is that who the Suns want to clear the cabinet for?
I repeat: Kevin Love, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Plumlee/Len and a 3-and-D small forward (Tucker) would make the Suns a formidable team who could win 55-60 games and contend for a Finals berth.
Unfortunately, that core would likely be broken up by the very trade to acquire Love. A winning bid to acquire Love looks increasingly like one or both of Bledsoe and Dragic are gone. Sure, the perfect offensive and defensive schemes are still intact but the top end talent would be missing.
Is a Suns team with Love, but without the Slash Brothers combo a 55+ win team? Eric Bledsoe might be overpaid next year at $14 million, but is there a good replacement out there to give the Suns the offense and defense he brings? If it were that easy, Bledsoe wouldn't be worth $14 million a year, would he?
The waters get muddier if the Suns can't keep all three together. And even if the Suns can keep all three together, a year from now those three could take up 2/3 of the salary cap all by themselves.
It's not easy being in Love.
James Young is an 18 year old prospect who already has a solid overall game and a lot of potential to improve. Here's the breakdown.
Position: Small Forward
*Young slightly strained his groin during the max vertical test which prevented him from completing the other tests at the combine
"Young has prototypical size for a NBA wing, with a 215-pound frame that should continue to improve over time. He does not possess tremendous speed or burst off the dribble, but is an exceptionally fluid athlete who can rise up and play above the rim with a head of steam when given a lane."
"As much as Young's ability to get shots off over the defense made him a dangerous scoring threat, it also limited his efficiency. Making 34.9% of his shots from beyond the arc on the year, the lefty struggled from the perimeter for long stretches, due in large part to the number of contested jump shots he attempted."
"With his length and more experience he could potentially become a fantastic defensive player. He’s a lefty and is young for his class so he could potentially grow some more. Crafty offensive player who finds ways to put points on the board. Plays with good energy. Excellent body control and finishes well through contact. One of the better rebounders at his position. Appears to have a good head on his shoulders and is a functional passer."
"At this point doesn’t have a go-to skill that sticks out. He’s merely good in most areas as opposed to great. His jumper is still streaky and he has a tendency to take some bad shots early in possessions. Not a special leaper and lacks a degree of quickness which means he may be more of a small forward than a shooting guard. Despite his frame he could still add a good deal of strength."
Young is very...young. In fact, he is one of the youngest players in this year's NBA Draft at only 18 years old. He has tremendous potential as a scorer, with range out to the NBA three and a terrific mid-range game. He has great length at the wing, with a 7'0" wingspan, and already has a strong, NBA-ready body that could still add more size as he fills out even more. Although he isn't the most explosive players, he has sneaky athleticism and is very agile with great balance and body control, and possesses the strength to finish through contact. In fact, his highlight posterizer during the NCAA championship game was one of the most vicious college dunks of the entire season. You can watch that beauty here.
As has already been stated above, one of the biggest knocks on Young is his penchant for taking contested jump-shots. Although he has a beautiful stroke, he needs to take better shots. The good news is that this is a very fixable issue, and with his natural shooting ability, he could become a great shooter at the next level as long as he becomes more selective. He is also a good rebounder and has a high motor, and runs the floor well in an up-tempo system.
Defensively, Young has great length with his 7' 0" wingspan to bother the opposition and get his hands on the ball, and he is is agile enough to stay in front of his man on the perimeter. He is also strong enough to defend in or near the post without issue. Young does need to work on his defensive fundamentals though, but with his size and length, I think he could become at least a good defender as long as he commits to learning the system.
In all, James is very intriguing prospect with a lot of great traits and intangibles who is far from a finished product. He does a lot of things very well but really doesn't excel at anything...yet. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as he has great potential to improve in a lot of areas. One area that I do think he will improve in is his shooting percentage. His shot is already very fluid, he just needs to be coached on taking higher percentage shots and knowing when to pull the trigger.
Young is certainly in the Suns' range with their 14th pick, and could be another investment in the future like Archie Goodwin last season. Still, the Suns suddenly find themselves in a position to win now, and you have to wonder if they are looking for a player who is a little further along in their development. Either way, James Young could prove to be a very solid addition to the right team with the potential to be a productive starting wing in a couple of years.
Profiles for all the prospects the Suns could draft in the 2014 NBA Draft with pick 14, 18 or 27 (or some other pick they acquire via trade).
One of the late risers in this NBA Draft is a rangy point guard who can play both offense and defense, though he is quite rough around the edges and played only in the smaller Sun Belt Conference. Point guard Elfrid Payton has the size, athleticism and talent to be one of the best players in the Draft, but he is not a great scorer nor is he very aggressive on offense when his team needs him to score.
A look at his strengths and weaknesses makes you think of Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio - guys with great athleticism who can get by in the NBA with passing and high level defense, but who cannot shoot with consistency no matter how open they are.
Even years into their careers, Rondo and Rubio cannot be counted on to make open shots and don't even want to try unless forced or they're feeling especially good about their game. And we're not talking jumpers from distance here. Rondo and Rubio both struggle to even make their open layups with consistency. But they can make up for their lack of shooting by hounding their opponent into a bad shooting night as well.
Payton is the same type of player in nearly every respect. Where Rubio and Rondo rank ahead of Payton is their incredible ability to find the open man even when the defense sags off. Those two can get 10 assists before they get 10 points. Payton has to prove he can do this too, or figure out how to score. He was second in the NCAA in assists per 40 minutes (6.7).
In many respects, Elfrid Payton is the "new Suns model" - great athleticism and basketball IQ that just needs to learn how to score (and make jumpers) consistently. His shooting form is awful, and will have to be completely remade. We'll see how that process works this season with Archie Goodwin, another young guard with everything going for him but shooting.
As rookie, Goran Dragic could not finish at the rim or make jumpers with any consistency. He got his points at the open court. As the years passed, Dragic figured out how to use his athleticism to create separation and score at the rim. Then he became a dead-eye shooter this past season.
Bledsoe couldn't shoot either, and still really struggles to make long jumpers with consistency. But he figured out how to score at the rim with his thick body, and he developed a short-range jumper in the paint as well.
On the Suns, Payton would be a supersized Ish Smith who could spend the next couple of years developing into the next great point guard prospect if he can learn how to score with consistency.
The Phoenix Suns have three picks from 14-27 and Payton could be taken with any of them. Payton would be a high end prospect as a good insurance policy in case Dragic or Bledsoe leaves in free agency or trade in the next year or so.
In the meantime, Payton is young enough and comes from a small-enough background to slide right into Ish Smith's third point guard role and the Suns wouldn't miss a beat, while Payton has a much higher ceiling than Smith. Payton is bigger and has a much better game at the rim than Ish.
Years ago, a Suns coach couldn't imagine rotation time for a point guard who couldn't shoot (Rondo), no matter how talented he was in every other area. Think Jeff Hornacek feels the same?
Elfrid Payton and Archie Goodwin could be the back court of the future for the Suns IF either or both can figure out how to make consistent jump shots.