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With differing opinions, two CelticsLife writers - MattDotRich and Topher Lane - discuss the ultimate value of Kevin Love over email

MattDotRich: Hey Topher - Jackie Mac's reporting that the Celtics are going to continue to ride the Free Love Freeway. Stating on WEEI that she expects the Celtics to continue to pursue Kevin Love through Thursday's deadline.

I used to be very pro-Love, but the past 18 months have made me more skeptical about his value (in general and on this team). Tell me why I should be more excited than I am

Topher Lane: Kevin Love to me would be the perfect star for a team led by Brad Stevens. Stevens loves the players that can stretch the floor.

With that being said, I don't think Love's current stats are indicative of what he's really capable of. In his time with the Cavs his numbers have dropped drastically, from 26 PPG/12.5 RPG while hitting over 2.5 threes per game. All his numbers are down in Cleveland (16/10) including his shooting percentages. I don't attribute this to his talent dropping, but merely his fit with the Cavaliers.

With Boston, he would have a similar situation to what he had in Minnesota. He would be given the opportunity to be the sole star player. He would improve our outside presence, and would have a positive affect on our rebounding numbers. Then, for me there's the intangibles: he's 27, has three All-Star appearances under his belt, and now has been to the playoffs. He's a young veteran who hasn't yet reached his peak.

To me, he's just lost his way.

Boston and Stevens could help him back on track.

MDR: I think my chief concern is this - Over the past two seasons this Celtics team has been undeniably at their best when they've gone small. Its the primary reason this team has gone from average to well above.

Love is notoriously a sub par defender. I know some advanced stats will say elsewise but at the end of the day his footwork is slow, his awareness is inconsistent and he's a below average defender. He is a bad defensive player.

Thats all a long way to say that I don't think Love can be trusted to log significant minutes at the center position. And if he can't play the five I question how valuable he can be to a team looking to contend.

Am I off base here?



TL: I would agree that he is notoriously a subpar defender. Yet, I wouldn't let that get in the way of acquiring one of the top power forwards in the game right now. Especially when Celtics fans have lauded Brad Stevens for bringing out the best in players on defense.

To me, that's the key: Ainge and the Celtics need to give Stevens the chance to coach a talent like Kevin Love. It's clear that he and Danny Ainge are adamant on trying to get him in Boston, and I have no doubt Stevens believes he will be a great fit in his scheme, both defensively and offensively.

In terms of playing small, I would also agree that some of the best ball for the C's this year came from
a smaller lineup, but part of that for me is that we don't have anyone really worth turning to for offense among our big men. If we add Love into the mix, he stands at 6'10" and will add another threat outside of the arc that Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson don't. Jerebko has more speed and hustle, and matches Love's height, but I don't think putting Love in at the 5 would be too detrimental on the defensive end, especially if Stevens can really bring out the best in Love.

While I've never been crazy about the advanced stats in defensive rating, the Celtics are able to succeed with a 5'9" point guard who sits with a 101.4 defensive rating compared to Love's 100.6. If Stevens can improve Love's defensive game, advanced stats say he could be a great defender.

MDR: But there's a gargantuan difference between a point guard who can't defend and a center who can't. Even on a team with so many talented perimeter defenders, you still need some semblance of a last line of defense. While olynyk and sullinger aren't elite (or even necessarily good) I still think they're miles ahead of love.

I guess at the end of the day I really don't know how to Gage his overall value to a team. Two questions that kind of puzzle me

1. If you just swapped Kevin Love and Jared Sullinger (not that the Cavs would do that) and did absolutely nothing else what is this teams absolute ceiling?

2. What caliber of player would we need to add to the roster with Love to make this team a serious contender? I feel like based off his limitations it'd almost have to be a center, and that ain't a position that's easy to fill.

TL: For sure, but I think we disagree on how bad his defense actually is. I'm optimistic about his ability to improve defensively.

In response to your questions: Love for Sullinger would guarantee this team maintains a top 4 seed to me. I would go as far to say that Boston could compete for the 2 seed, especially if the Raptors start to slow down. Then in terms of playoffs, I could see Eastern Conference finals being as far as they would be able to go.

For what Ainge should pair with Love, I think a center would be great (thinking Al Horford.) This is also doable at the trade deadline if Boston can make one of these trades using mostly draft picks and their plethora of bigs. Even if he's a rental, the C's could become a scary team this postseason if they acquired both Love and Horford.

In the long term, obviously there's an emphasis on there being a "big three" in order to contend and I wouldn't label Isaiah as a guy who would fit that definition. So Boston would either have to add a true superstar this offseason, like Kevin Durant, or grab multiple free agents who can be big difference makers, like Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, etc. If you're really looking for a defensive center, Hassan Whiteside will be a free agent too and he is the epitome of a rim protector, or you can try and rekindle Roy Hibbert's success in Indiana.

And, the way I'm looking at it isn't immediate effect. To many, we're still in rebuild mode. Yet we're sitting in the 3 seed in the East at the All-Star break. We're not playing for ping-pong balls since we've got Brooklyn handling that for us, and the playoff push will only help in terms of experience and thirst for success next season. But so much of this season to me is convincing free agents that Boston is legit. That we are ready to contend once you ink your name on your contract. And while we're making serious progress in that, we are going to need something to get the fire started. A serious playoff run will be a good start, but if we can acquire one star through trade, it will make it that much easier to captivate major free agents this summer.

There are a lot of ways to go this offseason that could strongly compliment Love's game (or make up for it), but I think the first step is acquiring the star now to draw the attention of the free agents in July.

MDR: We definitely agree on Horford. He's the perfect guy. So let me ask you this: Ultimate pipe dream scenario - this team enters next season with a core of Thomas, Smart or Bradley , Crowder, Love and Horford. Can that team win a championship?

TL: On paper, I say no. Just looking at those names, I can't see them competing with a team like Golden State, especially if the Warriors can actually snag KD this summer.

But, something that has enthralled me as a fan this season has been just the pure passion with which this team plays some nights. Go back to December when Golden State's undefeated record was on the line in the Garden and Boston fought against the defending champions to go to double overtime. Granted they were shorthanded with Klay Thompson benched with injury, but on paper they shouldn't have been even close to winning that game. Add in Kevin Love and Al Horford and I think the C's would have dealt the Warriors their first loss that night.

The hypothetical Celtics team you ask about would definitely make a major splash in the 2017 postseason. But only if they can have that fire that the Celtics have had since last years trade deadline. The mentality that they can compete with whoever they want, and they can beat whoever they want.

MDR: But here's the thing. If an absolute pipe dream scenario can't put us over the hump doesn't it bring in to question how ultimately valuable Love is?

Its what I can't shake, and I'd like to get your thoughts here:

Any center short of Horfords caliber doesn't really work. You need a strong defensive center with a strong interior game to balance out Love.

I worry about him limiting the roster else wise. Its the Cavs problem now. They can't rely on him at center, and playing him at the power forward limits what they can do offensively.

Its why I think they're talking to the Magic and Pelicans about Frye and Anderson - they don't think that there's be that significant of a drop off in production. And as a fan of a team who might be giving up a boat load of assets for that player - that's freak-ing scar-y, man. Don't you think?

TL: See, I don't mind a Roy Hibbert/Hassan Whiteside caliber center coupled with Love in the front court. And that pipe dream scenario for me is missing a star in the back court. To reference the most recent big threes: a Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, or Kyrie Irving. The issue for me in that scenario isn't with Love or whoever takes the center position, it's because I don't see Isaiah Thomas as our contender-status point guard.

With the fear of investing so much into a player that they seem to want to give away, I think he just doesn't mesh with LeBron and Kyrie on the court. Simple as that. And I understand that's a risk that we'd be taking, but with the enormous collection of assets we've accrued over the past few years, I don't mind finally taking a risk in hopes that it pays off.

Plus, Kelly Olynyk serves as a solid backup center, we have the option on Amir Johnson's contract, and we have the ability to play small if necessary. Then whoever we wind up taking with the Brooklyn pick could also help fill the void that Love leaves when he's on the floor. Plus I think the way the Cavs play is wildly different from the way the Celtics do. His cohesion on the court seems to just be that he doesn't know what to do. If he camps the lane, Timofey Mozgov is ineffective, if he's just hanging out on the wing, he is losing his inside game. He's a stretch four/five that it's seemed like even David Blatt didn't know how to utilize.

MattDotRich 2/18/2016 09:04:00 AM Edit
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