It appears the Sixers may not be done with the buyout market just yet.
Having completed his buyout from the Cleveland Cavaliers, free-agent big Kevin Love will talk to the Sixers about coming to Philadelphia, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Miami Heat are the favorite to sign Love, according to multiple reports.
Any conversation about Love starts with how he got here. That is, why is a veteran big man with championship equity and Finals experience being bought out, especially from a young team that is on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018? It’s even more jarring when you consider that one of Cleveland’s only blatant holes is shooting from the catch. Catch-and-shoot efficiency is one of the assets that has stayed with Love as he’s aged.
But, Love is a below-average three-point shooter this season. In fact, it’s the first time he’s been below the league average from deep since his age-24 season — exactly 10 years ago.
Dean Wade’s emergence at power forward this season meant that most of Love’s minutes in Cleveland were going to be at center. A less perimeter-oriented defensive role made sense for a 34-year-old big with injury history. But, the Cavaliers really struggled on defense with Love at center, too.
Given the defensive limitations, the nail in the coffin for Love’s role in Cleveland’s rotation was probably the decline in three-point efficiency. Nearly two-thirds of Love’s shot attempts were threes. That is the second highest three-point rate among NBA bigs. He simply didn’t make enough shots to justify the defensive issues.
It’s difficult to buy that Love is simply drawing dead at this stage of his career. After all, he finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year race last season. As such, it certainly in’t all that difficult to convince yourself that a change of scenery might get Love’s shooting back on track. The likes of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell certainly draw defensive gravity in their own rights. But, the passing vision and drive-and-kick gravity James Harden has and the post-up gravity Joel Embiid has would offer Love contrasting styles of open looks from deep.
The other big draw that separates Love from Philadelphia’s other options at power forward and center is his passing ability. He’d immediately be one of Philadelphia’s two or three best passers. As such, he’d incentivize off-ball cutting and help the non-starter units generate offense more consistently.
Regardless of where you slate Love, there will be defensive concerns. You can’t trust him to guard in space. But, opponents also shot nearly 69 percent at the rim when Love was on the court for the Cavaliers this season. There are two qualities of Love’s game that make him a more attractive option than any of the backup centers currently on the Sixers’ roster. First, he has the second best defensive rebounding rate among NBA bigs this season. Second, his foul rate would rank as the best among the Sixers’ bigs.
So, he likely isn’t going to stop much bleeding defensively. But, relative to the Sixers’ other backup centers, Love would be an improvement on Philadelphia’s rebounding problems. He wouldn’t be an automatic ticket to the free throw line, either.
The money situation is why Love coming to Philadelphia seems unlikely at this point in the season. The Heat have more than $3 million left of their Mid-Level exception and have more space below the luxury tax line than the Sixers do. The Sixers, on the other hand, exhausted their share of this season’s meaningful exceptions last summer. So, all they can offer Love is a prorated veteran minimum deal. That would amount to far less than what Miami can offer.
Moreover, the Sixers don’t have any open roster spots. So, someone has to be waived in order to bring Love in. You might say Montrezl Harrell should be the one to go, end of discussion. Purely on the basis of basketball reasons, there’s a good case to make that that’s true. But, Harrell has a player option on his minimum deal for next season. So, the Sixers could waive him and would still be on the hook for his player option should Harrell pick it up.
That would ostensibly leave Paul Reed and Dewayne Dedmon as the other options. Reed is guaranteed his entire salary of nearly $1.8 million. But, he’s also Philadelphia’s only backup center capable of guarding in space and switching onto the perimeter. So, cutting Reed wouldn’t make sense. Dedmon is owed $835,014, a prorated portion of the veteran minimum for the remainder of this season. The optics that would come with waiving Dedmon a week after signing him aside, it would make sense that he’s the one to be let go if Love agrees to come to Philadelphia.
All things considered, I don’t think Love’s offensive repertoire is giving Philadelphia a significant upgrade over Georges Niang. That is especially the case if Doc Rivers plays Love at power forward. Perhaps Love is a better passer than Niang. But, Niang is shooting 41 percent from three and is scoring better around the rim than Love is. Maybe Rivers plays Love at center, going five-out on offense to open driving lanes for Harden and Tyrese Maxey. That would introduce more problems on defense. But, whether he’s slotted at power forward or center, Love should help the rebounding woes that have plagued Philadelphia since the end of the Ben Simmons era.
If the Sixers can make it happen, Love is a fine addition, especially relative to their current options backing Embiid. But, this might be a case of the name carrying more value than the player does in reality.