Kevin Love is at the heart of multiple trade rumors at the moment, the latest of which has him ending up in Cleveland with LeBron James. Love has played his entire career in Minnesota, but that might not have been the case if the 2008 draft had gone differently.
Love was actually drafted by the Grizzlies. Yes, the all-star Kevin Love who is a 20 and 10 machine every single night. It’s always easy to look back and say, “How could they trade him? Love is a top 10 player!”. The thing is, the trade initially looked like a great move for the Grizzlies.
The deal included Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins going to the Timberwolves, while O.J. Mayo, Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker, and Greg Buckner went to Memphis. The big pieces were obviously the two draft picks in Love and Mayo, but Mike Miller was a good player at the time as well. The deal looked good for Memphis in the beginning because of how the rookies played in their first seasons.
O.J. Mayo stepped in at starting shooting guard for the Grizzlies and looked like he was ready to take the league by storm. Playing alongside Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol helped him become a top-tier scorer in his first year. Mayo made it rain by dropping 18.5 points per game as a rookie.
Love on the other hand, played well, but he wasn’t able to step in as the immediate starter. He did start 37 games, but his production was lower than that of Mayo. He did however score 11.1 points per game and grab 9.1 boards, so he wasn’t exactly a bust either.
The problems started in the following seasons as the two progressed through their careers. Mayo did nothing but slowly regress in Memphis, with his scoring and shooting percentages dropping each year. He still scored 17.5 points per game at 45.8% from the field in his second year, but in his third his numbers dropped to 11.3 and 40.7%. Ultimately, Mayo played his way out of Memphis, and last year, he struggled to find minutes on a miserable Milwaukee squad.
Kevin Love, on the other hand, did nothing but skyrocket in subsequent seasons. By year three, his numbers were at 20.2 ppg and 15.2 boards. Mayo was at 11.3 ppg at this point. The trade was starting to look like a bad move, and it only got worse from there.
Mayo wasn’t even starting in year three and by the ’12 season he was playing in Dallas. In contrast, Kevin Love was consistently putting up 20 and 10 games every night. Trading Kevin Love on draft day in 2008 looked worse and worse.
Love was never able to succeeded despite his numbers in Minnesota, but that was in large part due to the fact that he didn’t have much of a supporting cast. What would things have been like if Kevin Love played in Memphis all those years? Well, a lineup of Mike Conley, Mike Miller (wouldn’t have been traded more than likely), Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, and Marc Gasol would be dominant. This isn’t to say that Zach Randolph didn’t do great things for the franchise, but Kevin Love could spread the floor and much, much more. The Grizzlies wouldn’t have the scoring issues that they have today, and they would have been a major contender.
It’s always easy to look back and scrutinize trades, but this one you would like to have back. Sure Love is looking for a new team now, but if he had been winning consistently in Memphis, maybe even picking up championships, then he could be re-signing with the Grizzlies right now. The reality is that Love isn’t on the Grizzlies, and truth be told, it’s not the end of the world. The Grizzlies have a fantastic lineup for this upcoming year, and all we can do is look forward to the Grizzlies’ bright future.