LeBron made what most people thought was an unforgivable mistake four years ago with how he handled his departure from Cleveland in the hour-long ESPN special, The Decision. It seemed unlikely that’d he ever return to play for his hometown. But he did.
And now that LeBron has returned to Cleveland, the biggest storyline of the NBA offseason will be whether Cleveland adds Kevin Love to the mix before the season starts. The Cavs would love to acquire Love, as long as they don’t have to part with last month’s top overall pick Andrew Wiggins. That’s where things get complicated. Minnesota is reluctant to deal the 25 year old Love, who averaged 26 points and over 12 rebounds per game last season. Even though Love only has one year left on his deal and is unlikely to re-sign with Minnesota in the offseason, the T’Wolves are still hesitant to ship off Love, unless they get a major haul in return. The hardest thing to do in the NBA, especially for a small-market team like Minnesota, is to land a superstar. And the easiest thing to do in the NBA, especially for small-market teams, is to trade away a disgruntled superstar for 75 cents on the dollar. That is precisely what Minnesota wants to avoid.
In a way, the T’Wolves have all the leverage. They know how badly the Cavs want Love. Yet, the Wolves also have zero leverage: everyone in the league knows that Love will be a free agent next summer, and has no interest in staying in Minnesota.
Cleveland has tried to land Love in exchange for last year’s top pick Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, and draft picks, but Minnesota is opposed to any deal that does not include Andrew Wiggins. The question is whether the Cavs are willing to give up Wiggins, who has limitless potential, for the young, proven All-Star Love. Love has already made it clear that he would commit long-term to the Cavs now that they have LeBron. Cleveland’s front office is firmly opposed to giving up Wiggins though. Rookie head coach David Blatt shot down any rumors suggesting Wiggins was on the move:
“There’s no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew’s not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed. “I would think for a guy like Andrew, to have the opportunity to play with arguably one of the best players of all time, and to learn from him and to be tutored by him and to play alongside him — which he will — I gotta think that’s a tremendous boost to his confidence and his comfort level and probably his motivation”
So, should the Cavs trade Wiggins for Love? NBA GMs seem to think the answer is no. Here are their knocks on Love’s game:
- He’s not winner.
- He needs the ball too much and the Cavs will already have a tough time juggling the ball between LeBron and Kyrie.
- He may be injury-prone. (Fine, I added that one.)
Let’s answer those. First, who is a winner in Minnesota? Kevin Garnett couldn’t win there consistently. Just as a reminder, here were the records of Garnett’s years in Minnesota on the right. Love’s tenure in Minnesota, much like Garnett’s, has been filled with below-average role players, questionable coaching, and a Western Conference, where a playoff membership requires close to 50 wins. The knock of failing to win is not one squarely on Love’s shoulders, but rather Minnesota’s inept front office and West’s brutal competition. The second criticism about Love needing the ball is just not true. He is a volume scorer, but not like Carmelo. Love is a very good spotting up from deep and getting position under the basket. He’s a much better version of Chris Bosh. He doesn’t take as many mid-range jumpers as Bosh, but shoots more 3’s. Last season, Bosh took 218 shots from deep, compared to Love’s 505 attempts. And Love shot them at a better percentage too, 38% compared to Bosh’s 34%. That’s to say that Love would operate perfectly with LeBron, as a power forward more than capable of hitting 3’s, giving LeBron more space to operate offensively.
Here’s why you make the trade if you’re Cleveland:
- LeBron is only really signed on for one year (player option for year two). Do you really want to risk having a mediocre season and giving LeBron a reason to contemplate leaving again? Adding Love makes you the best team in the East by far. Wiggins may be great , but when? Next season? Almost certainly not. Three years? Five years? The Cavs don’t have time to wait on his development.
- Love is arguably the best power forward in the game. Even if Wiggins reaches is a very good player, he still may never affect the game like Love does now. Trade upside for a proven top-10 player in the league ten times out of ten.
- Love fits LeBron’s style perfectly and would take a tremendous amount of the scoring burden off of LeBron’s shoulders, especially in the regular season.
Trading Wiggins for Love is not a bet against Wiggins’ potential as much as it is an aggressive move and value of Love’s ability, with the understanding that LeBron will be 30 next season. The Cavs do not have time to wait on their young core to develop. Their window to win is now, while LeBron is in the prime of his career. Players like Love are not on the trade market often, and for good reason. 25 year old perennial All-Star power forwards that average over 25 and 12 are hard to come by. To make matters even more enticing, Love has already expressed interest in joining the Cavs. Wiggins is good, could be great, and is dropping jaws with some of his plays in the summer league. But he’s still only shooting 38% from the field against rookies and scrubs. He’s only 19 and has a long way to go before he’s close to what he’s capable of, and that’s fine, but the Cavs have a chance to win now.
Cleveland has a rare chance to take control of the Eastern Conference. Passing that up? Now that would be an unforgivable mistake.