LeBron James was assured the Cavaliers would do whatever was necessary to acquire Kevin Love in a trade, but there were no guarantees. They needed to make moves in the proper order. They had to sign James first before turning their attention to players who could help him.
Love was at the top of LeBron’s list and now is headed for Cleveland, another fantasy for Cavs fans turns into reality on Saturday. That’s when the bogus waiting period expires on first pick overall Andrew Wiggins, who technically couldn’t be traded for 30 days after signing his rookie contract.
The trade already has been spread out on a table and dissected, odd only because it hasn’t been officially completed. Yahoo Sports reported two weeks ago that the Cavs and Timberwolves exchanged winks and reached a verbal agreement. Never mind the NBA’s rules, which were made to be circumvented.
Cleveland is sending Wiggins, former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a protected first-round pick to Minnesota for Love. The Timberwolves power forward supposedly agreed to a five-year contract worth $120 million with the Cavaliers.
Rules? What rules?
Most important for Cleveland is that they will get the man LeBron targeted all along. Love is dominant player, a three-time all-star and difference maker who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game last season. The trade was necessary the minute Love became available.
And now it’s a steal for Minnesota. The T-Wolves knew Cleveland was desperate to win right away, knew they had little future with Love and knew they were years away from building a winner. They should thank LeBron for turning a tough decision into a no-brainer with minimal risk.
Love made it clear that he was finished in Minnesota. He would have been a good soldier if they refused to trade him, but he wasn’t signing a contract extension. It left them with little leverage. They had little to lose but plenty to gain when they traded their star to Cleveland.
Wiggins is an athletic swingman who has the potential to become one of the best players of his era. He’s only 19 years old and still growing into his 6-foot-8 frame. He’s being compared to a young Grant Hill and could be better if he develops his perimeter game. Check back in six years, when he’s the same age Love is now.
Bennett, selected first overall in 2013, was labeled a bust after one season in Cleveland. He turned 21 in March. He played only one season at UNLV before jumping to the pros. He had a poor season as an overweight rookie, but he has top-end potential and something to prove.
Plus, they get another first-round pick from Cleveland while still keeping their own first-round pick next season.
Cleveland will have its Big Three with LeBron, Love and guard Kyrie Irving, all of whom are either in their prime or entering their prime. Love is a big man who can score from the perimeter and will open up the lane for LeBron. Irving is a better outside shooter than Dwyane Wade, but he’s still developing and isn’t the offensive player Wade was when he started winning titles.
You cannot find a team in the Eastern Conference with more talent than Cleveland in its starting five. The Cavs have the main pieces in place and should be in contention. They better be.
The city has been swept up in euphoria, but fans shouldn’t get too far ahead and start counting the championships. LeBron won two titles in Miami with more talent around him than he’ll have in Cleveland. He also lost two. Championships don’t come easy, and they aren’t won with talent alone.
Love and Irving, key figures on their teams last year, never have played in the postseason. Love was accustomed to having the offense funneled through him. He’ll step aside for LeBron, and he may even become a better scorer because of LeBron. Irving should be more effective, too. But they also have flaws, particularly on defense. The Heat could score with anyone, but their defense was exploited last season by a Spurs team greater than the sum of its parts. San Antonio had a dominant player inside on both ends in Tim Duncan – the Cavaliers don’t.
Love is a big piece, but he’s one piece. Chemistry is unpredictable. Indiana was a cohesive group before coming apart. Injuries are always a factor, as the Pacers will soon find out after losing Paul George. They were a better team last season than Cleveland will be this year, and it wasn’t enough.
Cleveland will be better after getting its house in order. How much better? We’ll see in the years ahead. The trade ultimately will be judged on the number of championships won, not the number and quality of players it involved. That much is guaranteed.