Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the duration of the summer, lets bring you up to speed on a few things… Exercising the fifth year player option that was included in his contract, LeBron James decided on June 25, 2014 that he would once again include himself in the NBA’s free agency pool for the upcoming offseason. He took the NBA Finals loss to Timmy Duncan’s Spurs team just as any competitive professional athlete might take a loss – hard. Miami got its butt handed to them over the course of five games, only winning once, and ultimately looking like a shell of the two-time defending champs that they entered the series as. For a few moments during the series I swore to myself that LeBron would be able to overcome the insurmountable gap in talent between the two teams – after all, over the past two years, the King has cemented himself as the best basketball player on the planet, regardless of
The Servant’s The Slim Reaper’s impressive MVP season. My hopes and dreams were dashed unfortunately, via a combination of some of the best team basketball I have seen in years out of San Antonio, and a horrid performance from everyone on Miami that wasn’t a 6’8” two-fiddy plus freak-of-nature from Akron, Ohio. Guys that were key contributors in Miami’s back-to-back Finals victories like Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem seemingly disappeared, D-Wade once again looked like a decrepit old man, and “key” offseason acquisitions like Greg Oden and Michael Beasley sat on the sideline either at the very end of the bench, or behind the bench in pristine designer suits, inactive and ultimately irrelevant. Point blank, the writing was on the wall for Pat Riley to retool his squad in the offseason to ensure that The King was content with his court.
So June 25 came and went, and LeBron opted out of his deal, hitting the free-agent market, once again a free man to choose where he and his family wanted to set up shop for the foreseeable future. In his post-finals interview LeBron said that he “hadn’t even thought about” his impending free agency, but that he needed to take his family on “a well-needed vacation,” in hopes that he’d be able to stew things over with his inner circle and return with a clear head and an ever clearer direction. He and his family took their vacation, and reports surfaced that five teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, and the Phoenix Suns), contacted and met with The King’s close friend and agent Rich Paul.
Of the five teams, only Miami and Cleveland appeared to actually be in the race, although I was secretly hoping I’d get to see Bron Bron play in Phoenix with the likes of Goran Dragic, a guy who I had ranked fifth in my own personal MVP voting this year. But South Beach and Bron’s former club appeared to be the only two legitimate options for The King, and as the weeks drug on sports fan had to deal with the most nonstop coverage of one player since Tim Tebow walked on water during the fourth quarter of nearly every game during his second NFL season (That actually happened, I promise… You can YouTube it). Cleveland’s first big coup of the offseason was signing young star point guard Kyrie Irving to a 5 year, $90 million dollar deal, locking him up, and more importantly providing LeBron with his first legitimate threat at the one spot since his entrance into the league. There were pleas from Ohioans via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, MySpace, Xanga, Tinder (I’m not counting this possibility out), and just about any social media platform imaginable. To make the begging even more profound, one Cleveland based company, Fresh Brewed, even went as far as creating a t-shirt that read “FOR6IVEN,” paying homage to LeBron and hinting that he would be welcomed back by the Cleveland faithful with open arms. And then the conspiracy theories came. First it was the keen observation of Twitter stalkers to point out that LeBron, Irving, as well as Tristan Thompson all had “La Familia” as a part of their Twitter bios. Then reports surfaced that moving trucks were spotted outside of LeBron’s house to take away he and his wife’s various sports cars. To top it all off, rumors of webpages in Cavs colors being found on LeBron’s website surely hinted that something was bubbling in Cleveland, and it wasn’t Johnny Manziel partying it up with Michael Phelps.
Could it really happen though? Could the “Witness” banner that once hung outside of Quicken Loans Arena be resurrected? Could The King return to his roots and spurn Floridians and band wagoners alike? Could he walk away from the franchise that helped him win his first two NBA championships, only to return to the franchise that he specifically left for their ability to not win championships? Well, crazier things have happened, and on July 11, 2014, LeBron James penned and released a heartfelt, mature essay via Sports Illustrated, announcing that he would be returning home to reclaim his throne as Ohio’s savior of basketball, promising not five, not six, not seven, not ANY championships. LeBron’s letter showcased a wave of wisdom and humility that will hopefully silence his critics (Who am I kidding? Not gonna happen…), and allow him to get to work in mentoring a young Cleveland roster that has the potential to evolve into an Eastern Conference juggernaut over the course of the next few years. While it will be a challenge, it is a challenge James will be willing to face… After all, as he said in his letter, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
Everyone who’s anyone saw this coming, to be quite honest… I remember Chris Broussard breaking the story more than a year ago that Cleveland was getting their ducks in a row to once again make a run at “The Chosen One.” Every Thursday night I’d be at my friends Mike and Jack’s apartment watching NBA games and it’d come up in discussion.
“Imagine it, man, seriously… Kyrie at the one, Waiters at the two, Bron at the three, Thompson at the four, and his buddy Anderson Varejao at the five? That’s more raw talent than LeBron ever had with the Cavs, and D-Wade isn’t getting any youn…”
“… He’s never going back though, man! You saw that letter that Gilbert wrote after the decision. Why the hell would he ever want to go play for someone like that again?”
While these probably aren’t the exact words (They aren’t. The exact words contained more cursing, for emphasis purposes of course), they are the general gist of the conversations that we would have. It was a fun little hypothetical game that I liked to bring up… Over, and over, and over. The idea of LeBron jettisoning from South Beach to return home to a Cleveland team that was well stocked after his departure thanks to a broken NBA lottery system was something that just appealed to me. The truth is, I really don’t think LeBron has ever played on a team with this much raw ability. I think he made the right decision to come back home to Ohio to further develop his skills as a mentor veteran superstar, not to mention a myriad of other benefits, so many so that the move back home was the only viable option when stacked up in comparison against the Heat. James went through a maturation process during his time in Miami, fostered by the support of veteran superstar Dwayne Wade, good friend and everyone’s favorite dinosaur Chris Bosh, young, experimental Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as well as respected legend and Miami team president Pat Riley. “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go,” James said. Now with a blueprint in hand of what a championship franchise is built upon, James returns to his throne in Ohio to rectify the damages done by his departure via “The Decision” in the summer of 2010.
Now that The King has returned home, he, Dan Gilbert, and newly Israeli import head coach David Blatt have been carefully crafting a roster that addresses the various deficiencies that currently plague the Cleveland roster. To properly construct and piece together the championship puzzle, the Cavs first addressed their outside shooting deficits, adding veteran sharpshooter and and former LeBron weapon Mike Miller, who you might remember for going literally unconscious from the land of trey during game 5 of the NBA finals against OKC in 2012. Considering the godly game 5 performance coupled with his age and declining skillset, I fully expected Miller to ride off into the sunset after the Heat’s first title during the “Big Three” era, but Miller proved wrong when he signed with his former club, the Memphis Grizzlies, for the 13-14 campaign. Apparently reenergized by the move back to the music city, Miller improved upon his 12-13 campaign, as showcased by the stat lines listed below.
* Statistics gathered from basketball-reference.com
With a 3-point shooting percentage of .459, Miller not only improved upon his deep range percentage from his 12-13 season in South Beach, but he shot well enough from beyond the arc to be ranked third in the league, coincidentally behind two other white dudes (Kyle Korver and Pablo Prigiono). While Miller’s sample size of 233 shots pales in comparison to that of someone like newly acquired Knicks guard Jose Calderon (425 3PA, .449% 3P%), or the teletubby three ball enthusiast also known as Steph Curry (615 3PA, .424% 3P%), Miller was a efficient nonetheless, providing LeBron with a necessary tool to when he looks to utilize his now trademark drive and dish.
With Miller now in the fold as Bron’s go-to three ball extraordinaire, Cleveland sets their sights on a new target, coming in the form of Minnesota Timberwolves superstar stretch four Kevin Love. Love, a former UCLA Bruin, has improved every season since he was selected by Memphis in 2008 with the 5th overall pick, and then immediately traded to the T-Wolves following the conclusion of the draft.
Our sources (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to have “sources”) at LPIM indicate that the offer that will sway Minnesota into shipping Love to Cleveland is a combination of 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett, along with Cleveland’s 2015 first round pick, which will more than likely be a late round selection based on the roster Cleveland has pieced together this offseason. Along with Love, Minnesota is looking to unload veteran guard Kevin Martin ($6.79 mil per.), along with veteran backup point guard JJ Barea ($4.52 mil per.). In the previous days, Cleveland has accrued various other pieces from the Utah Jazz in the form of PG John Lucas, PF Malcolm Thomas, and PF Erik Murphy. These recent acquisitions were made to free up some of Cleveland’s salary cap space in order to allow them to sign Love to a long term contract extension pending the trade is accepted. In order to fully understand the ramifications of this trade, however, we must look at the various core pieces that will be included in the deal: Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett.
For the past two weeks since LeBron’s decision, much of the “expert” talk has been that Cleveland should ship their two young Canadian talents to Minnesota for the perennial All-Star forward, but I’m not as sold on the possibility as the majority of analysts and media personalities out there. To fully understand the strength of Cleveland’s hypothetical offer, the trade must be viewed in context with the various other offers that Minnesota is fielding from the rest of the NBA. They are as follows:
Golden State Warriors:
SG Klay Thompson, 24 yo (2014: 18.4 PPG, .417% 3P%)
PF David Lee, 31 yo (2014: 18.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG)
1st Round Draft Selection
PF Taj Gibson, 29 yo (2014: 28.7 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG)
SF Doug McDermott, 22 yo (2014 (Creighton): 26.7 PPG, .449 3P%)
PF Nikola Mirotic, 23 yo (2014 (Real Madrid): 12.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
In viewing both of these hypothetical offers, it appears that both teams are attempting to make a strong case to acquire Love from Minnesota, however I’m not sold on Minnesota’s basketball
Czar coach/owner/president Flip Saunders’ willingness to cave and accept one of these deals as opposed to waiting for Cleveland to meet the asking price, ultimately sending the most potential talent to the Wolves in the form of Wiggins and Bennett. With the Golden State offer, Minnesota would be receiving the sharp-shooting Thompson, a proven big in David Lee, and a likely mid-late first round selection. Sure, it may sound solid, but if Love is the superstar that everyone thinks he is, then what is Minnesota really getting in exchange for giving up one of the top 3 PF in the entire league? On the surface the Golden State offer looks solid, but in reality all Minnesota is getting in my eyes is a shooter, along with an aging, unathletic big with $15 million price tag. And from Chicago? A solid big in Taj Gibson, a one-dimensional rookie with limited athleticism in McDermott, and an unknown talent in Mirotic. What’s the draw to either of these two offers that are on the table? In all honesty, I don’t know if there really is any heavy duty interest on Minnesota’s side of the table in these two deals, and they’re simply bluffing to try and push Cleveland’s hand.
With all that being taken into account, let’s consider what Cleveland’s team would look like if they decided to hold on to their young Canadian studs instead of shipping them off to Minny in exchange for some Love in the shower.
If Cleveland were to hold on to Andrew Wiggins, what would they be getting from the 19 year old number one overall pick that was the most highly celebrated recruit since LeBron in 2003? The answer is fairly simply… Wiggins is a 6’8” slashing two guard with a 7’0” wingspan and a 44-inch vertical. He’s an excellent perimeter defender, capable of guarding three positions, and he will be afforded the opportunity to further develop his offensive game while veterans like James, and youngsters Irving, Thompson, and Waiters shoulder the majority of the scoring load for Cleveland in the upcoming season. Ideally, Wiggins will be counted upon in his rookie season to provide high energy minutes for the Cavs, providing them with a Ferrari of a two guard (or even the three if they want to go small), capable of getting up and down the floor quickly, meshing well with LeBron’s uptempo transition attack that was not only fun, but productive during his time in Miami. Of the players included in the trade talks not named Kevin Love, Wiggins is the only prospect with any sort of potential transcendent star power, which goes a long way considering Minnesota is looking to rebuild their roster with fresh young talent.
In regards to Anthony Bennett, the jury is still out, and for good reason. Bennett, a 6’8” combo forward out of UNLV, was drafted first overall only seven weeks removed from surgery to repair a tear in the labrum of his left shoulder, making him unavailable to workout for teams during the pre-draft process. Unphased by this, Gilbert and the Cavs decided to take him with the first over selection over other players such as Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. To make matters worse, Bennett showed up to Cavs training camp overweight and consequently out of shape. Citing problems such asthma and sleep apnea, Bennett got off on the wrong foot early in his career in Cleveland. He did not record his first basket until five games into his rookie season, shooting 0-15 up until that point. All in all, Bennett’s first year with the club was a wash, as he only ended up playing in a total of 52 games, averaging 4.2 PPG along with 3.0 RPG. Now entering his second season with the Cavs, Bennett hopes to improve upon the poor performances of his rookie campaign. He has looked active in various summer league contests, flashing both his athleticism and his ability to play the stretch four position, which will provide LeBron with a clear lane to drive through if Bennett can prove that he can hit the outside baseline jumper with consistency. With a 7’2” wingspan, Bennett should be able to hold his own on the glass, providing Cleveland with more help on the board to pair with already established vets like Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
The potential that these two players showcase is more than enough to entice Minnesota to let Love slip away, but the question remains to be seen as to whether or not Cleveland is willing to part with their two young top picks. Head coach David Blatt has seen what Wiggins and Bennett have done in summer league ball, but is that truly enough to pass judgment on whether or not they are proper fits for the longevity of the Cavs’ franchise? It remains to be seen whether or not Minnesota will move on either Golden State’s or Chicago’s offers, but in my opinion Cleveland should feel confident that with the only potential star in Wiggins, they have an offer worth waiting for. Cleveland is better off holding on to Wiggins and Bennett through a portion of this coming season, and revisiting the trade closer towards the deadline. If Wiggins doesn’t seem to be developing at the pace in which Blatt and even LeBron would like, and Bennett continues to underachieve, Cleveland would still have the possibility to ship them to Minnesota in just enough time to acquire Love before they gear up for a tumultuous (I kid) Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
On the flip side of things – if the two Canadians prove their worth on the hardwood during the early portion of this year’s season, Cleveland should feel confident that they have a solid young core led by James and an NBA all-star MVP in Irving. What Love brings to the table with his shooting prowess will easily be made up for with the acquisition of Miller, the possible signing of one of the greatest shooters of all time in Ray Allen, and the potential floor-stretching ability of Bennett. From a rebounding perspective, Cleveland fields a competent group, with Varejao, Thompson, and not to mention James providing excellent glass coverage on both ends of the floor. All in all, holding onto the young talents of Wiggins and Bennett provides Cleveland with long term and potential short term security. With that being said, however, the fact remains that James has supposedly been a key orchestrator of the Love deal, pushing heavily to unite with the sweet shooting forward to form what would be another “big three” with the help of Irving.
Now that Cleveland’s pieces of the deal have been analyzed, let’s take a deeper look at what Kevin Love brings to the table as a potential Cavalier and King James running mate.
Enter Kevin Love. For those unfamiliar with him he is a powerhouse big man with the wettest three point shot in the game (yeah I’m looking at you, Steph Curry). He is soon to be a free agent (during the summer of 2015) which means his current team, the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to shop him to whichever team is offering the tastiest mix of young assets and draft picks, before he just decides to leave for nothing after this season. Love is a rebounding machine and honestly regarded as a top 7 player within the NBA, and the best part is he is only 25! He is a walking double double, who is not yet in his prime yet he puts up video game stats on a game to game basis. The only thing he’s not known for: winning. This isn’t 100% his fault, bad coaching, bust lottery picks (let’s all pour some out for Derrick Williams), and just altogether bad teammates have made it increasingly difficult for Kevin Love to make the playoffs. Even when he does things like this, he is still only one guy, and one guy does not win championships (well, except for you, MJ). Of course, despite his ridiculous talent, not all teams are just going to throw away picks and players for Mr. Love. Only teams that are sure he will resign to a long-term contract after being traded are going to be gunning for him. No one wants to turn out like the Lakers back in 2012 and just rent a star player for one year.
So that brings us to the Cavaliers. Primed and ready with two number one draft picks and a future number one they are willing to give away all for the sake of Love. The proclaimed King of the NBA returning home presents Love with a championship contender who will be able to offer him an extended deal (thanks to Mr. James signing a modest two year deal knowing he will be given the max when that contract runs out and the NBA signs their new TV deal giving players more negotiation power allowing for more cap space and higher salaries to the players). This means the game is on, and the Cavaliers hold all the cards to shift the power balance of the NBA.
The trades’ key piece revolves around Andrew Wiggins. Dubbed the Maple Jordan, young Wiggins is a cross between T-Mac and Paul George. He is going to be a defensive force immediately, but his offensive game will take time to develop. Quickly approaching thirty years of age, its not a secret that The King had got a little extra tread on his tires after four long years in South Beach. Even with the current Cavaliers team they are probably the favorites to win the dismal Eastern Conference. But frankly speaking there is just no way in hell they beat any team in the Western Conference. They would get spanked once again by the Spurs and if not them some other Western Conference powerhouse would put an end to Cleveland’s dream of a championship. That could of course all be changed if they simply traded for Love.
As a Celtic’s fan, it pains me to say this but the Cavs have to trade for Love. Love would provide them with the rebounding they sorely missed last year and can provide Lebron with similar skills sets as another skilled power forward he is use to playing with, Chris Bosh. Just check out their per game stats below:
* Statistics gathered from basketball-reference.com
Chris Bosh’s statistics (the first row) are from his last season in Toronto where he was the centerfold for the offense just like how Kevin Love is now for Minnesota. Pretty similar huh?
Kevin Love can even be argued as even being better than Chris Bosh was at the time. It took Chris Bosh a couple of years to develop his three point shot and he was nor never will be the rebounding monster that Kevin Love is. Love is primed and ready to compete for a championship with The King, and his unique skill set as a big is the perfect piece to fit in with Kyrie. But really we are forgetting the most important reason why Love needs to join Kyrie and Lebron in Cleveland…
Losing Wiggins and Bennett will hurt the long run of the franchise but neither are deemed center piece stars that will be able to win a championship after the inevitable Lebron decline. At best Wiggins becomes Tracy McGrady who never made it to the finals as a team’s best player. And Bennett even remotely coming close to his ceiling as a player (I like to think a cross between Zach Randolph and a little flourish of Larry Johnson mixed in) doesn’t seem so likely now after his rookie season of hell took away all the confidence he ever had. Why gamble on the young talent when you know exactly what you are getting out of Kevin Love. What if the season starts and Wiggins shoots something horrid like 29% and Bennett shows no improvement from what was probably the worst season ever by a number one draft pick. The Cavs not only lose out on Love but have to bank Lebron is the same player at thirty and beyond, and Kyrie can step up as a real superstar and basically become a top five point guard in a league that is loaded with point guard talent. Cutting down on the young and adding some veterans while adding Kevin Love seems like the play that will win Cleveland the championship it so badly wants… no needs.
At the end of the day, the reality of this conundrum is this – Cleveland is going to win a hell of a lot more ball games now that LeBron and the fam are moving back to Ohio. With that being said, however, what should Dan Gilbert and the Cavs front office do? Should they trade for the perennial all-star Kevin Love, or hold onto their young, talented pieces in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett? We’ve laid the information out for you, and now it’s time for you to decide.