By Sam Torres
Rarely are NBA superstars put on the trade block. The essential building block of an NBA team is a seminal superstar, the one who is supposed to be the face of the franchise, the one who hits the big shot in the playoffs.
So naturally, you don’t expect a superstar to be shopped. Now even more rare are loaded draft classes.
With the restrictions that the NBA’s cap system place on making trades (because of the mathematical puzzle of matching salaries) and signing free agents, your best bet to acquiring a superstar is stinking it up enough to land a spot in the NBA Lottery.
From there you have a fair shot to select the next Michael Jordan…or the next Sam Bowie.
All of this is to say that this offseason has been one of the rarest in NBA history. We have had the most hyped draft class since LeBron’s 2003 class, a stacked free agency class that ultimately determined the fate of the Miami Heat’s Big 3, and superstars like Kevin Love and potentially Rajon Rondo on the trading block.
In the end of all this craziness, we are left with the Cleveland Cavaliers having the rarest offseason in recent memory.
They were lucky enough to somehow pull the first overall pick and “the next LeBron” in Andrew Wiggins, somehow convince Kyrie to actually stay long term in Cleveland, and somehow made LeBron leave his four-time NBA Final appearing super team down in Miami for a talented, but unproven bunch of kids in his hometown.
Suddenly, the Cavaliers weren’t so rare or lucky any more. They had the chips on their end of the table, their destiny in their hands. With the urgency of a win-now mentality spurned on by LeBron’s short term commitment and dwindling prime years, Cleveland decided to use its new assets to pair up LeBron with the best available player on the market, Kevin Love. And what a tandem they will be. LeBron’s never played with a player of his caliber since, perhaps, the first year in Miami with a still elite Dwyane Wade and even then their games didn’t compliment at all.
In this situation, and in terms of big men, Love is the perfect Robin to James’ Batman.
But still, will it be enough to beat the Spurs, or any Western Conference team in the Finals? Was this deal really worth it? I don’t think so, at all. First of all, Cavs GM David Griffin jumped the gun. The Timberwolves literally had no leverage.
They needed to find someone to trade for Love by the February deadline because, otherwise, he would have left in free agency next summer for nothing.
Realistically, Griffin could’ve held out until the trade deadline and pushed Minnesota into accepting a friendlier deal.
The only risks for the Cavs were the Bulls or Warriors making a deal first, or Wiggins playing extremely poor or getting hurt.
Still, the odds of the Warriors making Klay Thompson available to complete the Love trade are slim and the Wolves would have waited to see if they can do the Cleveland trade before settling for the Bulls’ offer of Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson.
Additionally, it is doubtful Wiggins would become a complete bust with the likes of Kwame Brown to turn off the Timberwolves.
Even the most severe of injuries, like a torn ACL, are recoverable and still wouldn’t taint Wiggins’ value in a desperation deadline deal for Minnesota.
Barring a rare Paul George leg fracture, Cleveland could’ve taken their sweet time making a trade for Kevin Love and in the process, perhaps, keep Wiggins.
Even past leverage, when I put on my GM hat I still do not agree with the trade. Sure, Love is everything we think he is. A 26 and 12 guy, high IQ, shoots the 3, big time All-Star and potentially a Hall Of Famer. But he’s also injury prone, hasn’t shown he’s a leader, never made the playoffs, and put up great numbers on bad teams.
Oh, and he’s looking for a $120 million pay-day over five years once his contract runs up. Wiggins on the other hand makes about $23 million over four years with the last two years team options.
Anthony Bennett, last year’s number one overall pick and fellow Canadian to Andrew Wiggins, has a contract worth about $22 million over four years as well. All this means that Cleveland could have potentially had two quality to star players committed to their team for cheap over the next four and three years, respectively.
People will argue that potential is a key word in these discussions. Why not trade two unknown commodities for a known star player? It is simple.
Once Kevin Love’s and LeBron James’ pay-days come, the Cavaliers will become the 2013-2014 Miami Heat. The same Miami Heat that relied on their Big 3 to carry them through a weak East, only to get clobbered by the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
With three players getting paid the max, the Cavs will need to balance out the rest of the roster with aging veterans willing to play for a championship. Dion Waiters will eventually leave to chase his own pay-day. And the fundamental role players, a good bench, and the stout defense that is needed to win a championship will go out the window.
Money matters in the NBA. And by keeping the two number one overall selections in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the Cavs had the potential to do something the NBA has never seen.
They could’ve boasted a lineup of Kyrie Irving (2011 #1 pick) Andrew Wiggins (2014 #1 pick) LeBron James (2003 #1 pick) Tristan Thompson (2011 #4 pick, and averaged 12 and 9 last season) and Anderson Varejao with Dion Waiters (2012 #4 pick, and averaged 16 points last season) and Anthony Bennett (2013 #1 pick) off the bench.
That’s a truck load of talent and financial flexibility to add more talent, and under LeBron James’ fantastic tutelage and all-world play, I have a hard time believing that this team wouldn’t be able to compete seriously this upcoming season or the next. If you don’t agree, just take a look at LeBron’s 2007 Cavaliers roster that he brought to the Finals.
Instead, LeBron will have to shoulder the load once again like he did for four years in Miami. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving’s defensive liabilities, LeBron will be asked to be the team’s primary defensive stopper, against guards and big men alike, even with all the minutes played on his body.
Kyrie Irving isn’t much of a ball distributor either, so you can chalk up facilitator as an additional role for James.
Maybe despite this team’s defensive liabilities this upcoming season, they will still make the Finals. Maybe this combination of super-talented point guard play, and other-worldly big man play that James has never played with will result in one of the most explosive offenses the NBA has ever seen.
Still, I don’t think they have the defense or the championship wherewithal to dethrone the returning champion Spurs next season or win in the future under the three max player Miami Heat mold.
The Heat’s biggest problem in the Finals last year was defense and role player play.
Trading for Kevin Love doesn’t solve any of that. Keeping financial flexibility to maintain talented role players, like Wiggins who is a defensive stalwart, does.