The Cleveland Cavaliers are starting to look like the team that everyone thought would be the odds-on favorite for the 2015 NBA title when the franchise brought in LeBron James and Kevin Love this past summer. It hasn’t been all good for the Cavaliers, as the team failed to meet the lofty expectations thrust upon them in the first half of the season, and there has been plenty of reported turmoil among players and coaches so far. Cleveland didn’t have to give up anything other than money to bring in LeBron, but the Cavs paid a very high price to get Love in Cleveland, and there are a number of reasons why the Cavs will ultimately regret making the three-way trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.
In order to get Love to Cleveland, the Cavaliers surrendered Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round draft pick (from the Miami Heat). That is a steep price to pay for Love, who is still able to become a free agent at the end of this season. Love, of course, was considered the best player in the deal, and the simplest way to evaluate any trade is to look at which team received the best player. That is oversimplifying things a bit too much, and the Cavs are going to regret this deal for many years to come.
Wiggins has flourished in Minnesota, and perhaps being the primary scoring option on a team with low expectations is best for his overall development as a player. More than halfway through this NBA season, most observers agree that Wiggins is a franchise player and is going to have an excellent career in the league for many years to come. Losing Wiggins is just one of the many reasons that Cleveland will wish they had never made this deal, especially since they are still far from the favorites to win a title this season.
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10 Love’s Contract
In making the trade with Minnesota, the Cavaliers essentially traded for a single season of Kevin Love. Sure, they may have had assurances from Love’s camp that he would be open to an extension, but such a guarantee is prevented by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and does not negate the fact that the Cavaliers could have simply pursued Love in free agency in the summer of 2015. There were plenty of rumors floating around early in the season that Love could leave at season’s end, but he has repeatedly said he intends to stay in Cleveland beyond this season. Of course, why would he say anything else?
When a team trades for an expiring contract, the price is generally not so high. A recent example of this would be the Rajon Rondo trade to the Mavericks. While Rondo and Love are different types of players, they were both traded during a year in which they could declare free agency at season’s end. The haul the Celtics got out of the Mavericks pales in comparison to the haul Minnesota received, and Cleveland should have thought twice about giving up so much for just one guaranteed season of Kevin Love. After all, Love can still walk away at season’s end if he so desires, and there would be no way for Cleveland to get any compensation if he does.
9 Love Is a Weak Defender
There is no doubt that Love is a gifted offensive player who can go inside-outside at will. He is a tenacious offensive rebounder and throws a beautiful outlet pass, but all of this does not mask the fact that he does not defend particularly well. Having Love on the floor limits the defensive strategies the Cavaliers can employ, and it is often important to keep a rim protector on the floor while Love is in the game. This has been a weakness of the Cavaliers all season, and the loss of Anderson Varejao has only magnified this issue and made the Cavs desperate in the trade market.
8 Win-Now Mentality Has Cavaliers Mortgaging Their Future
Love isn’t the only player on the Cavaliers who can leave after this season, as LeBron James can also depart in free agency at season’s end. That has made the Cavs desperate to win at all costs this season or risk losing both Love and James. With Varejao out for the season with an Achilles injury, the Cavs were willing to part with two first-round draft picks for Timofey Mozgov to fill in and serve as a rim-protecting big man. Draft picks are one of the most valuable commodities in the NBA, and to give up two of them for a player of Mozgov’s caliber reeks of desperation. Perhaps it is a gambit that will result in a title or two, but this is not a way to create a franchise built for sustained success.
7 Cavs Are Weak Defending the Perimeter
One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Cavaliers this season has been their inability to defend at the perimeter. LeBron enjoyed playing with some excellent perimeter defenders while in Miami, leading to a lot of fast-break opportunities and easy baskets. The Cavs were lacking in this department so much that they gave up Dion Waiters – along with some non-guaranteed contracts and a first-rounder – to bring in Iman Shumpert (and noted malcontent J.R. Smith) to bolster the Cavs’ perimeter defense. This is a deal that did not have to be made, as the Cavs already had a player capable of being a disruptive perimeter defender in Andrew Wiggins. His combination of length and athleticism would have made him a valuable defender right away in Cleveland, and it is now apparent that his offensive game is NBA-ready as well.
6 Anthony Bennett Still Has Plenty of Upside
While Bennett has yet to show his potential on the court in each of his first two seasons, the fact remains that he has tremendous talent and could develop into an excellent NBA player. It’s easy to forget that the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft is still just 21 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to tap into his abundant potential. Minnesota has the luxury of being patient with Bennett and allowing him to develop, but the Cavs may have given up on him far too early.
5 Wiggins and LeBron Would Have Complemented Each Other Nicely
The Cavaliers could have been as dynamic on offense with Wiggins as they currently are with Love, and they would have not had to sacrifice anything defensively to do so. Most of Love’s looks have come off of catch-and-shoot situations, meaning that he has to be on the floor with Kyrie Irving or LeBron in order to have shots created for him. This leaves the bench scoring perilously thin, and Wiggins could have filled in nicely as a bench scorer. He has shown that he is more than capable of creating his own shot, and this would have enabled LeBron to play less minutes during the season so he could be fresh for the playoffs. LeBron could have been conserving his energy all this time while Wiggins could have been learning on the job from one of the game’s best players.
4 LeBron’s Career Minutes
LeBron James is only 30 years old, but he is also a veteran of 12 grueling NBA seasons. During that time, LeBron has played over 41,000 career minutes (including the postseason), far more than any other player at the same age and in the company of only 51 others who have ever played that many minutes in their careers. While LeBron is a physical anomaly, there is reason for concern that his body will begin to break down sooner rather than later, and there was some evidence of this early in the season. With Wiggins in Cleveland, LeBron’s minutes could have been significantly reduced and the burden of those career minutes could have been lessened over the next few years. With Love in the picture, LeBron has to be on the floor for extended periods of time for the Cavs to be productive, and he should want the exact opposite at this point in his career.
3 Love’s Skills Are Not Being Properly Utilized
In his last season with Minnesota, Love averaged 26.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 4.4 APG in 36.3 minutes player per game. All of those numbers have come down in Cleveland despite playing roughly the same amount of minutes, and he is certainly less involved in the Cleveland offense, evidenced by the fact that his shots per game are down by 5.4 attempts on average. He’s been criticized for hanging out by the 3-point line too often, but he is actually taking less 3-pointers per game than a season ago. He is simply not getting the touches that he should, and this is exactly the type of thing that frustrates a player of Love’s caliber to the point where he starts looking for greener pastures. His involvement has been better as of late, but it doesn’t help to have the team’s star player calling him out, either.
2 Keeping Wiggins Would Have Preserved Long-Term Health of the Franchise
There is the distinct possibility that LeBron’s signing with the Cavaliers was contingent on the team bringing in Love, so perhaps the Cavs simply had to make a choice between LeBron or Wiggins. Had they been able to keep Wiggins while bringing in LeBron, the long-term health of the franchise could have been secured for many years to come. The Cavs would have leaned on LeBron and Irving while Wiggins developed, and then could have turned to Wiggins as a primary option as LeBron aged. It would have been almost too good to be true: LeBron would have been exiting his prime just as Wiggins was entering his. The presence of one would have directly benefited the other, and the Cavs would be a much better franchise in the long run.
Keeping Wiggins would have also given Cleveland plenty of financial flexibility, as he is currently under a very team-friendly rookie contract. Wiggins’ deal would not have precluded the team from signing a max player in 2015 and beyond, and that could have very well included Love. Instead of Cleveland having a decade-long window, they now have what looks like a four-year window, and, given that LeBron and Love can leave this summer, it could be as small as a one-year window.
1 Wiggins Looks More Like a Franchise Player Every Day
Anyone who has seen Wiggins play recently knows there is little doubt that he is the real deal. With his combination of skill and athleticism, it looks like the player nicknamed “Maple Jordan” is going to have a very long career as a franchise cornerstone for a rebuilding Timberwolves team. In the coming years, the trade that sent Love to Cleveland will come to be known as the “Andrew Wiggins Trade” instead of the “Kevin Love Trade,” and Wiggins’ continued development is going to haunt Cleveland fans for many years to come. Wiggins’ future is very bright in the NBA and Flip Saunders may ultimately be lauded for pulling off one of the NBA’s greatest heists.
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