Let me clarify real quick the title of this article. It is not that I am woefully abysmal at math, it is rather my lack of tact with words. Instead of the title being "How Kevin Love's Trade To The Cavaliers Only Further Signifies That LeBron James' Homecoming Party Could Be A Short Lived One", I decided to go with some dodgy yet symbolic arithmetic. Though the deal isn't entirely finalized yet, Kevin Love's arrival in Cleveland should fill fans with joy. Just keep in the back of your mind that as with most things Cleveland, that joy will not last.
The news broke over various sports news outlets today that the worst kept secret trade in the NBA was finally consummated. Pending league approval which can't happen until August 23rd, the Minnesota Timberwolves would send three time All-Star Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the past two number one overall picks in the NBA Draft (Anthony Bennett & Andrew Wiggins) as well as a protected first round pick next year. The writing was on the wall for quite some time though the haul for the Timberwolves seemed to have endless permutations. Were they going to get both Bennett and Wiggins? Were there going to be other players and/or teams involved? Would any draft picks change hands? After a month of speculation, Minnesota finally caved and the two Canadians plus a future number one ended up being enough.
Ever since the SI article, including James' heartfelt essay, announced that the prodigal son was returning to Ohio, NBA writers and fans were sitting with bated breath as to who the King would have in his court. Kyrie Irving was already in Cleveland and in line for a max contract. He wasn't going anywhere. Anderson Varejao was one of LeBron's favorite teammates during his first stint. He wasn't going anywhere. Tristan Thompson shares representation with James. He was surely staying put. That is a good amount of coin committed to those gentlemen, including LeBron's "max" deal, so luring a Carmelo Anthony or staging a Northern reunion with Chris Bosh was fairly unlikely. You just knew after what he had in Miami, LeBron wasn't coming to Cleveland alone.
Andrew Wiggins could have been that third amigo. The talented wingman out of Kansas would have taken some of the defensive burden off of LBJ and in time I feel would have come into his own as a scorer. Cleveland seemed to have thought so as well when they shunned surer thing, Jabari Parker, and the player with the highest ceiling, Joel Embiid, to take the Jayhawk guard #1 overall. It is not like Wiggins was an off the radar shocker like Anthony Bennett was a year prior but when getting Batman another Robin (would that make him his Nightwing?), Parker played the same position and Embiid's season is probably a lost one. The Wiggins pick made sense for the Cavaliers. And that is why I could see that his days were numbered in wine and gold.
Kevin Love had spent the summer being courted by teams all over the NBA. He had made it well known that when his contract was up in the City of Lakes he was bolting for greener pastures. Not so oddly enough a team that once called the Minnesota lakes home and one known for the color green made their pitches to acquire the 25 year old's services. Both destinations (Los Angeles & Boston) made sense for the talented forward as well. It just came down to the fact that neither team had the requisite chips to make a deal happen that would satisfy the new hierarchy in Minnesota. Chicago and New York would also try in vain to land Love. The Timberwolves needed their white knight or it seemed like Love was going to play out his last year in Minnesota while either being panic traded at the deadline or sailing off into the sunset a free agent. Then the rumblings started.
The Cavaliers were reluctant at first to sign Wiggins to his rookie contract for fear that pushing back the timetable for a trade with Minnesota may torpedo the deal. Once signed though, the 30 day countdown to the inevitable swap began. Wiggins' Cavaliers jersey on NBA.com was discontinued in the middle of the night like it was up and moving to Indianapolis. Trustworthy NBA voices started saying that Love to Cleveland was as good as done. LeBron had burnt one big three to the ground in South Beach but took the insurance money and built another one in Cleveland. Love's camp went radio silent on the situation and he left Team USA ahead of the World Basketball Cup while Wiggins was trotted out in Cavs garb for the summer league and awkward interview after awkward interview including this one courtesy of the World Wide Leader.
I feel bad for Wiggins as well as Anthony Bennett. They went from having a chance to be part of something special to being sent to basketball Siberia because the King no longer waits to win. Minneapolis may be closer to Canada but it is nowhere close to being the winner Cleveland was angling to become. Bennett, who was unexpectedly dealt the burden of the number one overall selection a year ago while injured and out of shape because of it, won't get a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of pundits and Cavs' fans. The NBA Store is offering refunds already on Wiggins jerseys (only if you have the tags intact of course) and the guy never saw a second of action for the team in a game that mattered. Love is no geezer by any means (he'll turn 26 on September 7th) but the ouster of Wiggins and Bennett show who is really pulling the strings in Cleveland. Hell, even the worst GM of all-time knows!
Now supposedly there is a wink wink deal that Love will sign his monster contract with Cleveland after a quid pro quo opt out. That would give Cleveland half a decade of a big three of their own, barring LeBron opting out of his own million ways out deal. It may be the cynic in me or the fact that if there is a God he surely hates Cleveland but I can't realistically fathom that if for some reason James and company can't get the job done this year that this combo will stay intact for much longer than that. This isn't joining Dwyane Wade who made the playoffs every year outside of one and won a title. This isn't recruiting Chris Bosh, a top talent who took two Toronto teams (including one starting Jorge Garbajosa and T.J. Ford) to the playoffs that had no business getting there. This is joining Kyrie Irving, a shoot-first point guard with zero playoff minutes and recruiting Kevin Love, a top talent with the same number of playoff minutes as Irving. Granted, contrarians to my opinion will say they never had help in their respective endeavors but to play 3 years (in the horrible East) and 6 years respectively and not even get the eight seed in the NBA seems ludicrous for players of their supposed pedigree. Now don't take this as me saying Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are bad players. This isn't even me implying that they can't win with their current cast of characters in Cleveland. It is just me saying that if they continue their futility in terms of raising the level of play from their team, LeBron James won't hesitate to bolt town with two readymade scapegoats for his second departure.
The feel good story of LeBron's homecoming may become a tale of horror that Cavaliers fans are quite accustomed to. His time in Cleveland the first time made him clamor to be adored and gave him the chance to be the hero for a city that has eaten every bullet the NBA had fired at it from "The Shot" to Brad Daugherty's back. His time in Miami made him thirsty for championships. Making the Finals every year during your tenure will do that. He returned to Cleveland with both of those and anything short of undying adjuration and another ring on his finger will more than likely force the unofficial general manager to reassess his supporting cast and push the reset button. Whether that be bolting for a bigger market by opting out or holding the team hostage until his next set of world beaters can be configured, LeBron will not sit idly by and have a repeat of what happened to him last year. 42 + 23 might equal 1 championship in the long run but if Love can't deliver what LeBron desires than that 1 in the equation might just be the number of seasons they play together.
Trevor Utley used the words draft pick in this article even though being a Knick fan he doesn't really know what they are anymore.
Image Credits: Kevin Love (howlintwolf.com), Isiah Thomas tweet (twitter.com)
Video Credit: Wiggins ESPN Interview (Tube Test/Youtube)