Kevin Love. Andrew Wiggins. It’s been exhausting, and we’re looking at four more weeks of it as the No.1 overall pick’s contract clock ticks. Granted, it’s not “LeBron James” exhausting. It’s more nervous excitement. The Cavaliers are going to have three REALLY good players one way or another. I’ve been quite outspoken in my desire to hold onto Andrew Wiggins, and I stand by that earlier sentiment. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not excited by the thought of James, Irving, and Love playing together in Cleveland.
But, if I’m reading the writing on the wall, Kevin Love will be a Cleveland Cavalier, Andrew Wiggins will probably be a Minnesota Timberwolf, and the weight of expectations on the Cavaliers will increase. They’ll go from Eastern Conference contender to supposed Eastern Conference shoe-in and maybe even title favorite. And that’s the scenario I want to talk about.
So, let’s put Wiggins and Bennett (along with picks and expiring contracts and a nice fruit basket) in Minnesota and look at how the Cavaliers are constructed:
PG – Kyrie Irving – Matthew Dellavedova
SG – Dion Waiters – Mike Miller – Joe Harris
SF – LeBron James – James Jones
PF – Kevin Love – Tristan Thompson – Dwight Powell
C – Anderson Varejao – Brendan Haywood
The Cavaliers would potentially have three open roster spots following the trade (assuming Lucas, Murphy, and Thomas either get included in the Love deal or get released). If the Cavaliers push all of their chips into the middle of the table, Ray Allen is likely to claim one of those three spots one would think. Then, that leaves a need for a third point guard and a backup center that’s a little more reliable than the veteran Haywood that missed all of last season due to a foot injury and is soon-to-be 35 years old.
Above all, the question that keeps me up at night is not whether Andrew Wiggins will end up being a perennial All-Star talent, but instead, “Is that team above good enough to win it all?” The cynic in me implores to further clarify the question to “Is that team above good enough to win it all NEXT SEASON?”
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh didn’t do it in their first season. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen did. Three stars coming together has its hurdles associated with it. To complicate matters, the Cavaliers will have only five players from last year’s team returning. FIVE! Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Varejao, and Dellavedova. That’s it. LeBron has of course played with Varejao, Miller, Jones, and Allen if he comes. Still, when matched up against Indiana, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, three teams that will have been largely the same core for the past three seasons, it’s likely to play a factor.
Normally, not winning the title in year one wouldn’t be the end of the world. But, that’s all we’re going to be guaranteed with Kevin Love when the Cavs pull the trigger on this deal. Sure, we’ll have Love’s Bird Rights, and we have two players he likely wants to play with in Irving and James. Still, I’m very uneasy about Love’s reported desire to play on the West Coast. Would he bolt to the Warriors or Lakers? Trust is a hard thing for me to have with regards to LeBron James this early in the process, but I do believe beyond a reasonable doubt that James intends to play the rest of his career in Cleveland. Is that enough for Love to take the five-year max deal when it’s offered to him by the Cavs? If it is, then the Cavaliers have Irving and Love locked up long-term and the loss of Wiggins is merely a matter of preference rather than an inequality of team control.
What if the team as currently constructed is not enough? Can the team add what’s necessary with its cap limitations? Being left only a first-round draft pick every other year near the end of the round and the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions, the Cavaliers will have to make additions. This team should not have any problems scoring or shooting or rebounding. What it may struggle with is getting defensive stops. While James, Varejao, and Delly are plus defenders, Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Miller, and Jones are below average to awful. Love is said to be an average defender. Without Wiggins and the recently-traded Carrick Felix, it would be nice to have another long athletic defender to pair with James as well as a shot-blocking center and a guy to bang down low with the Howard, Duncan, Lopez, Gasol, and Hibbert types.
So, for me, it really comes down to three burning questions. First, are Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson good enough to be the fourth and fifth best players on this team for the foreseeable future? Second, are the Cavs confident that if traded, Kevin Love will sign a long-term extension to remain in Cleveland? Third, can this team adequately defend at a championship level? If the answer to all three is yes, then fire away.
The part that isn’t a question for me is trading the future for the here and now. If Wiggins for Love allows the Cavaliers to win even just one title, it will not have been a failure, regardless of what Andrew Wiggins eventually becomes. But, the notion of one guaranteed year of Love, coupled with the expectations and short-term nature of much of the Cavalier core is more than enough to give me caution if I were David Griffin. Big moves have to be made sometimes, but they cannot be irresponsible and reckless. If it goes wrong, the Cavs could be left with Kyrie Irving and not much else in a couple of years.