The Kevin Love trade between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves isn’t officially completed yet. However, the two teams are merely waiting on a league-rule formality, where rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t be traded until 30 days after signing his contract (August 23rd). Once the 23rd hits, Love will be shipped to Cleveland and Minnesota will receive Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick.
So it’s almost a done deal that the Cavs are set to boast a Big 3 of Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. But is Love the missing piece that will bring a championship to LeBron’s homecoming?
Skeptics point to the fact that the 6’10” power forward has never been on a winning NBA team. Nor does he play good defense or protect the rim, two ingredients that the Cavs could truly use on their path towards an NBA title. So if you’re interested in making a 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers futures bet (they carry 3-to-1 odds at our sportsbook), these are legitimate concerns. However, it’s impossible to look past what Love does bring to the table:
1. Amazing 3-point shooting for a big man (37.6% on 6.6 attempts per game last year).
2. The league’s best rebounder (12.5 RPG last season).
3. Great all-around scoring (26.1 PPG last year).
There’s no denying that Love is a piece that any team would covet on their roster. The only question is if he’s got the resolve and defense to be a champion.
Famed sports writer Bill Simmons recently dove into the polarizing Love debate over at Grantland. In this lengthy column, Simmons examines the good and the bad of this superstar.
One important aspect that he really dives into is just how mismanaged the Timberwolves were during Love’s six years in Minnesota. Infamous GM David Kahn made a number of blundering moves in his tenure, including the following:
– Passing on Stephen Curry twice for two lesser point guards (Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flynn) in 2009.
– Drafting under-performing forward Wesley Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2010.
– Drafting Derrick Williams, who also plays power forward, with the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
– Trading Al Jefferson for two non-lottery picks.
– Blowing cap space on Brandon Roy, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic.
While all of these moves were really bad, they may be trumped by the fact that Kahn avoided giving Love a 5-year extension in 2012 – instead saving it for Rubio. What Love got was a four-year deal with an option to opt out on the final season.
Simmons also points out how Love played with zero All-Star teammates, and two of Minnesota’s best players, Rubio and Jefferson, lost a season due to ACL tears. Based on everything that went wrong in Minnesota, Simmons comes to the following conclusion about Love’s value:
Until I started researching this column, I believed that Love had to be overrated because of his 0-0 playoff record. And actually, he’s underrated. Everything he accomplished on that forgettably broken Minnesota team was BETTER than I thought. It’s all about perception, right? Barkley’s 1989 and 1990 seasons were better than his first Phoenix season, but he stole the MVP from Jordan because WE thought Barkley was better that year. Why did we think that? Because Barkley landed on a futuristic small-ball juggernaut with a devastating point guard (Kevin Johnson) and two terrific long-range shooters who spread the floor (Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge). His subpar defense didn’t matter because that team was built to win offensively. They just played hard and tried to outscore everyone. (And for that one season, they almost did.)
It’s not rocket science. Put a very good basketball player in a great situation and he’s going to thrive. Everyone knows what Cleveland acquired. But was about Love? He acquired the world’s best player, a talented point guard, a heat-check scorer, a decent group of role players and an intriguing twist to the “Uncle Drew” franchise. He won’t have to settle for 24-footers because he’s tired of being double-teamed. He can do what he does best — rebound, play the inside-outside game, throw outlets and rebound some more.
As you can see, there are some Charles Barkley comparisons in Simmons’ article, paralleling how Sir Charles went from a less-talented team/bumbling front office in Philadelphia to an offensively stocked Phoenix Suns club in 1992. Love is going to an even better situation in Cleveland since he’ll be playing alongside the NBA’s greatest player. Plus, Irving, who won the All-Star MVP award last season, doesn’t make a bad third option.
Championships are never a given in the NBA – just look at the 2003-04 L.A. Lakers, which boasted Shaq, Kobe, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, for evidence of this. But with the offseason additions of LeBron and Love, predictions of a Cleveland NBA title are fairly deserved.