For the Love of the Game….

Wiggins and Love

Player A: 70 games, 24.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals/blocks, 51.8% shooting. 25.0 PER, Offensive Rating 117, Defensive Rating 111, 28.7% Usage

Player B: 77 games, 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.3 steals/blocks, 45.7% shooting. 26.9 PER, Offensive Rating 120, Defensive Rating 104, 28.8% Usage.

Guesses on these two statlines that are really quite even?

Player A is 2009-2010 Chris Bosh (his final year in Toronto). His 7th year in the league, 25 years old.

Player B is 2013-2014 Kevin Love (probably his final full season in Minnesota). His 6th year in the league, also 25 years old.

Yes. Chris Bosh. The third wheel of the Big Three. The glorified role player. The much criticized star. The walking meme. Yes, that Chris Bosh after seven years in the league was right around the same place that Kevin Love is now. One really important difference:

Chris Bosh had already been to the Playoffs. Twice. Kevin Love has never been there. In his fourth and fifth years in the league, Bosh was the best player on a Toronto team that went to the Playoffs, albeit in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Chris Bosh, the much criticized, overshadowed member of Miami’s four year run went to the Playoffs twice playing extended minutes with T.J. Ford, Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker, Jose Calderon, Carlos Delfino, Rasho Nesterovic, Jamario Moon, and JORGE GARBAJOSA. No, I didn’t look to the end of the bench for those names. Those were the players he played the most minutes with in those two season. I kid you not.

So what happened to that Chris Bosh who averaged 24 and 10 (cue the “walking double-double cliche”) and led two startlingly mediocre teams to the Playoffs? Well you know what happened. He teamed up with an über-star named LeBron James and a lethal guard named Dwyane Wade in Miami. They went to four straight Finals, winning two (thanks to Ray Allen pulling one all the way back from the brink of elmination). They were the class of the East, but were only intermittently considered the best team in the NBA. After losing in their first year, in year two their experiment almost came to a miserable failure of an ending in the TD Garden, saved only by LeBron’s heroics. They never were able to quite put together the perfect supporting cast, and the three of them weren’t able to do enough this year as they were thoroughly beaten by the San Antonio Spurs. The four years in Miami were not a failure. However, they should have achieved more, and could have achieved far less. The margins were that close.

History doesn’t repeat itself. But it sure does rhyme.

The stage has been set for LeBron, now back home in Cleveland, to be joined by Kevin Love, whose most recent statline is only slightly more impressive than that of Chris Bosh before the Big Three era. Their third star will be Kyrie Irving, an immensely less lethal guard than 2010-11 Dwyane Wade. Their supporting cast is unproven but has potential.

There is, however, a cost. A very great cost. In order to acquire Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to surrender Andrew Wiggins, their most recent number one overall draft choice, perhaps the most-hyped young player since LeBron himself.

There is a loud, a very loud voice saying this trade is a must for Cleveland. Send Wiggins to Minnesota. Take Kevin Love. Win championships now. There is an overwhelming sentiment that any opportunity to get Kevin Love must be taken. The masses are saying the Cavaliers should trade Wiggins for Love.

I am one small voice saying no. I am one emphatic no. Do not give up Wiggins. Do not take Love. And my comparison of Chris Bosh and Kevin Love is only the beginning. If you’ve made it this far please read on. You’ll understand soon enough why the Cavs should not take this deal for their sake as well as why I so desperately hope this trade doesn’t happen for the sake of us all.

Basketball Reasons to Not Make the Trade

This is the part of this that I might be wrong about. It’s very conceivable that this will look foolish in two years after LeBron and Love win their second championship together and Andrew Wiggins struggles to make it in Minnesota. I won’t be surprised if that happens. I may very well be wrong. But there’s a very good chance I’m right.

Let’s skip Wiggins’ potential for now and just focus on why Kevin Love isn’t necessarily the player that the Cavaliers should tie their future to. If the Cavs form a big three of LeBron, Love, and Irving, there’s three immediate problems on the resumes of Love and Irving. 1. They don’t play defense 2. They have been plagued by injuries 3. They don’t win games.

Those are three causes for concern right away. LeBron just left a Big Three in which his two sidekicks were both good defenders, elite in Wade’s case. Both Bosh and Wade had injury concerns at times, especially Wade, and the that exacted a pretty obvious toll on LeBron and the success of Miami. History suggests Love and Irving are going to miss some games. Wade had already won a championship and taken inferior teams to the Playoffs. Bosh had already won his division with Jamario Moon and T.J. Ford as his wingmen. Love and Irving’s failure to win is embarrassing. True: Love has played in the West and has not had a really good team yet, but if we’re talking about a top-5 player (as some would say he is) then he shouldn’t finish eight game back of the Phoenix Suns. Irving’s teams have laughably bad. Again, not what would you expect from a guy who was number 8 in the most recent ESPN NBA Rank.

Alright, move on from Kyrie Irving. Just keep in mind as I discuss Love that this young, injury-prone, non-defense-playing point guard with no Playoff experience will be the third best player on this team.

Here are the strengths everyone raves about with Kevin Love: rebounding, scoring, ability to spread the floor, and outlet passes. Those are the things that they say make him special and a perfect match with LeBron. Let’s take a look at those strengths.

Rebounding – Brian Scalabrine has more career playoff rebounds than Kevin Love. I’m not saying he’s not a good rebounder, I’m just saying he’s never had to fight Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, or LaMarcus Aldridge for a board in a Playoff game. That’s much more difficult than grabbing rebounds in the regular season, especially when he so readily casts aside defensive responsibilities in order to fill the stat sheet.

Scoring – Scoring 26 per game is impressive. But then again, when you don’t have many other scoring options on your team and your point guard is pretty decent at passing the ball, scoring 26 per game on 45% shooting is just a little less impressive. No doubt he’s a good scorer, but we’ve seen guys score the ball like this before. I’m not at all saying he’s not going to get buckets in Cleveland. I’m just saying he’s not Bernard King. Keep in mind that 2009-10 Bosh scored almost as many per game on a better shooting percentage with basically the same usage rate and a roster that wasn’t exactly stacked.

Ability to Spread the Floor – Is he a good outside shooter? Yes. Elite? No. LeBron just got done playing with Bosh and Rashard Lewis, two power forwards who spread the floor quite nicely. There are lots of guys who can stand on the perimeter and force the defense to respect their ability to shoot the ball. Again: I’m not saying his ability to shoot from outside at his size isn’t a weapon. I’m just saying it’s not going to win any rings.

Outlet Passes – Really? Outlet passes? Really? I love outlet passes, but how many of those do we see once the Playoffs start? I can guarantee the first time he throws a ball 75 feet to LeBron for an open dunk the commentators will rave about Love’s ability to pass and say something like “That’s unstoppable. That’s a big reason why they traded for Love, that ability right there.” Of course they’ll forget that Dwyane Wade threw the best outlet pass in history (oops, second-best, this one is best) to LeBron and they’ll ignore that those won’t happen in the Playoffs.

So yes, he does some things very well, and for one player to do all of those things well is pretty rare. But in order to get those four things, two of which will be greatly diminished or disappear entirely once the Playoffs start, the Cavaliers have to pay the price of below average defense, Andrew Wiggins (at the very least), and a fistful of dollars. So let’s take a look at those three negatives:

Defense – Again, keep in mind that this team will also have Kyrie Irving’s defense (or lack thereof). I believe 90% of players in the NBA have the physical capacity to play solid defense. Shortcomings must stem from not being mentally tuned in or a lack of effort. Here’s Kevin Love’s situation as a below-average defender: he has average athleticism (not doing him any favors on defense, and not improving sans-PEDs), he seems to understand defense (no room for improvement there), and he doesn’t show acceptable effort. It’s not just that he doesn’t have Bill Russell will to win, he just won’t put his hand in the air to contest a shot. He checks out early to grab another rebound. ESPN NBA analyst Antonio Davis, who has never impressed me, went out of his way to slam Kevin Love’s refusal to play defense on the perimeter and hedge on screens. If Davis is confident enough in something to go out of his way to slam Love, I think he’s probably right. So bottomline is that Love isn’t going to improve his defense in any way besides showing more effort. Is he going to do that? You’d think finally making the Playoffs would have been enough motivation for him to try to overcome his athletic deficiencies. You’d think he’d want to prove Tyson Chandler wrong (one of the best on court interviews ever). Also, Cavs coach David Blatt is known as an offensive innovator. He’s not going to come up with a scheme that hides Kevin Love’s defense. Say what you will about how Love and LeBron’s offensive games work so well together: the theme year after year in Miami was “The Heat need a rim protector!” They’re not getting that in Kevin Love.

Andrew Wiggins – I’ll discuss more about Wiggins in the second part of my plea to avoid this trade, but for now let’s just remind ourselves what the Cavaliers have to give up in order to get Love. If you’re feeling extra-motivated, watch his high school mixtape. Wiggins is special. The talk of him needing a lot of time to develop and questioning whether or not he’d end up being a star only came about because Jabari Parker started getting mad hype and is considered more “NBA-ready” than Wiggins. It’s only because of Parker and Joel Embiid that Wiggins isn’t considered a Chosen One. There were a lot of very fine players in this draft, but after those three there’s a major drop-off. But despite Parker and Embiid, the Cavaliers decided to go ahead and draft Wiggins, supposedly unaware that they actually had a chance at LeBron. For two years we’ve known Wiggins would be worthy of the first overall pick, and there was good reason for it. Has he been as good as advertised? Probably not, but the LeBron comparison will do that to you. He still made First Team Big 12 (unanimous selection). He still has a vertical leap of somewhere in the 40s. He at least has elite defensive potential. And it’s not like he can’t score either. He’s going to be good and he could be really good. He could be Tracy McGrady, who was most certainly better than Kevin Love is. Best of all, he’s in a dream situation playing with LeBron. He’s not going to have the weight of an offense on him and he’s not going to develop bad habits by volume scoring. He’s going to be trained by a legend. He will be Pippen to Jordan. The Cavaliers with James can get as much out of Wiggins as any other franchise. And there’s a lot to get. Oh, and they get to do that at a discounted price. Whereas with Kevin Love….

Money – NBA aficionados are always ranting about contracts and financial details. One thing they bring up is that getting value is important, meaning that you want to get more production from a player than his contract would supposedly warrant. The best time to get this is with a rookie contract. Andrew Wiggins, even as the first player selected in the draft would only make about 5-6 million a year for the first four or five years of his career. If he turns out, that’s crazy cheap for that kind of production. Kevin Love isn’t going to take 5-6 million a year. He’s probably going to take as much money as the Cavaliers can possibly pay him. Kyrie Irving is locked into a fresh deal of considerable size and LeBron is going to probably take every dime he can in two more years when his short-term deal expires and the salary cap increases dramatically. So here’s the outlook for the Cavaliers due to financial restrictions: LeBron, Irving, and Love will be their big three for the rest of LeBron’s dominant years. Do the Cavs have to sign Love long-term after trading for him? No, but you can be sure they will. They won’t trade away Wiggins and then say after one year “Ah you know this isn’t working out the way we had hoped. We’ll buy a different star that probably works a lot better for LeBron (cough, Marc Gasol).” No freaking way. Once they trade for him, the Cavs are tied to Kevin Love. And who knows? Maybe he makes it difficult for them and also signs a short-term deal in order to cash in with the raised salary cap like LeBron will. In today’s NBA, you can only take on three max deals, and even then it’s difficult to sign quality guys around those three stars. So instead of Wiggins at a discount and a few other quality players with the money left over (and the space cleared when Anderson Verejao’s contract is up, and even more if they decide Tristan Thompson isn’t worth a new deal or they don’t pick up their options on Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters) they get Love and….. Love. That’s it. You get LeBron, Love, and Irving, and whoever else you can find to fill out the roster. That is unless Kevin Love decides to play for much less than he’s worth. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Like I said, I could very well be wrong about the Cavaliers future if they go through with the Love trade. But if I’m right about the realistic potential of this Big Three, LeBron could very well end up on a new version of one of his old teams. Is it that difficult to see Love and Irving come up short in the Playoffs and/or miss extended amounts of games due to injury? Couldn’t you sort of see this becoming an old Cleveland team where all the responsibility really falls on LeBron? Ideally, LeBron takes a step back during the regular season and lets Love and Irving take on minutes and shots, but won’t one of them break down?

But let’s say they stay mostly healthy. Let’s say that they end up with a decent bench with some nice roll players. They do some things very well and some things not so well. They dominate the Eastern Conference. Let’s say they reach best case scenario. Do you know what that scenario is?

It’s the 2010-2014 Miami Heat. Best case. That’s why I’ve been using them as a comparison throughout this post. This LeBron is wiser, but not getting any younger. This stretch-4 isn’t that much better than that stretch-4. This injury-prone guard isn’t nearly as good as that injury-prone guard. And that Miami team barely made it work. Year 1: Lose in Finals. Year 2: LeBron carries them out of the TD Garden on his back with the best game of his career. Win finals. Year 3: “Rebound Bosh, back out to Allen, his three-pointer, BANG!” Year 4: Totally outplayed by the Spurs (who are still, by the way, playing).

That’s the best case scenario. Honestly. Can you think of how it goes better for this Cavs team? And do you see how nearly it all went much worse for that Heat team?

So is a best case scenario of two championships bad? No.

But it could be so much more….

Why This Story Shouldn’t Have a Trade

You may or may not agree with what I’ve written so far. And, as I wrote, I may or may not turn out to be right. I won’t be all that surprised if the Cavaliers win two or three championships with Kevin Love playing alongside LeBron James. I won’t be too surprised if Andrew Wiggins never reaches his potential and becomes a rich-man’s Tony Allen in Minnesota. This part of the post? I’m absolutely sure I’m right. It’s a blend of fact and opinion that I think outlines the way this story should go. I hope you’ll agree.

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

That beautiful ending to LeBron’s thoughtful and eloquent essay set a tone for his second run in Cleveland. Concluding an essay that mentioned the opportunity to mentor young players, acknowledged the unreadiness of the roster, and targeted one single championship as the most important goal, LeBron set the stage for a new direction in his career. In Miami, winning rings had been the name of the game. The 2010 coup of NBA power was designed to get as many championships as quickly as possible. Those four years were weighed down by constant pressure, scrutiny, and criticism as the association’s best player became its most polarizing. LeBron ascended to legend status and the Heat won two championships, but the time in Miami didn’t feel right. Something had been done the wrong way. Now, looking back, they’re just two championships, one of them significant for being the first, the other significant for not being the Spurs’ fifth.

LeBron’s move to Cleveland game the sports world a collective sigh of relief and breathed new life into LeBron’s legacy. The expectation every year in Miami was, and would continue to be, NBA Champions. As long as Dwyane Wade could run from one end of the court to the other and LeBron was at MVP level, each season would have only one acceptable result, regardless of whether or not Miami was actually the best team in the NBA (or even the Eastern Conference). That reoccurring storyline had grown tiresome. It maxed out.

Cleveland would be different. LeBron was going home. He had unfinished business. He was prepared to be a leader and a young and unproven team into a group of champions. He wasn’t chasing desperately after Michael Jordan’s six championships. Rather, he was charting a different course, his own course, which would involve putting in the time and working hard towards winning just one championship. One very special championship, distinguishable from others for very great and very real reasons.

Kyrie Irving would be his steady support. The talented young point guard who takes over games when LeBron just isn’t feeling it. The youthful scorer who allows the aging legend to prolong his career by staying rested. He would learn how to play defense and how to take his game to new heights.

Anderson Varejao would be the aging veteran playing for a minimum salary just to win a championship with his old friend. He’d be the guy with the goofy hair battling in the paint every single game to give his team a chance.

Dion Waiters would be the sparkplug off the bench. When LeBron and Kyrie take an early punch from a superior team, Waiters would come in and punch back, draining heat check shots and lighting up the scoreboard with an arsenal of moves acquired from years in the gym with LeBron.

Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett would combine superior gifts and superior work ethic to consistently be the glue guys keeping the team together. They’d find their skillsets on offense and become real threats for the defense to deal with.

And, most importantly, Andrew Wiggins would become a superstar under the tutelage of King James. He’d be the lethal weapon that LeBron would set in the right direction and unleash on opponents. He would ferociously lock down All-Stars on the perimeter game after game. He’d swoop in from the perimeter, attacking the basket with superior athleticism. Not naturally an alpha dog, he’d loyally do whatever LeBron needed him to do. One night he’d score 40 to keep the Cavs in the game. The next he would lock down Russell Westbrook and force him to take bad shot after bad shot. Then he’d grab 15 rebounds and block 5 shots just because he had that much extra energy and will to win. He would re-sign with the Cavs after his rookie contract, taking a little less just to play a few more years with LeBron in the hopes of winning just one more championship. He’d lead the 2020 Cavaliers as the aging LeBron played out the twilight of his career.

It wouldn’t happen right away. It would be a long and difficult process. But this team would be special. They would be memorable. Maybe they’d only win one or two championships, and maybe they’d win four or five, but just getting one would write a satisfying end to the most important story the NBA has had in the last 15 years. LeBron and company would do it the “right way.” We’d remember them for it.

Forget all that if the Cavs trade for Kevin Love. The tone changes instantly. Fair or unfair, winning championships becomes the expectation the moment Kevin Love comes to town. Rather than being something new, this version of the Cavaliers would just be a Miami Heat redux. It would be the same narrative: LeBron teams up with superstars to win championships and chase Michael Jordan. Anything less than a championship would be a failure of a season. To make it something special, something worth following and writing about and looking back on twenty years from now, they’d have to win three or four championships together. I really, really don’t think that’s happening. Let’s say they have a five year window of dominant LeBron. Can they really put together the type of team that can win three or four championships with the Spurs still together and Kevin Durant charging after his first ring? When LeBron is in the twilight of his career, will Love and Irving be able to even fend off the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal just to make it to the Finals to face Durant and Westbrook?

I’m sure Cleveland fans disagree, but even that first one would feel a little empty with Kevin Love on the team. It would just be another championship. Sure, different city, some different players, but a story all too similar to Miami. But that’s assuming they win just one. Isn’t there at least a chance that a big three of LeBron, Love, and Irving, a group that will probably be together for the rest of LeBron’s dominant years, fails to win a single ring? It’s really quite possible, especially with the Spurs still together and Kevin Durant becoming even more and more powerful. What kind of awful end to this story would that be if this new “superteam” failed to win a single championship? Really, a single championship should be the goal. Wouldn’t you rather it happen later with Wiggins than later with Love?

I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is all what I just think could happen. And I think I’ve made it pretty clear what it is that you should want to happen.

Don’t. Trade. Wiggins.

What do you think? Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at pcd5834@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

Soli Deo Gloria

The SneakyGoodSportsGuy

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One thought on “For the Love of the Game….

  1. Pingback: The Gloomy Last Days of LeBron | eloquent mumbler

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