Why Cleveland Cavaliers Should Pair Kevin Love with Kyrie Irving

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

Nov 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) and Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) hug before the tip off at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Old Pepsi Max running mates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have a lot in common.

Both are proven producers with multiple All-Star selections under their belt. Neither has yet to taste even a playoff appetizer, undone by supporting casts that have been unable to take advantage of their individual talents.

A lot of those problems could be solved if the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving's current employer, can find a way to bring this pair together on the NBA hardwood. In turn, the franchise could be rewarded by seeing its exhausting four-year playoff drought come to an end.

Logistically, it's possible the Cavs could form the league's newest, lethal one-two punch.

Love Looks Very Available

Love is antsy, perhaps extremely so.

Weeks have passed since ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne first reported Love had "made it clear" to the Minnesota Timberwolves he will opt out of his current contract next summer and "has no interest" in signing an extension with them.

Each day seems to push one step further out the door. Timberwolves president-coach Flip Saunders has said "I plan on keeping Kevin here," via ESPN.com. Saunders also admitted he's heard from more than half the teams in the league regarding the availability of his success-starved star, according to the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman.

There's too much smoke not be some fire here. Particularly when Love himself has only seemed to stoke these flames.

Apr 13, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) runs up the court after scoring against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-103.

"My agent is handling everything at this point," Love said during an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation. "...I'm hoping that everything works out for all parties involved."

That doesn't quite sound like someone who's thrilled with his current situation.

Why should this matter to the Cavaliers? After all, Love, a source told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, wants to be "big time in a big city." And Cleveland, despite its standing as a solid sports town, cannot scratch that big-city itch.

Still, the league's Love Affair absolutely belongs on the Cavaliers' radar. Heck, it should hold the center spot.

Why? Because Love had the chance to close the door on Cleveland as a potential destination and opted to keep it open.

After ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan reported the Cavs' interest in Love "isn't mutual," Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead brought the report to Love's attention.

"Did you see that and what do you make of reporting like that?" McIntyre asked.

"I try not to read it," Love said. "A lot of it is brought to my attention through outside sources...I don't think the Cleveland [trade rumors] are outlandish at all. They have a great young foundation."

Apr 5, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) celebrates a three-point basket in the first quarter against the Charlotte Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Now, should that be construed as a commitment to Cleveland? Not in the least bit.

"To parse his words, he did not say he would re-sign in Cleveland or that he would even opt in for the final year of his contract were he traded there," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin noted. "All he said is that Cleveland has 'a great young foundation' and may be able to structure a trade for him."

From the Cavaliers' perspective, that's fine. They don't need a commitment from him just yet.

All they need is hope, and Love didn't take that away from them. That absolutely makes this an opportunity worth exploring.

Immediate Returns on the Investment

It might take a "Godfather offer" to pry him out of Minnesota, but Cleveland has the arsenal needed to put one on the table:

Admittedly, sacrificing the chance at landing a top-shelf prospect like center Joel Embiid or forwards Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker is a steep price to pay. But big-ticket items carry big-ticket price tags.

And Love is one of the biggest this league has to offer.

He wrapped the 2013-14 campaign ranked third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating (26.9) and fourth in scoring (26.1), via Basketball-Reference.com. Still just 25 years old, there's a chance he hasn't even entered his prime yet.

Every transaction requires a risk-reward analysis, and this one seems to tilt heavily toward the latter. Cavs general manager David Griffin seems to agree, as he "has made it clear he would consider trading the pick to acquire a player the caliber of Love," according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer.

Stars are a necessary ingredient in the recipe for NBA success, and the Cavs have a shot at employing two of the league's youngest and brightest.

Irving had a "disappointing" season this yearBleacher Report's David Kenyon graded his campaign as a "B-"—and still finished tied for 14th in scoring (20.8) and 13th in assists (6.1). The 22-year-old could be only scratching the surface of his full potential.

Irving is at his own career crossroads. The top pick in 2011 is eligible to receive a contract extension this summer, and The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto reported Irving will be offered "the full 5-year maximum contract."

Even without the arrival of Love, the smart money is on Irving to sign on the dotted line.

Still, imagine the message the Cavaliers would be sending—not only to Irving, but also to their fans—by bringing in a premier player like Love.

The message that this franchise is ready to leave its lottery days in the past. The hope (the likelihood?) that an Irving-Love tandem could help the Cavaliers launch up the scalable Eastern Conference ladder.

The defense might have its drawbacks (particularly if Cleveland can't find some rim protection), but a stone-wall unit is needed to contend in today's NBA. Three different teams (the Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers) qualified for postseason play despite having bottom-half defensive efficiency marks, via NBA.com. Two of them (Brooklyn and Portland) even won a playoff series.

Just imagine the possibilities of an offense built around a two-man attack of Irving and Love. The pick-and-choose game (pop, roll, drive, shoot) would be a nightmare to stop. Both are proven scorers and willing passers. It wouldn't take much to build a formidable attack around them.

That's the immediate goal of this pursuit: playoff relevance. Isn't the lack of that what's driving Love away from Minnesota?

Potential for Incredibly Bright Future

As for the long-term focus, well, it's a familiar one for Cavs fans.

ESPN.com's Zach Harper, who suggested the Cavs could move the top pick along with Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee for Love, explained:

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.

Every Cavaliers' hypothetical always circles back to the Ohio native reclaiming his throne.

Could Cleveland attract LeBron James without a swing-for-the-fences deal for Love? Perhaps. If that top pick develops quickly, the Cavaliers would certainly have some intriguing pieces to put around him.

But what if that development never happens?

What if Embiid's body prevents him from realizing his massive potential? Or Parker never finds a serviceable level of defense? Or Wiggins winds up being a better athlete than basketball player?

Obviously, those questions can only be answered with time. With a proven commodity like Love, though, they don't even exist.

Yes, Love has some defensive shortcomings. But he brings enough to the table—floor spacing, rebounding, outlet passing, consistent scoring—that NBA execs are circling like vultures waiting for the Wolves' hopes of keeping him to expire.

The Cavaliers have to be among that crowd of Love chasers. Their fans need to see it. Irving needs to see it. Most importantly, James—assuming he's watching—needs to see it.

Cleveland has the chance to reshape its franchise. If it can find a way to land Love, that transformation could be dramatic.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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