Armed with the league's ultimate recruiter in James and a tantalizing trade chip in top pick Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs could set their sights on Minnesota Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Cavs are already working on a deal for Love, provided that they first bring James back to town:
Cavaliers are pursuing a Kevin Love trade with Minnesota, contingent on the signing of LeBron James, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 9, 2014
Love set off alarm sirens throughout the Gopher State when he reportedly informed his current club of his intention to test free agency next summer and his lack of interest in signing a contract extension to stick around, as sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.
When word leaked that the Wolves had opened to the idea of dealing Love, via The Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski, the 25-year-old found himself amid swirling trade winds. In-their-prime superstars don't hit the trade market often, and just the appearance of them doing so can send the league into a frenzy.
That's precisely what has happened since, with a number of suitors making their bids for the three-time All-Star.
Back at the top of the draft board for the second straight year—this time with an impressive class that made the selection valuable—the Cavs tried chasing Love again. According to Wojnarowski, though, Love torpedoed those talks by refusing to commit to a long-term extension:
Cleveland pushed on deal centered on No. 1 pick for Kevin Love, but his refusal to re-sign w/ Cavs has killed talks, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 25, 2014
Of course, Love was looking at a James-less Cavaliers team.
And in the least surprising news of the summer, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that James' presence would change Love's opinion of a future in Cleveland:
Source who spoke with KLove says he would definitely "100 pct" stay in Cleveland longterm if LeBron is there— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 27, 2014
Having Love's approval is key to any potential trade for the big man.
Given his intention to opt out of his contract after next season, there is no motivation for teams to empty their asset collection to acquire him without that commitment. With the Timberwolves rightfully reluctant to part with their franchise face, they'll need to see a no-brainer offer come their way before letting Love loose.
It's hard to say what that package will need to entail, although it appears Wolves president-coach Flip Saunders would prefer players over draft picks. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, Minnesota's primary target is 24-year-old Golden State Warriors sniper Klay Thompson:
Wolves still focused on trying to land Klay Thompson from Warriors in Kevin Love deal, sources said, but Golden St still won't budge on Klay— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 1, 2014
The Cavaliers don't have a player like Thompson to offer Minnesota. Shooting guard Dion Waiters might be the closest thing to a proven commodity they'd be willing to include, but the former Syracuse standout was part of the package Minnesota reportedly declined last summer.
Yet, if Saunders is willing to take a more patient approach with his return, Cleveland could supply a potential star in the 19-year-old Wiggins. A freakish athlete who Grantland's Mark Titus opined could be "the league's best perimeter defender in three to five years," he might be the best player available in the Love trade talks, as Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix observed:
BOS wants Kevin Love, but could find itself in a dogfight with Cleveland, who still have a chip BOS can't match: No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) July 9, 2014
That's assuming, of course, that Wiggins is actually available.
There are some, including The News-Herald's Bob Finnan, who feel that Wiggins should not be moved in a deal for Love:
I would not give up Andrew Wiggins in any trade for Kevin Love— Bob Finnan (@BobCavsinsider) July 9, 2014
Wiggins could be a star in time, but Love has already joined that exclusive club.
The stretch big finished the 2013-14 season ranked fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5) and third in player efficiency rating (26.9), via Basketball-Reference.com. No matter how high Wiggins' ceiling might be, choosing potential over proven production is rarely the right move.
And, yes, the Cavs would be forced to choose between the two. They cannot field a strong enough package for Love without the inclusion of Wiggins, as Krawcyznski noted:
If the Cavaliers don't want to include Wiggins in a deal, it's hard to come up w/a scenario where Wolves agree to part with Love.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) July 9, 2014
Love would need to sign off on a long-term future with the Cavaliers for those talks to progress. He won't make that commitment without seeing James on the roster.
So, how likely is the King's homecoming?
Well, Cleveland seems to be a part of what appears to be a two-team race for his services. The Cavaliers have "no iron-clad guarantees" that James will return, a source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney, but they are doing everything they can to leave nothing to chance.
They agreed to a three-team salary-dump trade to shed the contracts of Jarrett Jack, Sergey Karasev and Tyler Zeller on Wednesday, as Stein reported, freeing up a max slot for James in the process. Sources told Broussard that Cleveland has started pursuing free-agent shooters and James' former running mates, Ray Allen and Mike Miller.
Miller's name is particularly noteworthy. According to Wojnarowski, the 34-year-old was one of two players James contacted about the possibility of teaming up outside of Miami:
LeBron James reached out to two vet free agents last week about joining him, IF he left Miami, sources tell Yahoo. Mike Miller was one.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 9, 2014
The Cavaliers are crossing their t's and dotting their i's, fortifying their pitch in every way possible.
Whether their efforts will be enough remains a mystery. James is still scheduled to meet with Heat team president Pat Riley, and the architect of Miami's two-time champion Big Three has a knack for killing negotiating sessions like these.
That's not something the Cavaliers can control. All they can do is what they're doing now: sharpening their recruiting skills by creating some financial flexibility and pursuing James-approved free-agent targets.
If this plan works, Cleveland won't have simply hit a home run—it will have smashed a pitch into orbit. James' arrival not only puts the Cavaliers in the race for Love, it might move them into pole position.
Love would pounce on the opportunity to play with James and Kyrie Irving. All three are established stars and all three have shown the willingness to share the basketball. With new coach David Blatt's sharp offensive mind putting the pieces together, Cleveland's attack might be the most explosive in the league.
Should the Cavaliers include Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love?
The biggest hurdle, aside from getting James out of Riley's grasp at least, could be getting Saunders to sign off on a package likely to include Wiggins, Waiters and Tristan Thompson. It's hard to tell how much the trio would help right now, and Saunders seems to favor immediate assistance over everything else.
However, Love could help Cleveland's odds. If he makes his interest in joining the Cavaliers known—in the manner that Carmelo Anthony forced his way to the New York Knicks—he could back Saunders into a corner.
It would take plenty of dominoes to drop to get James in Cleveland and have Love follow, but it's well within the realm of possibilities. Considering the potential reward at play, it's a possibility worth pursuing from all angles.
Unless otherwise specified, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.