Is Andrew Wiggins' Star Potential Too Big to Trade Away in Any Kevin Love Deal?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

With freakish physical gifts and a humility that defies his status as the NBA's top prospect, Andrew Wiggins' ceiling is massive.

But it isn't too high for the Cleveland Cavaliers to keep him out of a trade for Kevin Love. Not when the league's quintessential stretch 4 has established a basement that Wiggins may never reach.

And certainly not when four-time MVP LeBron James has handpicked Love, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears, like a team captain on the blacktop.

Wiggins has superstar potential. Love has superstar production. With James having thrown the Cavs back into the championship race, this isn't nearly as complicated as the exhaustive debates have made it seem.

When are win-now moves preferable to planning for the future? When a franchise has a legitimate chance to contend for a title right now.

"There's absolutely not one second of hesitancy. I'd trade for Kevin Love," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on CBS Sports Radio's The John Feinstein Show. "That's not saying anything bad about any of the other youngsters. Love's an All-Star and he's a double-double guy. But he's a double-double guy who can spread the court."

Love is more than an All-Star double-double machine with range. His bag of offensive tricks is among the deepest the NBA has ever seen from a player his size (6'10", 260 pounds).

In 2013-14, Love put up the league's first season of at least 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 100 threes. He has a deadly combination of fancy footwork and a Charmin-soft touch around the basket, yet his interior offense might not crack the top five items on an opponent's scouting report.

Teams have to focus first on limiting the damage done by his three-point cannon. Throw out the disastrous 2012-13 campaign when he broke his shooting hand twice, and he's launched 998 threes over his last three healthy seasons and buried 38.4 percent of them.

Getting that kind of floor spacing from a big man simplifies the game for his teammates. And no one is better equipped to reap the rewards of the real estate Love creates than James.

Surrounded by shooters in South Beach last season, James torched helpless defenders on the low block. He was the league's sixth-most efficient post-up scorer (1.12 points per possession), via Synergy Sports (subscription required), a ranking that could actually improve given his unmatched combination of size, strength and quickness.

Of course, James didn't need low-post touches to bully his way to the basket.

He attempted 547 drives during the regular season—defined by as a touch that begins 20-plus feet from the basket and is dribbled to within 10 feet, not including fast breaks—and shot a league-best 63.6 percent on those plays, per's player tracking data.

Considering Cleveland's bigs, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, attempted eight threes combined last season (and missed all eight), it's safe to say this roster doesn't have a Love-like player to stretch the floor. Maybe Anthony Bennett could be that player eventually, but the top pick in 2013 finished last season still working his way to being serviceable.

Love wrapped the same campaign ranked fourth in scoring (26.1) and third in rebounding (12.5). No one else held top-five standings in both categories, and only two other players even cracked the top 10.

Throw in Love's generational gift as an outlet passer, and it's obvious why the King would like to have him around.

"Not only do his strengths mesh so well with James (having seen how Chris Bosh complemented him), James should make Love even better," wrote Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer.

Love doesn't turn 26 until September. As scary as it sounds, his best days might actually be ahead of him.

That's one of the biggest areas where the "keep Wiggins" argument loses some of its steam.

Some have raised caution flags regarding the money Love will collect upon arrival. He's due $15.7 million for next season and could decide to opt in to his $16.7 million player option for 2015-16. That's obviously significantly more money than Wiggins will collect on his rookie-scale deal.

But Love's price is high for a reason. He's an in-his-prime superstar who validates that cost with production.

Yes, Cleveland could have a hard time maintaining any flexibility with Love, James and Kyrie Irving's max extension on the books. That's a risk, sure, but think about the reward. Irving won't turn 23 until next March. The Cavaliers could open their championship window right now and keep it open for years to come.

Others have argued that Cleveland should wait and force the Minnesota Timberwolves to accept a deal that doesn't include Wiggins.

If Wolves president-coach Flip Saunders signs off on a Wiggins-less package, that package won't be coming from Cleveland.

The Golden State Warriors could decide they're willing to part with Klay Thompson. If the Warriors hadn't thus far refused to include Thompson, a Love-to-the-Bay trade "would have been clinched by now," sources told's Marc Stein.

The Chicago Bulls, who once abandoned the Love Affair to chase Carmelo Anthony, have apparently rejoined the bidding process. Sources told Stein and's Brian Windhorst the Bulls "are making a late push" to try to get back in the race. Forward Taj Gibson and perimeter stopper Jimmy Butler are reportedly among the pieces likely to be involved, and both players would fit with the assumption that the Wolves want immediate help.

Wiggins has more upside than Thompson, Gibson or Butler, but the Cavs' offer is only as strong as they're willing to make it. In the last week alone, Wiggins has been both on and off the table, according to The News-Herald/The Morning Journal writer Bob Finnan.

For now, it seems like he's back on.

League sources told Wojnarowski that the Cavs "are pursuing trade components to include as part of a package" to get Love, with trade talks escalating "with the Cavaliers' willingness to include...Wiggins in the deal."

It's a step the Cavaliers have to take.

They can't wait to see if Love will hit the free-agent market next summer. Other teams are desperate to keep him away from it, and even if he makes it that far, there are no guarantees that the California native would pick Cleveland as his next home.

"If you don't get Love now, he's going to be a Laker next summer," one assistant general manager told ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman (subscription required).

The Cavs need Love, and they need to get him now.

James might have preached patience in the essay explaining his decision to return, but he's obviously thought about the bigger picture since. Already 29 years old, his ring-collecting window won't stay open forever—and he knows it.

"Courting Love seems to indicate pressure, self-imposed in the kindest reading, to win now," wrote Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer.

Love makes that task easier, and that's the only thing that matters at this point.

This isn't only about James, either.

Think about the unbelievable opportunity Cleveland has. The city hasn't celebrated any type of professional sports title since the Browns won the 1964 Super Bowl. Now it has the chance to compete for multiple NBA titles with a trio of superstars all on the right side of 30.

But some are worried that the group is too expensive. Or that three or four years from now, Wiggins could be a full-fledged superstar. You know, because big-time prospects always pan out.

Even if Wiggins winds up as a better player than Love, what exactly does that mean for Cleveland? Is guessing right on Wiggins' future worth the risk of guessing wrong on James' present? If Wiggins needs multiple years to realize his potential—most players do—will James be able to make up for the time he missed while waiting?

Wiggins might be the biggest asset the Cavaliers have had since James. Under almost any other circumstance, the former Jayhawk would be worth keeping around.

But this is the exception to the rule. Love improves Cleveland's championship odds, and that's what should settle this debate.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of


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