How Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Love Would Change Cleveland Cavs Present and Future

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How Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Love Would Change Cleveland Cavs Present and Future
USA TODAY Sports

Ever since LeBron James announced he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, all talk of the team has centered on a potential Andrew Wiggins-Kevin Love swap.

By now, everyone has an opinion on a potential deal.

Here's what we know so far:

  • Wiggins is 19 and under team control for the next five years.
  • Love is 25 and can opt of his contract next summer.
  • Wiggins has star potential but may be years away from reaching it.
  • Love is an All-Star and Olympian already.
  • Wiggins is raw offensively, but he plays defense and makes around $5 million.
  • Love is an offensive powerhouse, but he doesn't play defense and will cost around $20 million annually in a new deal.

Both have their strong suits and weaknesses, naturally.

Urgency to win, salary-cap implications and long-term security are all necessary options to consider.

This is neither an argument to keep Wiggins, nor is it a plea to trade for Love. Rather, consider the following the Cavaliers version of A Christmas Carol, except without the whole ghost, chains and looking into the past thing.

How will Cleveland fare this season if it holds on to Wiggins rather than trades him for Love? And what happens to the Cavs down the road should they trade part of their future for Love now?

Cavaliers GM David Griffin may not have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like experience, but he will have to consider all of the following present and future options.

 

Present with Wiggins

Head coach David Blatt still has plenty of time to determine a starting lineup, minutes and roles for his players.

That being said, Wiggins should see plenty of action from the get-go.

Here's a best guess at what the Cavs depth chart should look like if the roster remains the same:

Cleveland Cavaliers Depth Chart
Position Starter Reserve Third String
Point Guard Kyrie Irving Matthew Dellavedova John Lucas III
Shooting Guard Andrew Wiggins Dion Waiters Joe Harris
Small Forward LeBron James Mike Miller James Jones
Power Forward Tristan Thompson Anthony Bennett Erik Murphy
Center Anderson Varejao Brendan Haywood Dwight Powell

While Waiters may not like it, Wiggins' skill set is better suited in the starting unit between Irving and James. Wiggins actually discussed playing with James even before he was selected by the Cavaliers back in June to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, saying: “I think that’d be a good combination obviously, being that he’s arguably the best player in the NBA right now.”

It would actually be the perfect fit for Wiggins to begin his career.

With Irving and James, Wiggins wouldn't be asked to handle the ball very often, something he struggled with at Kansas.

Instead, he'd be tasked with improving the Cavs' perimeter defense and scoring baskets in transition and off screens. Wiggins' three-point shooting needs work (2-of-13 in summer league), but his mid-range game, complete with step-back jumper, looks solid.

Wiggins' defense would immediately help the Cavs.

Despite being the No. 1 overall pick this year, there's a great chance Wiggins would only end up as the Cavs' fourth-leading scorer in his rookie season.

James and Irving would take on the scoring duties of the starting unit, with Waiters and his 15.3 point-per-game career average leading the reserves.

Wiggins at shooting guard next to James would create quite a defensive duo. The Cavs finished 24th in the NBA in steals a season ago (7.1 a game), while Wiggins ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total thefts (41, via Sports-Reference.com). Cleveland's defensive rating of 107.7 was 19th, and the Cavs had two of the league's nine worst defensive units last year, via NBA.com.

Next season, at the tender age of 19, Wiggins would be a solid contributor but wouldn't make a huge impact on the team as he learned and developed his game.

 

Future with Wiggins

There's nothing better for Wiggins' development than to be around LeBron James.

It's hard to believe James is 10 years his senior. While Wiggins doesn't have James' overall ability, he does have something LeBron never got to experience coming into the league: a role model—someone he could learn from every day in practice who had been through the same type of public scrutiny coming out of high school.

Wiggins is arguably the most highly-touted prospect since James. What better way for him to learn how to handle pressure and fulfill potential than from James himself?

Keeping Wiggins on the Cavs would give them a third true star by around year three. By this time, Wiggins' outside shooting would likely be much improved, as would his ball-handling and overall muscular frame.

Numerous analysts have made Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen comparisons with James and Wiggins. Grantland's Bill Simmons raises some compelling questions about the two:

What if Wiggins shows signs — day after day after day — of becoming the Pippen to LeBron's MJ? What if LeBron is throwing him crazy alley-oops left and right and gushing, "I've always wanted to play with a freak athlete like this"?

What if Wiggins and LeBron are roaming around defensively like coyotes, stripping dudes at midcourt, jumping passing lanes and basically looking like mid-1990s Pippen and MJ reincarnated?

Pippen began as a role player on the Chicago Bulls' 1987-88 squad, despite being the fifth overall pick in the '87 draft. By just his third year, however, Pippen was cemented in the starting lineup and averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.6 steals. In his fourth year, Chicago won the first of six championships with he and Jordan leading the way.

Wiggins compares to Pippen in a lot of ways. They both excel on defense while contributing in a number of categories on the offensive end. Pippen wasn't counted on to score but was certainly capable of doing so when needed. While he'll forever be in Jordan's shadow, Pippen finished his career with seven All-Star appearances and 10 All-Defensive team honors (eight on the first team).

The difference between Wiggins and Pippen is that the former can grow out of his superstar teammate's shadow and eventually cement his own legacy.

Jordan and Pippen were less than three years apart in age. When James reaches 38 and is likely winding down his career, Wiggins will just be entering his prime at 28.

Jack Arent/Getty Images

Keeping Wiggins with Kyrie Irving (22) gives the Cavs the chance to win now while also cementing their future.

After years of guarding James at practice, picking his brain during film sessions and playing with him in games, there's no telling how good Wiggins will be.

Trading him improves the present but may ultimately hurt the future.

 

Present with Love

Kevin Love gives the Cavaliers the better chance at winning a title now.

There's no question about that.

A team with James, Irving and Love should win the Eastern Conference with Bill Murray, Newman, Lola Bunny and the local McDonald's night crew filling out the roster.

David Sherman/Getty Images

With all his fancy scoring, rebounding and passing stats (26.1, 12.5 and 4.4), Love's most impressive may have been his win share total (14.3, third-most in NBA).

Chemistry off the bat would certainly be an issue.

Love, James and Irving have all been the primary scoring options on their previous teams. There would be some lessons in sharing, but ultimately I believe Irving and Love would sacrifice their personal stats for a chance at a ring. Neither has even reached the playoffs in their nine combined NBA seasons.

Having a big man with Love's shooting ability would greatly enhance the drive-and-kick opportunities for players like James, Irving and Waiters (assuming he's not part of the deal). Chris Bosh filled this role next to James in Miami but saw his rebounding numbers plummet in the process. Love would be a younger, improved version of Bosh due to his superior rebounding abilities.

The Cavs offense dramatically improved last season after trading for stretch-5 Spencer Hawes. Cleveland averaged just 97.1 points per game before the Feb. 20 deal, compared to 100.6 with Hawes on board.

Love made 37.6 percent of his three-pointers last season and hit a career-best 41.7 percent in 2010-11.

The Cavs defense would take a step back, however, given that Love is a 6'10" big who doesn't block shots or always give his best effort on that end of the floor. Cleveland would have to hope its offensive prowess would make up for its defensive deficiencies with Love.

The Cavaliers would be considered the favorite to come out of the East, but they would likely struggle in the Finals against a veteran Western Conference power like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers during their first year with Love. With the exception of the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, few super teams that are thrown together win a title their first year. Even the Miami Heat needed two seasons to get their chemistry down before capturing a ring.

 

Future with Love

Love is still just 25, so Cleveland could be getting five to seven really good years of basketball from the former UCLA star.

If we're looking beyond this season, however, money comes into play.

Love can opt out of his contract and will almost assuredly accept nothing less than a max contract in the five-year, $100-plus million range. There's also no guarantee he'd stay in Cleveland, although leaving James, Irving and a max contract may be tough to do.

Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer expects the Cavaliers to trade for Love without knowing if he'll re-sign or not:

I'm hearing the Cavs realize they may have to accept Love's current deal and gamble on him enjoying playing in Cleveland and with James. Then they will try to sign him for a maximum deal in 2015. So don't be shocked if a deal is made with his contract situation staying the same.

While he's probably worth it, this stretches the Cavs payroll pretty thin.

Between Love, James and Irving, Cleveland would have roughly $56 million tied up for 2015-16 alone, per ShamSports.com.

David Sherman/Getty Images
Love could become the Cavs' third player on a max deal.

Tristan Thompson will also be asking for an extension and shares the same agent (Rich Paul) as James. Paul will no doubt get his client a nice pay sum from the Cavs after he helped deliver them James this summer.

While money seems to be no object for owner Dan Gilbert, the salary cap comes into play, so Cleveland has to hope the combination of Love, Irving and James works.

The good news is that it should.

That core currently has an average age of just 25, despite owning 20 years of combined experience.

It would also bode well for the future.

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
The Heat's Big Three won quickly but wasn't built to last.

In his final year with the Miami Heat this past season, James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had an average age of 30. It will take the Cavs five years before their new star core would hit that same average.

The only downfalls to swapping Love for Wiggins long-term would be the difference in salary (around $14 million a year under Love's new deal) and the latter's superstar potential.

If Cleveland does decide to trade its young leaper for Love, it should do so with the confidence that the Cavs should be a powerhouse in the East immediately and for at least the next five years as well.

Love's ceiling may be under that of Wiggins, but he's a proven star who gives Cleveland a better chance to win now.

 

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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