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How Should Cleveland Cavaliers Proceed If They Miss on Kevin Love Trade?

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How Should Cleveland Cavaliers Proceed If They Miss on Kevin Love Trade?
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Sure things don't exist in the NBA, as teams are wont to find out. Things go wrong. Strategies change. Injuries happen. Players leave.

Trades fall through.

Backup plans take center stage.

Active participants in the Kevin Love fox-trot are not exempt from such uncertainty. So, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not inoculated against such ambiguity.

Their hot pursuit of a third superstar could end with them regrouping, feverishly searching for a contingency device that fits the path they're traveling. 

 

Not-So-Lovely Situation

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Nothing has drastically changed on the Love front.

Even after signing Andrew Wiggins to his rookie deal—which precludes him from being traded until late August—ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst says the Cavaliers are still front-runners to land the Minnesota Timberwolves superstar. 

Some, like Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, consider negotiations a formality. Whatever happens and however long it takes to happen, Love is destined to be a Cav. You know, kind of like Dwight Howard was fated to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers. Or Carmelo Anthony was bound for the Chicago Bulls at an insane discount.

Plenty can happen between now and next season, so Love to Cleveland isn't a formality.

The Timberwolves could ask for too much. The Golden State Warriors could come to their senses, relent on what Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes considers a ridiculous stance and offer Klay Thompson in any deal. The Chicago Bulls could pile assets on assets (on assets) and appeal to the impulsive side of Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders.

A dark horse could also emerge from this competitive fray. Or, more likely, Love's free-agency intentions could scare the Cavaliers out of contention, per BasketballInsiders.com's Steve Kyler:

Sources close to Love have said they were urging people to dial back the “Cleveland or else” message and that while Love seems open to all three of the situations being seriously considered – Cleveland, Golden State and Chicago, he is not willing to commit long-term to any of them as a first action. The ideal action is to hit free agency in July and ink a new long-term deal. The team that trades for him can give him the biggest financial package since they will have his Bird rights.

Bird rights and the inside track on maybe keeping Love beyond next season might not be enough for the Cavaliers to mortgage future assets such as Wiggins.

Frankly, that shouldn't be enough. It's neither safe nor smart. If the Cavaliers are not 100 percent certain Love will remain in Cleveland long term, there's no point trading for him, no matter how attractive a conceptual Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving troika seems.

And in the event they miss out on Love, alternative courses of action—or inaction—must be explored. Question is: How exactly should the Cavs proceed if their Love-ly venture turns homely? 

 

Option No. 1: Standing Pat

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Exploiting James' patience would be easiest.

"We’re not ready right now. No way," James told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins of his return to Cleveland. "Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested."

Those sentiments will live on in notoriety and are thoughts the Cavaliers can point to should Love negotiations journey south. 

Never mind trying to make another splash. Move forward with Irving, Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. Force James to be the mentor he claims he's ready to be, the "old head" he wants to be. 

Cleveland doesn't play in the Western Conference, after all. The Cavaliers can get by with James, Irving and developing pieces who lack the experience the King enjoyed from his supporting cast with the Miami Heat

James has also brought Mike Miller and James Jones with him already. Ray Allen could be en route as well, if intel from The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn proves accurate.

Pandering to James' nostalgic ties alone should be enough if Love falls through. It's not like the Cavaliers have been enthralled at the idea of parting with Wiggins. He seemed untouchable at the beginning.

"There's no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew's not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed," Cavaliers coach David Blatt told reporters, via ESPN.com.

When it's Love at stake, stances are subject to change. That "untouchable" label may have been thrown out with yesterday's fetid cream cheese. But if Love is no longer an option, there's less of a reason for the Cavaliers to make Wiggins and/or an array of other prospects available.

 

Option No. 2: Continuing to Search

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Really, there's only one reason why trade-market aggression would continue. It's the same reason Cleveland is on Love's trail. It's the same reason Wiggins is in danger of being flipped so early into his NBA career.

It's the same reason that will be cited every time the Cavaliers do or don't do anything of note:

LeBron James.

This entire process, despite James' homily on the value of poise and patience, reeks of disquiet and restlessness. Though he's allegedly ready to hurry up and wait, so to speak, James is weeks removed from competing for championships annually. Enduring a rebuild—even one completed in haste—isn't something he's necessarily high on.

Judging by his courtship of Love, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, James isn't as keen or open to waiting as initially thought:

Then there's that whole James-only-signing-a-two-year-contract thing. It's a business decision. That's what we've been told. While true, Jeff Caplan of NBA.com astutely observes James' short-term decision functions as something else:

This is all about James’ expectations, if not his demands. It’s his show now. Four years after he bolted town as the villain through a trail of flaming No. 23 jerseys, he valiantly returned home a hero again. This time he’s ensuring that if the ship doesn’t sail it will be Gilbert left holding the wheel.

James’ behind-the-scenes power play for Love, plus his short-term contract — interpret it as you wish — are the first shots fired as he seizes control as CEO.

If Love has become the standard for James and the Cavaliers miss out, they may have to do something else, otherwise they run the risk of James' contract being interpreted differently. 

Who do they target if they cannot land Love and how do they get him? Those are tough questions.

The free-agent market is dry. The Cavaliers aren't going to find a Love replacement among available players. Whatever move they make will have to come via trade and entail them forking over valuable assets, though not necessarily Wiggins.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Without Love, the Cavs could target Love-type players, such as Ryan Anderson.

Targetwise, they need someone similar to Love. There is no one like him on the chopping block, but the Cavaliers have the trade pieces necessary to turn nonrumors into obtainable commodities.

Think along the lines of the New Orleans Pelicans' Ryan Anderson. Or the Denver Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari. Or Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks

None of those players hold a candle to Love, but they're floor-spacing forwards who complement James and keep in theme with Blatt's positionless system.

Most of all, they—or targets like them—help James overlook the Cavaliers emerging from Love negotiations empty-handed.

 

What to Do, What to Do

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What's the more likely option?

Action. Some kind, some form, of action.

Plan B isn't dormancy. It can't be. While the Cavaliers could ride the patience wave and hope to make significant additions later, they can't. 

James' supposed interest in Love would set a precedent, and though it's not one that should cost a top-flight prospect like Wiggins, there's too much at stake for the Cavaliers to soldier on as is. Now is the time for Cleveland to act if James wishes it to act.

Flexibility will be harder to come by next summer, when Irving's extension kicks in and Waiters, Bennett and Wiggins are all making more money. The Cavaliers will have nearly $53 million committed to those four players, plus James, entering 2015-16, per ShamSports. Thompson will also be a restricted free agent or already the proud owner of a new contract.

What should the Cavaliers do if they miss out on Kevin Love?

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Improving through free agency, then, will be too difficult. The Cavaliers won't be players for Love or other superstars without some serious financial finagling, making the chase for upgrades now all the more imperative. 

If James wants to see action, the Cavaliers must act. 

Acquiring Love caters to that demand.

Failing to land him merely delays the Cavaliers' quest to boost their immediate status rather than take James up on what now seems to be ill-perceived patience.

 

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