Acquiring Kevin Love is just the beginning for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
League insiders told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst that Love to Cleveland has become a matter of "when," not "if," suggesting the disgruntled superstar and his new team-to-be can exhale.
For all of one second.
There is no rest for the Cavaliers upon trading for Love. There is no everlasting sigh of relief for Love to breathe upon escaping the Minnesota Timberwolves. There is no longer a near-weightless environment for LeBron James to seek refuge in after four stress-seething years with the Miami Heat.
Worshiping the new dynamic the Cavaliers are striving to create is easy. But so much time is spent extolling on-paper concepts that some neglect to acknowledge the aftermath of such investments.
All parties involved are willingly putting themselves under immediate strain. This is not a pressure-pardoned gambit or bulletproof safe haven. There is only risk, and those responsible for making it worthwhile.
Kevin "Gotta Make This Work" Love
Four to five seconds of fist-pumping later, Love will need to regroup.
Fleeing Minnesota can be seen as a godsend after six years of postseason-less basketball. And it's even sweeter knowing he has been absolved of nearly all blame in the matter, knowing the Timberwolves' protracted failures don't fall squarely on him.
Love became the first player in NBA history to reach benchmarks of 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while hitting at least one—yes, one—three-pointer last season. He ranked third in win shares playing for a lottery-lost franchise. Most of the responsibility, if not all of it, lies elsewhere (some of it in David Kahn's abode).
Compassionate perceptions regress into eviscerating, image-imploding impressions if Love's departure is, in any way, a less-than-spectacular move. He is no longer the victim of Minnesota's murky future once he leaves. He's not a victim at all.
The stretch forward will have to thrive in Cleveland alongside James and Kyrie Irving and under head coach David Blatt. He will have to complement the game's greatest player and help a superteam contend for a title.
Never mind a grace period. He doesn't get one. All he gets is one chance to prove leaving Minnesota is the right move, and that he's worth everything and everyone Cleveland gives up.
"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love said during an interview on ESPN's SportsNation (via ESPN.com). "At the end of the day, I've played six years, haven't made the playoffs yet, that burns me and hurts my heart, so I really want to be playing."
Play into the playoffs he would. And how far the Cavs go, how they fare, will be largely attributed to his triumphs or failures on the NBA's biggest and brightest stage—the one on which Love claims he belongs.
LeBron "I Can Be Patient...But Not Really" James
"Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic," James told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins of his return to Cleveland. "It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that."
Congratulations are in order, because it appears James has successfully redefined the concept of "patience."
When he decided to rejoin the Cavs, he delivered a moral doctrine that painted a clear picture of struggle, endurance and compromise.
Then Cleveland immersed itself in the Love trade extravaganza, quickly emerging as the favorite in, inevitably, what's become a reported market of one.
This isn't a coincidence. The Cavaliers didn't just stumble into Love negotiations. This soap opera and James' return are not mutually exclusive events.
Perhaps it started out that way, but once ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported that Andrew Wiggins was available for the taking and Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his trademark bombs, that belief—along with James' plucky patience—went out the window:
The Cavaliers would always be good with James, no matter who else they had. But landing Love thrusts them in non-negotiable win-now mode, entrusting James with even more responsibility: that of nabbing an NBA title.
Pressure would always be there, to be sure. Like Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal stresses, however, winning the Love sweepstakes authors a different, more demanding batch of expectations:
Sure, the supporting cast isn't as laden with established superstars as it was when the Big Three formed in South Beach, but it's still a team loaded with young talent and featuring the best basketball player in the world. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and either Wiggins/Bennett or Love is nothing to sneeze at.
The pressure was never going to be off LeBron, simply because he's, well, LeBron.
Adding Love to the equation takes the pressure dial switch up a few more notches. Adding Love at LeBron's behest ratchets it up further still.
How much further?
Traveling-back-to-2010 further. This is James' move to Miami all over again.
Same situation, different city. The winters will be different—though not nearly as bad as some portray—and there will be no beachfront property to relax on after a tough loss. But the stakes will be the same.
There will be crushing pressure, hyperbolic and unforgiving assessments and a win-now-or-you've-failed decree that James helped issue.
The Cleveland "Let's Hope This Works" Cavaliers
The collective pressure Cleveland is facing is an extension of the scrutiny James will be under, save for one caveat: The Cavs, James included, need not only win immediately but also impress Love in the process.
Love is going to hit free agency next summer. No outcome could ever change that, as sources indicated to 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.
Reserving the right to pay Love more than any other team is not enough on its own. The Cavs need to generate results.
Playoffs and titles aren't the only things on Love's mind. Before now, he was targeting a big city, a monstrous market. Off-court fame and earning opportunities abound in Cleveland, but it's not Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or Boston or Miami. Love wasn't interested in Cleveland prior to James' return, remember, according to ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan.
And he is not Dwyane Wade, either. He is Chris Bosh in this scenario.
Irving is a point guard. He will have more control over the offense than Love. This is not up for debate.
Is James enough to convince Love that playing third fiddle to the King and Irving in Cleveland is a good idea? Or is it only attractive when accompanied by winning—lots and lots and lots of winning?
To be safe, the Cavs need to win as much as possible. This is the first impression Love will have of the city, franchise and his life moving forward. An early playoff exit won't promise his return. It might, but it could also force him to leave for a bigger market and more prominent role.
This can only be combated with wins. A taste of the NBA Finals, even. The Cavs must show him what he would be leaving, all while making sure what he would be leaving isn't replaceable, lest they run the risk of becoming a makeshift superteam victimized by an expensive rental.
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