Does LeBron James Need Kevin Love to Compete for 2015 Title?

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Does LeBron James Need Kevin Love to Compete for 2015 Title?
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LeBron James has a reason to subscribe to the Big Three theory of NBA championship-team construction. Two reasons, actually.

During four seasons spent alongside Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat, James added the first two pieces of his legacy-building jewelry collection. Still a little light in the "rings" debate, it makes sense for James to push the Cleveland Cavaliers toward a new talented trio comprised of himself, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

The offensive potential for that triumvirate is gargantuan.

"You obviously have the ability to spread the floor and outscore everyone, and the premise of Love throwing full-court outlet passes to Irving and LBJ would make all of November feel like a McDonald’s All American Game," wrote Grantland's Chuck Klosterman.

The Cavs would have some defensive hurdles to clear, but even if those issues were never properly addressed, they'd still be equipped to break the tape during nightly track meets. No matter how first-year coach David Blatt played his cards, he'd still have a stacked deck in front of him.

"Can you legitimately say with confidence another team in the East will be better than them?" asked TrueHoop's Zach Harper.

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If the Chicago Bulls have a healthy Derrick Rose—a major if considering he's played 49 games the last three seasons combined—they might give the Cavs a spirited postseason series. Outside of the Windy City, though, there are no major Eastern Conference threats for James' new/old franchise.

It makes sense for James to want Love, a sentiment reportedly shared with the double-double machine, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

It makes sense for the Cavaliers to cater to their franchise face (and his two-year contract with an opt-out after one) and pursue Love at any cost. And it makes sense for the Minnesota Timberwolves to entertain Cleveland's offers, as top pick Andrew Wiggins is a potential-rich prize not typically afforded to teams in Minnesota's position.

As sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, the Cavs are now having exclusive trade talks with the Timberwolves. "Numerous league insiders...have begun to describe a Love-to-Cleveland trade as a 'when' transaction as opposed to an 'if,'" the analysts wrote.

All signs point to Love suiting up in wine and gold next season, but it's important to remember that nothing is official yet. Done deals aren't actual deals until they're, well, actually done, and this one cannot be completed before Aug. 23, since Wiggins put pen to paper on his rookie contract.

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That mandated delay probably doesn't alter this plot, but what if it does? What if Love doesn't follow James to Northeast Ohio? Would that keep the King out of the 2015 title race?

According to James, it might. In the essay explaining his decision to return to Cleveland, as told to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, James curtailed the Cavs' immediate expectations as best he could:

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. 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. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head.

Judging by the numbers, James seemed right.

The Cavs have averaged 24 wins over the last four seasons. In 2013-14, Cleveland posted bottom-half efficiency rankings on both sides of the floor: 101.3 offensive rating, 23rd; 104.8 defensive rating, 17th, per NBA.com.

Of course, those Cavaliers didn't have James. They didn't have Wiggins, Mike Miller, James Jones or Joe Harris, either.

They had the flight-risk Kyrie Irving, not the one committed to the franchise for at least the next six years. They had the injured, in-over-his-head Anthony Bennett and his painful per-game averages of 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, not the slimmed-down version who opened eyes at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Last season, combo guard Dion Waiters was pleading for shots and accusing his teammates of playing "buddy ball," per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. Now, Waiters is seeking out "ways to impact the game without having the ball," per Windhorst.

Perhaps James' greatest gift is his ability to elevate the players around him. This group, even without Love, is more than capable of being elevated.

The players are embracing the idea, in fact.

"It would be great for me, just really learn and pick his brain and see what it takes to get to his level," Wiggins told reporters on the prospect of teaming with James, via NBA.com.

The Cavs could be an offensive power without making the trade.

James and Irving held Top 20 rankings in both scoring (27.1, third and 20.8, 14th, respectively) and assists (6.4, 11th and 6.1, 14th). Wiggins averaged 17.1 points on 44.8 percent shooting in 35 games for Kansas last season. Waiters bumped his scoring average to 15.9 while improving both his field-goal (43.3, up from 41.2) and his three-point (36.8, up from 31.0) percentages.

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With sharpshooters like Miller (career 40.9 three-point percentage), Jones (40.3) and Harris (40.7 in college) on the perimeter, Cleveland should possess a potent drive-and-kick game.

At the opposite end, Wiggins would help James mask the Cavs' lack of rim protection.

"Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is from all accounts an NBA-ready defender," wrote Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. "A 6-foot-8 athletic marvel. Put LeBron and Wiggins on the floor together, and opposing offenses will bog down."

Swap out Wiggins for Love, and James would be left fighting a one-man defensive battle. None of the team's returning bigs averaged more than 0.6 blocks last season. Cleveland will need to stop attacks before they start, and Wiggins has the tools to fend them off on the perimeter.

The Cavs could have a historically dominant offense if James' Big Three vision comes to fruition, but they could be more of a two-way force if it doesn't. Balance is an integral part of any championship recipe, and the Love-less Cavs appear to have the necessary ingredients.

Of course, if James wants Love, then the Cavaliers should absolutely oblige. But if the big man should wind up elsewhere, that would not close Cleveland's championship window.

And if Wiggins develops sooner than later, James could still find himself in the middle of a banner-raising Big Three. A three-headed beast built to contend for the 2015 crown and many more to come.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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