Turning back is still an option for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kevin Love's arrival has been deemed imminent. Sources tossed around words like "inevitable" and "when"—not "if"—while speaking with ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst. Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor even believes a deal will get done by Aug. 23 or 24, according to the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters.
"I'm saying it's most likely because Kevin has made it pretty clear that that's what he wants to do," he said.
Taylor specifies nothing else—no team, no package, nothing. But the date is significant, and essentially a tell-all.
Andrew Wiggins signed his rookie contract on July 24, which means he's ineligible to be traded for 30 days. That Taylor's time frame coincides perfectly with Wiggins' restrictions cannot be seen as coincidence.
The Timberwolves want Wiggins in any deal for Love. His inclusion has become a formality and thus a hotbed for controversy; his availability has become a game of "Should They, or Shouldn't They?" for the Cavaliers.
Over time, a Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving troika has been idealized. Wiggins is a price worth paying when the return is another superstar. Everything else is inconsequential, bearing little to no significance.
This deal, or some version of it, seems destined to get done. Yet, while it's approaching near-certainty, it's far from a no-brainer. The Cavaliers have a real dilemma on their hands, one that journeys beyond Wiggins and James, and one that should have them thinking twice about pulling the trigger.
Love's Future Power
And it starts with Love.
Acquiring him is a huge boon for the Cavaliers' immediate ceiling. It would re-solidify their standing as an Eastern Conference juggernaut while rendering them a bigger threat to unseat whatever Western Conference foe they could face in the NBA Finals.
When you have the chance to add another top-10 superstar to a core consisting of the world's greatest player and a rising young point guard, you do it. You lock Love down. You crystallize your future as perennial contenders and probable champions.
That, of course, assumes you're forming a lasting future rather than a makeshift model with a potential expiration date.
Trading for Love does nothing to alter the course of his immediate future. He will enter free agency next summer, at which point he will have absolute freedom and unmitigated power over where he'll sign—control that Love's camp has been attempting to emphasize, 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.
Laughable as it seems, Love is a flight risk no matter where he winds up. It doesn't matter who his teammates are, even if one of them is a championship ticket.
Love is a player concerned with other things aside from making the playoffs and contending for a title. Will he enjoy being the third wheel to James and Irving's tricycle? Is Cleveland the market upgrade he's seeking?
Can he see the upside in remaining with the Cavaliers if his first year ends in disappointment?
There needs to be answers to those questions for the Cavaliers. Reports started surfacing even before James' return was made official, many of them alleging Love wouldn't go anywhere with James in town:
This from a player who wasn't interested in the Cavs without James, according to ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan, making it reasonable to assume Love isn't as genuinely interested in the organization as he is with James.
And that matters.
Parting with Wiggins, forfeiting someone who projects as an All-Star, only makes sense if the Cavaliers can guarantee Love's return. Right now, they can't. Even if Love were to commit verbally, that means nothing.
Pen must be put to paper before anything is final. That won't happen until at least next July, putting the Cavaliers at the mercy of Love's free-agency venture and his lone impression of Cleveland and its future.
If he winds up leaving, it would be catastrophic. The Cavaliers would still have James and Irving to build around, but they'll have relinquished possible stardom for nothing in addition to everything else they'll give up.
Stein and Windhorst say there's a growing belief the Timberwolves will emerge from negotiations with nothing short of Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick. That's an insane price. If the Cavs are going to pay it, they need to ensure the shelf life of their newly created dynamic lasts longer than one year, which, again, they can't.
They also need to be sure it works on the court...which it may not.
Offense shouldn't be a problem.
James can play alongside anyone, and the spot-up proficiencies and passing acumens of Irving and Love—coalesced in David Blatt's high-octane, positionless offense—make this trio a point-totaling dream.
Defense could kill them.
Irving is already viewed as a defensive liability. Opposing point guards notched a 17.8 player efficiency rating against him last season, per 82games.com. His career offensive rating (109) is also dead even with his defensive rating, a sign of poor defensive effort if there is one.
Effort is, indeed, the key issue, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News penned in June:
But this is not just about pure poor footwork and vision. This award is largely about willful indifference to defense. This is about bad defense by omission. On purpose.
Nothing kills a team (in my opinion) more than an important player who plays atrocious D just because he knows nobody will hold him accountable for it.
And there’s Kyrie Irving’s first three years in the NBA, in a nutshell: Almost intentionally bad defense, I’m sorry to say.
Landing Love means the Cavaliers would be placing one defensive liability alongside another.
Although Love's defensive transgressions are exaggerated—opponents converted under 40 percent of their shots against him in post-ups, isolations and standstill opportunities last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required)—there's work to be done within team-defense concepts, per Sporting News' Sean Deveney:
It’s when you ask Love to move around, switch and help teammates that trouble comes. He is not particularly long or athletic, which means he can be easily crossed up in pick-and-rolls and struggles to cover ground in the paint.
'Him and (center Nikola) Pekovic are just a terrible combination for protecting the rim,” the other West assistant coach said. 'Slow, can’t jump. They don’t put up a lot of resistance down there, and we always felt like they were easy to attack in the middle.'
Opposing teams knocked down 63.1 percent of their shots within five feet of the basket against the Wolves last season, pinning them to dead last in that category. That they still managed to rank in the top half of defensive efficiency is something of a miracle.
"He offers no rim protection, he lollygags in transition defense, he’s not going to make spirited second and third rotations on the same defensive possession and he often fails to challenge shots in order to secure boxout position—and precious rebounds," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote of Love in March. "Love wants his numbers."
Adding another stat-hoarder puts even more defensive pressure on James. The Cavs already lack a legitimate rim protector—Anderson Varejao doesn't have the vertical chops to deter dribble-drives—and James, as we saw with the Miami Heat, isn't actually a superhero. Miami allowed fewer points per 100 possessions with him off the floor last season.
Burdening him with two star sidekicks who need to be taught proper defense still calls for a transition period. While thrilling on paper, the Cavaliers won't be built to steamroll every team, every night.
It doesn't work like that. Teams need to consistently play both sides of the ball. The Cavaliers won't. Not right away, and their largely one-sided attack will come at the expense of a prospect in Wiggins who is lauded for his defense.
"Even if Wiggins never asserts himself offensively as consistently as he should, he's still likely going to be a plus-15 PPG guy and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league," wrote Grantland's Mark Titus.
The Cavs—who ranked in the bottom half of defensive efficiency last season—need additional prevention. Love doesn't add anything there when removing Wiggins. The absolute best Cleveland can hope for is that this will be a lateral defensive move, which defeats the purpose of the task at hand.
Certain red flags can be overlooked.
Defensive blemishes can be ignored when the offense stands to be unstoppable, when the Cavs are built to outgun any team they face.
The loss of Wiggins can be glossed over, too—seen as the price of doing bigger, better business. That Love has missed 27 or more single-season games twice in six years can even be forgotten.
But his future, and where exactly it lies, cannot fall by the wayside.
All of this hoopla is only worth it if Love stays in Cleveland. He has to come back for 2015-16 and beyond, otherwise, no matter what the Cavs do next season, this experiment will be a failure.
No-brainers don't come with prominent risks. When looking at the stakes, the Cavaliers have a lot to lose—more than enough to rethink this deal, this impatience-driven move that demands they accept one non-negotiable, utterly unpredictable plight:
Trading for Love puts much of their future in the hands of a player who realistically might not be part of it.
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