Kevin Love Trade Could Be Cleveland Cavaliers' Worst Nightmare

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Kevin Love Trade Could Be Cleveland Cavaliers' Worst Nightmare
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"Could." 

The use of that particular modal auxiliary verb is quite important, because acquiring Kevin Love has the potential to be absolutely wonderful for the Cleveland Cavaliers. If they're able to retain his services after acquiring him and can successfully add the right supporting pieces, they could very well become the NBA's next dynastic organization. 

But there's that "could" word again. 

No matter how highly Love is viewed, there are no guarantees in this drama, even with ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst telling the world on ESPN Radio (as Zack Cox of NESN.com relayed) that a handshake agreement for Love's services is in place: 

The deal is done but not done. The teams have agreed, but they can't say they have agreed and they can't agree, because we're in this weird moratorium period because you can't trade Andrew Wiggins until the 23rd of this month.

So, between now and then—which is, what, 19 days—could some of that happen? Could a team come in with a trade that maybe Minnesota doesn't see? Yes, it could happen. So therefore it is not done.

Everything points toward an eventual trade now—barring last-minute changes of heart—and any such deal would involve Love and Andrew Wiggins. Swapping a promising rookie for an established All-Star might seem like a foolproof plan for the Cavaliers, but does such a thing even exist in the NBA? 

Unfortunately, a swap could be all the impetus needed for the Cavaliers' worst nightmare (well, worst nightmare not involving another departure by LeBron James) to become a reality.

 

The Inclusion of Wiggins

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Just imagine the scene five years from now. 

The Cavaliers are hosting a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in The Q, and Wiggins is coming to town. You can be sure the arena is going to fill up and boast a capacity crowd, because everyone wants to get a glimpse of the surefire MVP candidate who's leading his team just like a young LeBron used to lead Cleveland. 

Wiggins doesn't disappoint.

He does as good a job as any slowing down LeBron, and he routinely dazzles with his athletic prowess, fast-break dunks and step-back jumpers. With a few years of development under his belt, he can do more than spin through traffic, and he's become a true, must-watch, game-changing presence on both ends of the court. 

Cleveland, even with a 34-year-old LeBron on the floor, can't keep its collective eyes off its former No. 1 pick. 

Obviously, that's a best-case scenario for Wiggins. However, there's no denying it's a realistic one, as the young Kansas product is viewed as one of the best prospects in quite some time; the hype existed for a reason. 

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required) called the Canadian forward the No. 10 incoming player of the past 15 years, and that put him ahead of quite a few prominent names—Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, for example. Maybe he's not on the same level as LeBron, but he's also not that far from earning inclusion in such a tier, either. 

"He's raw, but his ceiling is high. He can be like a Hall of Famer, All-Star, for sure. He's good," Kevin Durant explained to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears while Wiggins was plying his trade for Kansas. The quote came right after the future No. 1 pick flashed his high upside at the beginning of his collegiate career, this time in the second game of the season, when he dropped 22 points and eight rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting against Duke. 

Obviously, the expectations have been tempered since then. Wiggins was great for the Jayhawks, but not transcendentally so. It was abundantly clear he has plenty of developing left to do. 

But the lofty ceiling is still there, and part of this worst-case scenario involves him actually reaching it, taking advantage of the opportunity offered to him in Minnesota. He'll be a featured player with the 'Wolves, something that isn't a possibility on the same team as LeBron, even if the tutelage of the four-time MVP would be beneficial. 

Learning on the job is quite helpful sometimes, especially when reps are needed in order to grow. 

Wiggins developing into everything he was hyped up to be is certainly part of Cleveland's nightmare, assuming that happens while he's part of a different organization. Of course, it would be worse still if Anthony Bennett were included in the hypothetical trade, as he showed during summer league that his putrid rookie season won't be all that defines his NBA career. 

But there's more. And it's not good news. 

 

The Difficulty of Building a Championship Team

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What if the Cavaliers never win a championship, thereby failing to achieve LeBron's stated goal?

"But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio," the new/old member of the Cleveland organization wrote during his announcement on Sports Illustrated's website, even if he would later acknowledge the difficulty and refuse to promise the eventual arrival of the Larry O'Brien Trophy. 

It's easy to get excited about the championship potential of a roster featuring LeBron, Love and Kyrie Irving. After all, that's two of the 10 best players in the world, as well as a high-upside point guard who's still only 22 years old. 

The offense would be simply divine, featuring a blend of Irving's ball skills and dominant shooting, Love's stretchiness at the 4 and LeBron's overall play and versatility. As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley writes, "The offensive potential for that triumvirate is gargantuan," and that's in no way an exaggeration. 

However, when was the last time a team won a title without also boasting a promising defense? 

That's not just a rhetorical question; I'll provide you with the answer. 

No team since the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers has managed to earn a championship without a top-10 defensive rating during the regular season. Those Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, had the No. 21 defensive rating that year, and even then, Basketball-Reference.com shows that they were the league's best point-preventing team during the postseason and looked nothing like the regular-season version of themselves. 

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have no hope of finishing in the top 10. 

Not coming off a season in which they allowed 107.7 points per 100 possessions, good for the No. 19 mark in the Association. LeBron, who was a step slower when reacting and closing out on shooters throughout the 2013-14 campaign, is a game-changing defensive presence, but even he can't help a young team with two major liabilities to the necessary extent. 

Unless Irving—who has the physical tools but has lacked the mental desire necessary to shut down his man and stick with him off the ball—suddenly undergoes a 180-degree turnaround, the Cavs are going to hemorrhage points. It's hard enough for Cleveland to overcome a major liability on the perimeter or a lack of rim protection, much less deal with both. 

Per NBA.com's SportVU data, Love ranked No. 74 of the 77 players who faced at least five shots per game at the rim when it came to field-goal percentage allowed in that area. He went up against 9.1 shots at the hoop during the average contest, and opponents connected 57.4 percent of the time. 

Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

Anderson Varejao was only slightly better, finishing No. 64 while allowing 54.2 percent shooting on 5.3 attempts per game. And lest you think there would be help coming off the bench, Tristan Thompson ranked No. 76 (59.1 percent on 5.2 shots faced per game). 

It's a horrific combination, one that doesn't bode well for the "defense wins championships" mantra. Even if the Cavaliers advanced through the Eastern Conference, which remains a distinct possibility with or without Love, beating the West's representative would be an awfully difficult challenge without being able to avoid leaking points in the paint. 

Can the problem be fixed in the future? Sure, but the coffers will be far more bare with Love on the roster. After all, keeping him will require a max extension this coming offseason, or at least something close to it. 

Let's allow Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, with the help of two other voices, to take it away: 

'Star potential on rookie scale deal for four years,' one general manager told ESPN's Jeff Goodman (subscription required). 

'I feel like Wiggins may only be a year or so away from being a legit contributor,' said another front office executive. 'And Wiggins is cheap, so you are able to add more. Love is gonna cost a ton.'

With Love, James and Irving, the Cavaliers would be financially limited in terms of their ability to build around them. And though that's a pretty darn good trio, it eliminates some major margin for error. The Cavs would probably be relying on the same three guys night after night, year after year. Regardless of how talented your Big Three is, that team-building strategy isn't quite foolproof. 

And that's assuming he even decides to stay...

 

The Looming Specter of Free Agency

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In 2015, Love will inevitably have plenty of options. 

He could travel back to his hometown team and help the Lakers take one last shot at a championship in the Kobe Bryant era, especially because he might not be the only star willing to take his talent to a city so obsessed with stars it has a whole collection of them on sidewalks.

He could join the New York Knicks, teaming up with Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson for a run at basketball immortality (seriously, at this point, that's the reward for winning a championship in New York). 

He could also do something more unorthodox and join a team he hasn't been linked to at this juncture. But the point is, he doesn't have to re-sign with the Cavaliers, especially because he's refusing to commit to such a move at this stage of the process. 

"In a rather new development, it now looks as if Love won't sign an extension with any team in which he's traded, even the Cavaliers," The News Herald's Bob Finnan reported. "He can get far more money if he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2015, and re-signs with the team in which he is traded."

As Finnan goes on to note, this makes everything a lot more risky.

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

While there's a distinct possibility that Love could be using this route as a money-making strategy, similar to what LaMarcus Aldridge is currently doing with the Portland Trail Blazers, where's the guarantee? The Rip City big man at least told The Oregonian this was his plan, leaving no doubt he wanted to remain in Portland. 

However, there's plenty of doubt in Cleveland.

Love hasn't said anything about his long-term desires, just tacitly making it obvious that he plans to pursue all of his options. Even if there's an 80 percent chance he stays—a number I'm making up on the spot with absolutely no insider basis—is that worth the risk? 

The Cavaliers' worst nightmares could come true if he flees. 

What say you to the prospect of Cleveland trading for Love?

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They could part ways with a not-quite-once-but-maybe-twice-in-a-generation prospect (in addition to more talent) and watch it develop elsewhere, all for one season with a player who doesn't have the defensive chops necessary to shepherd a championship into Northeast Ohio. Then, the 2015-16 season could see them bear witness to both Love and Wiggins excelling for different organizations. 

All of this is only a possibility, however likely or unlikely each component may be. But isn't it scary enough there's a chance the Cavaliers could be living through another nightmare?

 

Have thoughts on Love-to-Cleveland? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. 

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