LeBron James' Legacy Will Hinge on Cavaliers Acquiring Kevin Love

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2014

In one sense, it's odd to suggest that the legacy of the best player of this generation, LeBron James, could possibly be resting on the shoulders of another man, Kevin Love.

Nothing can take away James' two rings, five trips to the NBA Finals, four MVP awards, two NBA Finals MVP awards, 10 All-Star Game appearances or any other number of awards and accomplishments, after all.

On the other hand, his legacy will never just be compared to other players in his generation. Oh, no. James is the sort of transcendent talent that will always be compared to the greats of the game—the Bill Russells, Magic Johnsons, Larry Birds, Kobe Bryants and Michael Jordans. (Yes, Bryant and James overlap, but Bryant already had three titles before James even entered the league.)

Namely, James will likely always be most closely compared to Bryant and Jordan, players who have five and six titles, respectively. And quite frankly, without Love joining the Cavaliers this summer, it's hard to imagine James equaling or bettering that total. 

James is going to be 30 in December. Realistically, he has two or three seasons left of elite play, and another two or three seasons of solid play left in the tank. His window is closing.

And the Cavaliers, as currently constructed, are not a championship team. They are a young, potential-laden team, yes, but are the pieces really in place to compete for a title next season? Or even the season after that?

No, they aren't. 

Kyrie Irving is a star, sure, but there are questions about how effective he will be when James is handling the ball. He certainly wasn't efficient when occupying that role last season, per ESPN Stats & Information:

Irving can improve that part of his game, of course, and he'll also free up James to play other roles for the Cavs. But in the short term, Irving's off-the-ball productivity is not where you would want it to be.

There is also the question if there is enough room on the court for Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins, or how they would all coexist on the court together. Irving and Waiters have already had issues in that regard, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

At times Waiters and Irving have had issues just sharing between themselves during their two seasons together. Last season, coach Mike Brown ended up moving Waiters to the bench so he could get more time as the featured ball handler. The Cavs were underwhelming with this setup and now will have to deal with things getting diluted further. 

'You do think about [changes] because you're going to be playing with the greatest player in the game,' Irving said. 'I've talked to several teammates about how we're going to have to change our games.'

Theoretically, Waiters could play the 2, Wiggins the 3 and James as a stretch 4, but there would certainly be a lot of cooks in the kitchen in that setup. The nice thing would be that Wiggins would offer the Cavs a potential defensive stopper and dynamo on the fast break, but it's no secret that his offensive game is a work in progress.

Nor is it a secret that Anthony Bennett's entire game is a work in progress. Last year's top overall pick averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. In a word: yikes.

Tristan Thompson had a strong season last year, but he's still just 23 and figuring things out. Anderson Varejao is a nice player at center. Mike Miller is a nice player coming off the bench. The Cavs certainly won't lack for depth. 

But be honest: Does the above read like a championship-caliber team to you? It certainly didn't to James, who made a note to include the following in his essay for Sports Illustrated when he announced he was returning to Cleveland:

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. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.

Maybe two years from now they'll win a championship. Maybe it will even take three. By the time this roster is really ready to compete with the top teams in the West, James may very well be exiting his prime. His window might start closing. Any chance of catching Bryant's five titles could very well disappear. 

In other words, the best player of a generation may never quite be remembered like Magic, Kobe or M.J. King James will be remembered as Prince LeBron. 

Adding Love changes everything. Sure, it would probably cost the Cavs Wiggins, Bennett and a first-rounder, and maybe more than that. But it would also instantly make them the favorites in the East and maybe in the NBA in general. 

Love would give them a third scorer capable of going for 20 every night. He would give them a force on the boards. He would allow James to exert his physical dominance over the competition at the 3 and not bang down on the block playing at the 4. He remains one of the best outlet passers in the league, and James, Irving and Waiters would have a field day on the break. 

Not only that, but the team's balance would just be much better. If Irving and Waiters continued to struggle coexisting, Waiters could move to a sixth-man role. The Cavs would have a solid contingent of players coming off the bench, led by Thompson and Miller. 

James would no longer be the old head who had to keep all of the young guns in line. No, he would have three or four years in his prime to chase multiple titles. There would be no waiting on players to develop or to settle into roles. From Day 1 with Love in Cleveland, James could be carving out his place on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats.

Like any good movie, James' career has been carved out in three acts. The first was his first tenure with Cleveland, where arguably the greatest physical talent the league has ever seen was never quite able to lead a mediocre team to a ring. He came close, but he never had his Scottie Pippen. 

In Miami, he had two Pippens in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. His second act was where the conflict in his story really came into play—no one will ever forget the heel turn that was "The Decision"—but he slowly won his way back into the good graces of NBA fans outside of Miami.

His promise of eight championships never quite came to pass, though. Four straight trips to the NBA Finals was remarkable, of course, but winning only two was in some ways a promise left unrealized. Are those two championships enough to put James on the level of Bryant or Jordan?

No, probably not.

The Heat were a dynasty, yes, but they weren't the dynasty. Heck, Tony Parker has more NBA titles (four) since 2003 than James does. In 25 years, which team should be remembered as the true golden standard during James' career, the Heat or the San Antonio Spurs?

We all know it's the latter.

And so, despite everything he's accomplished thus far in his career, James legacy will be defined by what he pulls off in his third and final act. He's already a top-10 player in NBA history, surely, but with a few more titles, he may sidle up quite close to Jordan and the top spot on the pecking order.

With Love, his odds of doing so seem far higher than with Wiggins and Bennett. King James needs a more powerful ally in his court than he currently has, and it's hard to imagine he doesn't know it.


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