Kevin Love Trade Means LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Must Win Now

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Kevin Love Trade Means LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Must Win Now
USA TODAY Sports

It's never happened before, but you can bet that if a team is trading two former No. 1 overall picks still on their rookie contracts in the same transaction, the goal is to get a star who can help the team win right away.

That's exactly the case for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have acquired one of the very best players in the league in Kevin Love.

Here's Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports with the details:

The Minnesota Timberwolves have reached an agreement in principle to send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland is making the deal with Minnesota with a firm agreement Love will opt out of his contract in 2015 and re-sign with the Cavaliers on a five-year, $120 million-plus contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Oftentimes when analyzing a trade, you have to decipher the desired direction each team wants to go. This deal makes it obvious. With LeBron James back home, Cleveland wants the best chance at winning championships right now. With Love almost certainly leaving Minnesota right away, the Timberwolves want a fair return while they can still get one.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The goals of both teams were accomplished here, and Love seemingly got what he wanted as well.

Here's what Love said earlier this offseason, via ESPN.com news services:

"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love said on SportsNation. "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."

With Love's desires in mind, there probably wasn't a better place for him to land than Cleveland. Although there were more complete rosters to join, no other team had LeBron James. Joining the best player in the world in a severely weakened conference worked out for Chris Bosh, and it's easy to see why another power forward who can really stretch the floor would want this. The blueprint is already there.

Kyrie Irving tends to be forgotten in all this as well, but he's unquestionably one of the most talented young point guards around. Instead of playing with other young guys still getting their feet wet, Irving now has the league's premier pick-and-pop partner in Love and another star in James who will create countless open chances for him.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

This trade was just too good for Cleveland to pass up, especially when you consider that this trio can be viable for quite some time.

Here's Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk

The entire reason I believed potential trade partners should get Love to opt in was, besides guaranteeing an extra year of the star player, Love would be signaling a desire to stay long-term. But this is another way, though less binding, of Love showing that intent.

Regardless, the upside for Cleveland is so high.

Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are going to rule the East. That’s so much talent and production, and their dominance will likely begin immediately. If it takes a year for everyone to jell, as it did for LeBron in Miami, so be it. That core is young enough to contend for years – as long as Love follows through with staying.

The acquisition of Love does change things quite a bit for the Cavs. Instead of remaining patient and creating cap space to sign a star free agent outright during the 2015 offseason, the Cavs won't burn a year of LeBron's career. 

While Wiggins and Bennett both have the potential to be great, that probably wasn't going to materialize this year. Love, on the other hand, is one of the most productive players in the league. Instead of bringing along the young guys and biding time, there's no reason why Cleveland shouldn't act the way a title favorite would.

But what does that entail? We could see a few moves to round out the roster that are all about winning now. 

Here's Wojnarowski with more on Cleveland's next decisions:

Free-agent forward Shawn Marion is leaning toward signing a deal to join LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Marion, 36, has yet to formally agree with the Cavaliers on a deal, but that could come soon, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Signing guys like Ray Allen and Shawn Marion is a pretty clear indicator that you're looking to win right away, and Cleveland absolutely should be. Although the only remaining cap assets for this year are veteran's minimum deals, players that are hunting for rings will likely happily accept that to play with such an elite core group.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Looking ahead, there isn't a whole lot of flexibility as far as Cleveland's future cap situation goes. So long as Love re-signs on a max deal next year and James accepts his player option or signs a new max deal, which are both to be expected, the Cavs will be paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million for their new core of Love, James and Irving.

Even though there are virtually no guaranteed commitments outside of those three players going forward (Joe Harris is on a rookie deal, Dion Waiters will have a team option, Mike Miller will have a player option), the Cavs won't be under the cap.

That said, they might not necessarily have to jump over the luxury-tax line, although one would expect owner Dan Gilbert to pay it in order to form the best team possible. With James, Love and Irving around, now wouldn't be the time skimp.

Not being a threat to pay the repeater tax is a big advantage for Cleveland, as the financial penalties are far less severe since Cleveland hasn't been over the luxury-tax limit in the past.

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Basically, Cleveland is in a perfect position both in terms of roster and salary composition. It's not easy to build and maintain a great supporting cast with three max players, but Irving's rookie max is less than a veteran max, and it's easier to retain talent like Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova on expiring rookie deals because Cleveland can simply match in restricted free agency.

There's a difference between Cleveland's version of "must win" and that of other teams. Technically, the Cavs aren't in much of a rush. LeBron is 29, Love is 25 and Irving is just 22. All are healthy now and have avoided any real health issues that could have a long-term impact. This isn't a core with an impending expiration date.

However, simply put, Cleveland must win now after the Love trade because it's far too talented not to.

Every year you have LeBron James is a year you should be winning now because he alone puts you in the running for a championship. You have to maximize every single season of his, and by acquiring a player as good as Love, Cleveland is in prime position to do exactly that.

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