Love is not all the Cleveland Cavaliers need.
They need a little bit of Shawn Marion, too. And, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, they just might get him:
Marion hasn't formalized agreement with Cavs yet, but Indiana's already looking elsewhere than Marion for free agent help, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 7, 2014
Following a weeks-long jitterbug around and toward one another, the Minnesota Timberwolves will ship Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in exchange for rookie Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick, according to Wojnarowski. The deal cannot be made official until August 23, but it's the most official unofficial deal you'll find.
Anticipation is naturally mounting in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers have gone from a 33-win lottery team stuck in the cyclic throes of a static rebuild to an Eastern Conference powerhouse playing home to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love.
Championships are on the brain. Their offense will be explosive. The starting lineup will be packed with All-Stars.
Their defense will be, um, yeah. Hence the need for Marion: to make it less "um, yeah."
Trading for Love doesn't necessarily damage the Cavs' defense. They weren't good to begin with. They ranked 17th in defensive efficiency last season, and they didn't project to be much better next year.
Dealing Wiggins hurts, limiting—possibly erasing—their ability to improve defensively. He projects as a lockdown perimeter defender because of his athleticism and lateral quickness alone. It's his defensive skill set that contributed to Cleveland's draft-day decision in the first place.
"We really believe in this point that his defense is a skill set," Cavs general manager David Griffin said at the time, per The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade. "That's something that really spoke to me about Andrew."
Andrew is now gone. Almost. The Cavaliers need a replacement, and they need one badly.
Staunch perimeter defense is now of the utmost importance. James helps as someone who can defend everyone and their second cousin while covering up for Irving's lack of defensive prowess. But in completing this trade, the Cavaliers are housing one of the worst rim-protecting duos around.
Anderson Varejao and Love figure to start up front. Looking beyond the fact that Varejao has missed 166 games since James first left Cleveland—41.5 per year—neither him nor Love are equipped to contest dribble penetration or shots at the rim.
The Timberwolves were the worst defensive team last season when it came to contesting shots at the iron. Opponents converted 55.6 percent of their attempts there, according to NBA.com. The Cavaliers are basically swapping out Nikola Pekovic for Varejao in this scenario, so things aren't going to improve.
Both Love and Varejao ranked in the bottom 14 of opponent field-goal-percentage at the rim in 2013-14 for all players who were forced to contest at least five shots per game. Love himself ranked 74th in the field of 77, emerging as a point-blank turnstile, like CBS Sports' Zach Harper details:
Love has been one of the easier big men to score against during his career. ...
However, he has a tendency not to foul inside and while that can be viewed as a positive thing because you're not giving up easy free throw attempts, he does just let the player go up without much shot contesting. When he's in position, he does a solid job of helping and keeping position. When he's not in position, he does a poor job of consistently figuring out how to make the best defensive play happen.
Anyone the Cavaliers allow into the paint has a solid chance of scoring. Their best rim protector at the moment is James, who can't defend inside when he'll need to shut down the rival team's best outside scorer.
Marion gives Cleveland another defensive-savvy wing capable of preventing dribble penetration and incisive cuts rather than relying on Love, Varejao and even Tristan Thompson to deter them. He's not the same, ambulatory defensive force he was a few years ago, but he moves about the free-throw line extended well and, more importantly, is a better option than anyone else the Cavaliers have.
Love's Luckless Defense
No one else on the Cavs' roster can come in and spell James and Love at the 3 or 4 without there being an overly adverse impact on defense.
Opposing forwards combined to average a 17.8 player efficiency rating against Marion last season, according to 82games.com, but his value isn't as an individual defender per se. He's more of a constantly moving, roaming guardian who helps everyone.
Consider what SB Nation's Drew Garrison penned ahead of last season, all of which remained relevant through 2013-14:
The Mavericks relied on Marion's defensive versatility to provide the type of coverage expected out of elite defensive anchors like Roy Hibbert or Dwight Howard. It was Marion rotating around the paint and cutting off dribble penetration with no defensive big man to rely on last season in Dallas. It was Marion assigned to the James Hardens and Kevin Durants of the league. He's still The Matrix, defending any position from point guard to center.
Fifteen years in, Marion is more of a team defender. He isn't the product of any one system or scheme, but he's not the same one-on-one talent from years past. And that's fine. The Cavs aren't going to win playing man-to-man defense.
Ball movement and screens stand to sink this team without the proper help. That's where Love struggled most last season. He has this tendency to go way under screens, and he's almost always drawn to ball-handlers.
That can work on a team with solid help defenders. When said team, like the Wolves, doesn't have those help defenders, this happens:
And this happens:
When you're playing alongside Kevin Martin, the help isn't going to be there. Ever.
Alongside Marion it will be, which means something, because the Cavaliers will have to send double-teams at ball-handlers off pick-and-rolls. They, again, don't have the rim protection to rely on one man stepping in to salvage the play.
Likewise, Love is going to need that help behind him when he's defending on the perimeter. He deliberately leaves space between him and opponents because he's not especially adept at defending off the dribble. Crowding the ball is asking for disaster to strike.
Though it leaves him susceptible to open jumpers, it's a fair trade-off considering how unlikely he is to commit hard fouls at the rim. On those occasions when opponents decide to put the ball on the floor, though, the extra space isn't always enough.
Love is prone to falling for pump fakes and unable to recover when he does. He can keep pace with his back to the basket, but the moment opposing scorers get an angle on him, he doesn't have the lateral agility to recover.
Here he is against Blake Griffin, leaving space, daring him to shoot the jumper:
Griffin doesn't shoot the jumper, electing to put the ball on the floor instead. This does not end well for Love:
A similar situation transpires here between him and Jon Leuer. Love again leaves space:
Give Leuer the jumper, not the lane. It's sound in theory.
Then Leuer puts the ball on the floor. You can guess how that ended:
Double-teams, behind-the-back help and rotations have to be sent in those situations. That's where Marion will help most, whether it's rotating over and giving Love more time to slink toward another player, sliding behind him to cut off dribble penetration or attempting to trap the ball-bearer.
Think of him like a safety net. He isn't going to block shots or intimidate cutters, but he's going to help disrupt plays and offensive sets before they get to that point. Love needs someone like that to have his back.
And it's not just Love who Marion helps, mind you.
This isn't a "Love doesn't play defense" issue. There are times when he can be lethargic and disinterested on that end, but he's not perpetually inert. He's a stout post-up defender and many of his issues stem from making wrong decisions, not checking out entirely.
"Saying Kevin Love is playing ineffective defense is much more accurate than saying Kevin Love is an ineffective defender," Bleacher Report's Ian Levy wrote in March.
Completely true. And, more pointedly, only part of the reason Cleveland now needs Marion.
Where some of Love's baggage—outside poor rim-contesting—can be attributed to systematic ignorance, the Cavaliers have players who actively don't defend, be it by design or otherwise.
Take Irving. The Cavaliers were a defensive abomination with him on the floor last year. They allowed 4.4 points per 100 possessions less without him in the game.
Dion Waiters is a more active defender than Irving, but he's still not good, let alone great. If Ray Allen joins the festivities, he's another liability Cleveland has to cover up.
I heard weeks ago that Ray Allen will join Cavs if they get Kevin Love. We'll see....— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) August 7, 2014
Is Shawn Marion a good fit for the Cavs?
Rolling with Wiggins alongside James would go a long way in counteracting general, team-wide defensive illiteracy. But the Cavaliers have valued star power over potential, and flashiness over function.
James won't solve their problems on his own. Nor would Marion's arrival turn them into an impregnable fortress.
Signing him just insures the Cavaliers against themselves, and the defense they're not built to play.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise cited.