Winners and losers are hallmarks of any blockbuster trade. Reactions to deals are reflexive. We rush to see who came out on top and who lost out the most.
Certain progress is more fluid. Grades and judgments must be reserved, like in the case of Love himself.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports paints Love's relocation as a done deal. Not only is the trade in place, but the Cavaliers have been assured of Love's return next summer when he enters free agency.
Rumblings of premature agreements come bearing red flags. Since the trade cannot be completed until Aug. 23, and since Love cannot sign a five-year deal until next summer, the NBA could veto this deal, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst.
But that's only if any wrongdoing can be found. If there's no one to reprimand, the NBA wins.
And it wins big.
There are plenty of risks for all parties involved.
Will Love fit in and enjoy his time in Cleveland? Is the pressure on LeBron James to win now after the Cavaliers added another superstar? Will Andrew Wiggins develop into the building block the Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need?
Little about this deal is safe, which is kind of the point.
This cannot be considered the best thing to ever happen to Love. Not if he's truly going to forfeit—even in theory—the freedom to explore free agency. James cannot be deemed Executive of the Year because he endorsed Love's arrival weeks after serenading the masses with a letter that emphasized patience.
Risks are everywhere, hence interest is everywhere.
All eyes will be on Cleveland, and a superstar troika of Love, James and Kyrie Irving. The former's arrival could even spell the entrance of a certain future Hall of Famer, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard:
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
Suddenly the NBA will have been gifted this new superteam, a national interest gem that promises twists and turns and excitement within a disadvantageous market.
Goliaths aren't supposed to form in smaller locales. The collective bargaining agreement actively deters superteams in general, but diminutive markets are handicapped further. Money is typically an issue and, more importantly, so is appeal.
Cleveland will have bucked conventional wisdom. The Cavaliers aren't trading for everyone here, just Love. They kept Irving, and they convinced the world's greatest player to abandon sunny Miami for a shot at redemption. It lends credit to the argument that superstar parity does exist in the NBA, which is great for the league.
As is the fate of Cleveland's 2013-14 crusade.
If the Cavs succeed, if they steamroll the Eastern Conference and make a play for James' third championship, it will be just as thrilling as the Miami Heat's 2010-11 inaugural campaign. The appeal of three new-to-each-other stars—two of whom have never been to the playoffs—playing deep into the postseason is exceeded by nothing and no one.
And if they flop, well, that's good for the NBA, too. Their failures, like Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding discusses, would offer insight into the futures of two megastars:
Love has a long way to go in proving he is the NBA's latest Pau Gasol, not good enough to avoid losing alone but completely ready to sacrifice for Spain, the Lakers or whomever to maximize whatever chance he has to win.
If Love is really a winner, contrary to all previous evidence, it will be revealed very soon.
If not, though, LeBron's feel-good route to redemption may never be completed.
With that failure comes more questions.
So, more interest.
Anything less than a title—Eastern Conference or NBA—will be seen as a failure. Never mind that it's the Cavs' first season together. This will give way to talk of future demise.
Whatever under-the-table, handshake agreement Love may or may not have with the Cavaliers means little. Could he leave if the team is unsuccessful, if he's unhappy playing third fiddle to Irving and James?
It's Love's camp that has been downplaying a "Cleveland or bust" mantra and privately reiterating his desire to reach free agency, according to Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com.
It's Love who, in theory, remains a flight risk, regardless of what happens next season.
Would anyone dare leave LeBron? That's the game fans and NBA buffs will play between this trade's completion and next July.
Imagine the buzz that would accompany Love's decision to leave. He will have deserted James. He will have willingly left an all-time great to play elsewhere for less money.
Does James' two-year deal become an issue at that point? Or is it still viewed as a business decision?
"I don't plan on going nowhere," he said, per Windhorst. "I don't have the energy to do it again."
Unwavering loyalty is easier to maintain when staring at a future alongside Love and Irving. It's far more difficult to profess faith and uphold optimism if Love's free agency mucks everything up.
LeBron James arrives to his rally/event, says of Akron: "This is where I'm from, this is where I'm gonna be." pic.twitter.com/ovCq1wVaPn— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) August 8, 2014
Lose him, and the Cavaliers will have traded the No. 1 pick for a rental.
Keep him, and James' free agency remains a nonissue while giving the NBA a half-decade supply of riveting plots and storylines to promote and follow.
A Different Return
That's what this reported trade is: dangerous. It doesn't matter if Love stays or goes, if the Cavaliers win or lose. This deal puts an entirely different spin on James' return.
The Cavaliers are LeBron's baby with Love. They wouldn't be a team he's just joining; they would be a vision he helped create through ringing endorsements and closed-door courtships.
What happens next would be on him, but that's more than pressure to win.
James and Cleveland are rebuilding their relationship—one in which he holds all the power. This deal will define his return and the circumstances under which it is later remembered, as Cavs: The Blog's Nate Smith passionately pens:
LeBron coming back is a big deal. I just want it to be for the right reasons, and want the guy to have a little humility. I don’t want to feel used again, and I fear LeBron doesn’t know what he’s doing as a GM and that he’ll stab me in the heart again. But I don’t have any control over how James lives his life or runs this team. I’ve just got to have faith, I guess. People in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio deserve to walk a little taller. Who am I to begrudge them their desire for that? The Wiggins thing sucks. It makes me mad. I don’t have to like it, but I’ll come to accept it. That’s what fandom is: a never-ending playoff game between acceptance and hope.
Is Kevin Love joining LeBron James and the Cavaliers good for the NBA?
More layers. Layers upon layers upon layers. More things to dissect, more intentions to unveil, more perspective to harvest.
This trade, and the capricious chain reactions—whatever they are—it promises, has it all.
"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win," Love said on SportsNation in June, via ESPN.com.
No matter the outcome, no matter who loses, the NBA, so long as this trade weathers time constraints and rumors of dissolution, wins big.