Kevin Love to Cleveland Cavs Does Not Shift Eastern Conference Power Structure

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on the court during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 26, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

The Eastern Conference underwent a significant facelift with the surprise announcement that LeBron James would return home to his Cleveland Cavaliers.

It's tempting to assume that the next superstar defection will be similarly momentous.

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that the "Minnesota Timberwolves have reached an agreement in principle to send All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew WigginsAnthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick..."

Wojnarowski added, "The deal cannot be finalized until Aug. 23, because Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, cannot be traded until one month after the signing of his rookie contract."

While the move involves one of the biggest names in the game, it more resembles piling on than a game-changing development. The more things change for LeBron's Cavaliers, the more they remain fundamentally the same.

This was already one of the two best teams in the East, even before Love forced his way out of a middling Minnesota train wreck.

The other would-be contender is a Chicago Bulls team that's poised to return to relevance with a healthy Derrick Rose returning to the floor. With head coach Tom Thibodeau's characteristically stingy defense, Chicago instantly became an Eastern Conference favorite after the Miami Heat lost James, a four-time MVP.

The Heat could remain formidable in their own right. In addition to re-signing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, team president Pat Riley acquired former Bulls forward Luol Deng along with role players Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.

But Chicago and Cleveland rank as the teams to beat.

Love's relocation may reaffirm that status quo, but it's hardly altered anything.

The Cavaliers would have boasted a number of young weapons either way. As it is, Love and James will be joined by an emerging star point guard in Kyrie Irving, as well as backcourt partner Dion Waiters. Had the Cavaliers rebuffed Minnesota's overtures, they'd also feature 2013 and 2014 first-overall draft picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.

There's little doubt that Love will accelerate Cleveland's ability to win now.'s Zach Harper put it like this: 

Offensively, the Cavs should be able to put up a top 5 scoring efficiency in the NBA right away. They have three go-to scorers and two of the best passing forwards in the league. And they've brought in decent shooters to stretch the floor.

Whereas Bennett and Wiggins would have taken some time to evolve into reliable contributors, Love is polished and in his prime.

"If he comes aboard, I will be very excited to have him," James said of Love's almost certain arrival, per's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein. "I don't even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had the opportunity to spend 32 days with him in the 2012 Olympics. He was huge for us...he's a great piece."

That IQ is surely superior to what Cleveland would have gotten from the young pieces it's sending back to Minnesota.

Love also fills an immediate need for Cleveland, effortlessly spacing the floor as the game's model stretch 4 and ensuring a dominant presence on the glass. Though his defensive effort is heavily suspect, there's no question that Love is a strong fit. If you thought LeBron's playmaking ability paid dividends with Chris Bosh at his side, just wait until Love starts catching and shooting.

The fact remains, however, that James is the real force multiplier here. He has a way of making those around him better, and he would have succeeded in that endeavor with or without Love around.

Indeed, there's some risk that the Cavaliers will be somewhat disappointed by their incoming sidekick.

Beyond his defensive liabilities, Love has struggled to demonstrate leadership—especially in the face of adversity. Though James will likely spearhead the evolution of a winning culture in Cleveland, it remains to be seen whether Love can meaningfully contribute to such a culture.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 26: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on March 26, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
David Sherman/Getty Images

Even as many onlookers highlight Love's shortcomings, Grantland's Bill Simmons wrote a comprehensive and largely on-point defense of his merits—primarily blaming Minnesota's woes on anything and everything but Love himself.

The problem is that—regardless of the contributing factors—Love has learned some bad habits. If he didn't help defensively in Minnesota, it's hard to see those kind of patterns changing overnight. 

When all is said and done, Love will grow into a well-rounded sidekick. He'll absorb James' wisdom by osmosis, debut a far more positive attitude and contribute to a winning cause that's a foregone conclusion by now.

The numbers will recede to some degree. But Love will happily trade individual accolades in exchange for a legitimate opportunity to pursue a title.

Indeed, he needs this opportunity more than the Cavs need him. Head coach David Blatt was scheduled to inherit a title-contending roster the moment James withdrew his talents from South Beach.

With the rest of the Eastern Conference scrambling to catch up with a new balance of power, Love hasn't changed much in the grand scheme of things. 

Even as he ensures LBJ and Co. another All-Star in search of something more.