When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers four years ago, it was due in part to the team's inability to add top-tier players alongside the superstar. Now, following his surprise return home, the franchise has made the King look like a genius following an impressive offseason.
The biggest move that validates LeBron's decision to come back to Cleveland, while it has been expected for months, happened Saturday when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported Kevin Love was heading to the Cavaliers in a three-team deal:
While the Cavaliers had to pay a steep price to acquire Love, including sending Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to Minnesota, according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, they now have something they never had during LeBron's first run in Cleveland: A second legitimate superstar.
Here is a look at Love's career numbers and how they stack up to some of the key players LeBron played with in his initial run with the Cavaliers:
|Kevin Love vs. Former Cavaliers Players|
|Player||PPG||RPG||APG||FG%||3-PT FG%||Pts/100 Possessions||Win Shares|
|Kevin Love (Season Avg)||19.2||12.2||2.5||.451||.362||29.6||7.83|
|Mo Williams (2009-10)||15.8||3.0||5.3||.442||.429||24.3||6.7|
|Delonte West (2008-09)||12.6||3.4||3.8||.457||.399||18.9||6.4|
|Wally Szczerbiak (2008-09)||12.2||5.5||1.9||.450||.411||18.3||4.5|
|Larry Hughes (2007-08)||12,3||3.6||2.4||.377||.341||21.6||1.1|
What makes Love's numbers even more impressive, even though there are certain categories where the former Cavaliers players were better, is he was doing it all on his own in Minnesota. Delonte West, Larry Hughes and Mo Williams were putting up their numbers with LeBron commanding all the attention from opposing defenses.
When LeBron's return letter appeared on SI.com, one thing that he made a point to mention is that the team as constructed "wasn't ready" to win a championship.
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. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
At the time those words came out, LeBron was right. Even though expectations in Cleveland were going to be sky high because of how good the prodigal son is on a basketball court, a team with Wiggins, Bennett and Dion Waiters would have been similar to the kind of group he left in 2010.
Now, after acquiring Love and signing free agents Mike Miller and Shawn Marion, LeBron's decision to return home looks brilliant. He can take out the part of the letter about needing time to build a title team because anything short of that with this group would be a disappointment.
Making the situation even better is the long-term outlook for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving, 22, signed a five-year extension with the team in June. Love, 25, has given Cleveland's front office assurances that he will sign a five-year extension after this season, according to Wojnarowski.
LeBron is only signed to a two-year contract right now, but ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst was sure to silence any alarm bells by noting that the four-time MVP is going to sign another deal after the league's television agreement creates more salary-cap space and ups the total value of a maximum contract.
Contrast that with the situation LeBron left in Miami, with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both on the wrong side of 30, suddenly the master plan that started the day Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins published his letter has come into focus.
No longer do we have to wonder if LeBron has enough cache in NBA circles to bring talent to Cleveland. Now, all that we have to think about is if he can turn the Cavaliers into the dynasty we thought was coming when he joined the Heat.
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