After Kevin Love Trade, Cavaliers Should Face Same Standards as 2010-11 Heat

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After Kevin Love Trade, Cavaliers Should Face Same Standards as 2010-11 Heat
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Eddie House, known for his hair-trigger jumper and occasional obscene gesture, didn't make it to the end of the Miami Heat's Big Three era, getting the thumb prior to their second season together.

Still, the veteran guard's quote from Miami's 2010 training camp, an utterance that many didn't find endearing, qualifies as among the most enduring.

That quote spoke to the climate of LeBron James' first season in Miami and the players' quite correct sense that everyone north of Florida's Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was against them.

They may have brought some of the scrutiny on themselves, with James' The Decision special followed by an event for season ticket holders that, with all the smoke and flexing and boasting, played out like a wrestling show.

But even after all of that, some of the criticism was over the top.

"I think, you know what, honestly, I don't give a (expletive) about nobody else on the outside," House told me while I was working for The Palm Beach Post. "It doesn't matter about anybody out there. I don't care what their expectations are. We have our expectations and our goals. We are going to achieve them. That's the bottom line. ... So, at the end of the day, middle fingers to all the haters." 

It is impossible to envision anyone on the current Cleveland Cavaliers roster saying something similar this October. It's not just that none of the players has House's reputation as a provocateur. So far, there's no indication that any will be provoked, that there will be criticism to counter. Outside of spurned South Florida, there has been universal celebration of James' decision to return to his Ohio roots, as well as the ways in which the Cavaliers have quickly constructed the complementary roster.

This comes as quite a contrast to what the Heat encountered in 2010, when many declared the organization as undeservingthough Miami won just seven fewer total games in 2008-09 and '09-'10 than Cleveland has in its last four bumbling seasonswhen its new star trio was accused of plotting events well in advance.

When Heat veterans such as House, Mike Miller, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby were ridiculed for ring-chasing rather than praised for financial sacrifice.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
The Heat face a steady chorus of boos across the NBA after signing Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2010.

Oh, and when the entire notion of an NBA Big Three was characterized as so unfair that it became the basis of the battle for the next collective bargaining agreement, a battle that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert fully joined, if not led.

Gilbert is now on the other side, boasting a Big Three of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that, at the start of the '14-'15 season, will be a collective 77 years old, four years younger than James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were at the start of the '10-'11 season.

James' omission of Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett in his SI.com letter in July seemed to be an early indicator of their eventual inclusion in a swap for Love.

So far, Miller, Miami-area product James Jones and Shawn Marion have joined James in a city that typically attracts fewer free agents, with Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com suggesting that Ray Allen is possibly next in line.

All of these double standards are enough to make Heat fans double over in anger. However, they should know by now that there's no point in protesting.

They should also know not to expect anyone to burden the Cavaliers with expectations similar to those that Jeff Van Gundy dropped on the freshly formed James/Wade/Bosh Heat.

Here is how the former NBA coach and current ESPN/ABC analyst assessed the Heat prior to the '10-'11 season in an interview with The Miami Herald (h/t Pro Basketball Talk): 

They will break the single-season win record [of 72]. And I think they have a legit shot at the Lakers' 33-game [winning] streak [in 1971-72], as well. And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year. ... 

They have put together a much better roster than anybody could ever have expected. There is now no good way to defend them. They are unguardable. They are indefensible. They are just too good and have added so much shooting and are so versatile that they will score at will. 

On the surface, Van Gundy's comments were the opposite of the "hating" that so irked House and other Heat players.

After all, Van Gundy wasn't denigrating the Heat's abilities. Rather, he was exaggerating them.

But some in the Heat organization heard them differentlyas raising the stakes to unreasonable levels, especially in light of the stars' limited time playing together and the patchwork nature of the supporting cast.

If Van Gundy, however unintentionally, was setting the team up to fail, he wasn't the only one doing so. Media overhype built upon the public's initial outrage, creating a championship-or-flop dichotomy that positioned the Heat for mockery.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press/Associated Press
James Jones and Mike Miller will again play supporting roles to another potential super team helmed by LeBron James.

Will the Cavaliers face the same?

What if they start 9-8, like Miami did?

What if they flop in the NBA Finals, like the Heat did against the less star-studded Dallas Mavericks?

Unlikely.

How 2014-15 Cavs Measure Up to 2010-11 Heat
Miami Heat 2010-11 PER from Prior Season Cleveland Cavs 2014-15 PER from Prior Season
LeBron James 31.1 LeBron James 29.3
Dwyane Wade 28.0 Kyrie Irving 20.1
Chris Bosh 25.0 Kevin Love 26.9
Mario Chalmers 10.7 Dion Waiters 14.0
James Jones 8.8 Anderson Varejao 17.0
Joel Anthony 10.2 Tristan Thompson 14.9
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 11.9 Matthew Dellavedova 10.7
Carlos Arroyo 12.3 Mike Miller 12.5

Basketball-Reference.com

The current Cavaliers, unlike the villainous '10-'11 Heat, are the darlings of the NBA's myth-making media establishment.

Charles Barkley, who referred to the Heat team that season as "a whiny bunch" that plays for the "worst fans," openly rooted for James to return to Cleveland and has celebrated the choice since.

While FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver did project the Cavaliers at roughly 65 wins if they acquired Love, you don't read or hear national NBA pundits writing or shouting that if they don't win that many in their first go-round, the Cavaliers' experiment will be a failure.

Instead, some have preached patience, taking a cue from James' homecoming essay, published before the Love acquisition, in which he wrote the following:

I'm not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. 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.

James knows full well how difficult it is because of the struggles of the '10-'11 season, when he and Wade often appeared as if they were taking turns rather than enhancing each other, when his young coach (Erik Spoelstra) hadn't yet conceived his compatible "pace and space" offense, when the burden on the Heat's backs was often too much to bear. 

But no one gave him the benefit of the doubt then.

If people do now, it may be because they like him better (as a selfless two-time champion), they like his jersey better (representing blue-collar Cleveland) or they like this story better (coming home to support a community).

It won't be because that '10-'11 roster was better and deserved less slack.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images
At age 22, Dion Waiters offers LeBron James the kind of young talent that often was in short supply in Miami.

Consider the 11 players that James featured on a pair of Instagram posts Saturday, following the official announcement of the Love trade.

If you ranked them first through 11th, you could seriously argue that the 2010-11 team had an edge in only one spotthat of the top guard, where a then-prime-level Dwyane Wade was clearly superior to the current incarnation of Kyrie Irving.

The others?

Well, James is a better player and leader than he was then, more effective in the post, more intelligent about his shot selection, more aware of how to get the most out of every teammate. The top forward, Kevin Love, has a statistical edge—albeit not as dramatic as some argueover what Chris Bosh was producing in Toronto.

But look at the rest.

Miller and Udonis Haslem were supposed to fill out the Heat's Big Five lineup before each suffered significant injuries. Miller, when he played, did so with one or two injured thumbs and Haslem missed nearly the entire regular season.

Miller is healthier now, coming off a season in which he played all 82 games and shot extraordinarily well, and yet he's not projected to fill as big a role as he was in '10-'11.

Haslem was coming off a season in which he averaged 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, whereas Cleveland holdover Tristan Thompson averaged 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest in '13-'14 and is seven years younger than Haslem was then.

The 2010-11 Miami Heat won 58 games in LeBron James' first season with the team. Will the 2014-15 Cavs win more?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Mario Chalmers was actually fourth on the Heat in minutes in '10-'11, even though he wasn't often a starter. But Cleveland can counter with Dion Waiters, who, even with maturity issues at age 22, has more upside as a former fourth overall pick.

James Jones was fifth on the Heat in minutes in '10-'11, just 30 behind Chalmers. He's virtually the same player now, but he won't receive half of that floor time for Cleveland this season, even if Ray Allen doesn't sign.

Joel Anthony, part of the Heat's center by committee, had the sixth-most minutes. Anderson Varejao, should he stay healthy, can do everything Anthony did, plus rebound, catch and finish.

Spoelstra also gave considerable run to the limited Carlos Arroyowho played just 15 more games in the NBA after his midseason releaseHouse, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire and Zydrunas Ilgauskaswho combined to play just 49 more games after that seasona broken-down Bibbywho shot 28.1 percent in the playoffsand Juwan Howard, known as "17" because of the grueling seasons he'd played.

That was the Heat squad many observers dropped as a Ducati on a steep, swerving mountain trail, demanding it to ride full throttle from the start to a championship conclusion.

It would seem odd if those same observers were to secure the Cavaliers' training wheels to allow for slow and safe pedaling around a quiet cul de sac. Not when Marion is still more effective than much of the aforementioned Miami roster filler, to say nothing of what youngsters Matthew Dellavedova or Joe Harris or veterans Brendan Haywood and John Lucas III may provide.

Bill Baptist/Getty Images
Kevin Love's trade to Cleveland has made the Cavs one of the favorites to not only win the East, but also the NBA title.

Will Van Gundy project 75 wins to account for Cleveland's superior roster? Will the Cavaliers be judged as harshly as the Heat were if they only win, say, 58 games and finish second to Chicago in the East, as the Heat did, before reaching the NBA Finals? 

Or will the Cavaliers benefit from what the Heat taught us—that it isn't so easy to stitch a team together on the fly and soar to a title?

All of this brings to mind something that Bosh said that same October 2010 day when House pointedly told the "haters" how he felt.

"Quite honestly, I don't think we can ever win enough games," Bosh acknowledged. "The critics will never be silenced. There's always going to be something to pick on throughout our careers as long as we're going to be together."

That was true for Bosh, Wade and James, from beginning to end.

Will Kevin Love someday say the same about his Cleveland experience?

That would be a surprise, because it would mean the Cavaliers had been held to the same standards.

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.

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