Today began, as so many big news days do nowadays, with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reporting that the much-rumored Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade had been agreed to by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves. In the deal, which will not involve a third team, the Cavs are sending Wiggins, the first overall pick out of Kansas; Anthony Bennett, who was last year's first overall pick; and a protected first-round pick in 2015 to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love, with assurances that Love will immediately agree to a five-year, $120 million extension with Cleveland.
On the surface, it appears that the T-Pups traded Love for 35 cents on the dollar. First off, throw out the draft pick. Since it's protected what it means (Warning: Speculation Alert) is that in the event of some sort of catastrophic event where Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal suffer broken everythings, Love runs away to join a monastery in Budapest and LeBron James decides he's burnt out on basketball and would rather be Johnny Manziel's tight end with the Browns, the Cavs will keep their pick. Far more likely is them handing Minnesota a pick somewhere in the 25-30 range. Whoopee.
Then there's Anthony Bennett, who was being discussed in historical terms -- and not the good kind of history -- for most of his rookie campaign last season before ending on an upswing. Still, he finished the season with a 6.9 PER, a .356 shooting percentage (including an Stampleresque .245 from downtown) and -0.4 win shares. Matt Bonner played more regular season minutes than Bennett last year and Jeff Ayres scored more points. (Yes, that Jeff Ayres.)
Literally the only positive thing I can objectively say about Bennett is that he's still very young, only 21 years old. But it would be a stretch to describe him as an above average athlete for his position and I can't in my wildest imagination ever see him being more than just a guy in the league. I certainly don't think he'll ever be an All-Star and I doubt he'll even be a long-term starter. It's not his fault he was drafted first overall, but Bennett is the personification of the wretched 2013 draft class as a whole. It's not 2000 bad, and guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Steven Adams, Michael Carter-Williams, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mason Plumlee may turn out to be good-to-great, but none of these dudes had what you'd call a tour-de-force rookie season.
The main piece the Wolves are getting, of course, is Wiggins, and I already shared my thoughts on how cruel of a twist it must be for him to go from "Wow, sweet, I'm on a team with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving!" to "The team that picked me thought so little of me that they traded me and now everyone just knows me as The Guy the Cavs traded for Kevin Love."
Wiggins might develop into another Paul George or Kawhi Leonard some day, but those guys had fantastic support systems from Day 1 with great coaching staffs and star teammates to take the pressure off of them from the beginning. Wiggins, 19, won't have those luxuries. He's heading to a frozen wasteland where he and fellow rook Zach LaVine will each slam home a couple of alley-oops from Ricky Rubio per night and their team will be hard pressed to win 20 games.
There's a chance Wiggins turns into a star down the road, but he projects to being more of a complementary player, a second or third banana. He was the best the Wolves could get for Love, especially with the Warriors refusing to trade Klay Thompson (I'd have preferred Wiggins anyway) because both sides knew that Love had his employers over a barrel with his contract set to expire next summer.
The real goof for GM/Coach Flip Saunders was that he couldn't even manage to offload any of his bad contracts (J.J. Barea, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved, take your pick) in the deal. He should've found a way to dump those guys at least. Now their best case scenario is that Wiggins isn't completely overwhelmed and psychologically ruined by the trade and the pressures and responsibilities that go into being a "franchise savior" and that the Wolves can bottom out this next season and draft someone to share the load next summer.
I've beaten around the bush long enough. Obviously the real story here is how the trade impacts the Cavs. They're the favorites to win the title now, according to the Las Vegas Hilton Sportsbook, at 16/5 or 3.2-to-1. The Spurs rank second at 4-to-1. (If I were a betting man, I'd put a few lira on the Bulls at 10/1 and the Clippers at 12/1.) Even though one should always remember that the odds don't necessarily reflect who the casinos think is going to win but rather are just a reflection of how the bettors are wagering, it's easy enough to see the logic of making the Cavs the favorites. You cannot *win* the Finals without getting there and their road figures to be easier than San Antonio's. Assuming that both teams get to the Finals fully healthy, then I would expect the Spurs to be installed as series favorites, especially if they have home court advantage again.
On paper it's easy enough to think of the Cavs as favorites. It can be argued that they have two top-five players on their roster with James and Love, the ultimate stretch four. James is the best player on the planet (is it time to turn BPOTP into an acronym?), without a doubt. If this were baseball, he'd be what they call a "five tool player," only he has like ten tools. He scores inside and outside, he gets to the line, he shoots efficiently from everywhere, he's a good ball-handler, he's excellent working in the post when he wants to, he's a top passer and rebounder for his position, an elite defender when he's locked-in, and his stamina and durability are off the charts. There are people in the league who can do some things as good or even better than he does, but nobody can do all of them as well.
Irving, meanwhile, has never made the playoffs and hasn't proven to be durable, an especially good floor-leader or all that consistent of a shooter, but he's still probably the best player of his draft class. The only challenger in the conversation is Leonard. Irving's backcourt mate, Dion Waiters, has had a couple of moments in the league and has talent, but he hasn't shot the ball much better than Irving and multiple reports surfaced last season that the two aren't very chummy.
Aside from those two there's Anderson Varejao, who played 65 games last season, his most since 2009-10, but saw only 27.7 minutes of action per game and had his lowest-scoring season since 2007-08. Tristan Thompson was drafted fourth overall the same year as Irving, but is pretty much a league-average starter across the board and has shown no signs of developing beyond that. The only other big on the roster is 34-year-old Brendan Haywood, who's most famous for looking like the default template when you create-a-player in basketball video games. To this motley crew James recruited Heat pals Mike Miller and James Jones and is pursuing Shawn Marion, 36, and Ray Allen, 39.
Love is supposed to be the fellow who pushes them over the top. Not only is Love the league's best outside shooting big man -- though LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki are in the conversation -- but unlike his contemporaries he's also the best rebounder in the league, an excellent post scorer and among the best outlet passers on the planet. He gets his teammates oodles of free points not only by the space he creates on the floor but in transition, even off made baskets, because he's always looking for the touchdown pass.
The problem is he's going to have to complete a lot of those after-the-make Hail Mary's because I just don't see how these guys are going to get any stops at all. Irving has always been an atrocious defender, but plays point -- the one position you can get away with being bad in your end. But you can't be a serious contender without having solid defenders at two through five though. You just can't. Waiters has the talent to do it, but he's a bit undersized, a la Dwyane Wade, and is a lost cause in transition. Whereas Wade is usually late to get back because he's trying to sell a call or beefing at the refs for an unblown whistle, Waiters is just lazy and unfocused. Varejao is a good post defender but has lost a step and has never been much of a shot blocker. Thompson isn't clueless back there, but he's not a rim-protector either. He blocked one shot for every 74 minutes of floor time last season.
Conventional wisdom said the Cavs missed the playoffs last year because of Mike Brown's paint-by-numbers offense and their team-wide bricklaying, but these guys weren't all that good defensively either -- 19th in defensive efficiency compared to 22nd in offensive efficiency. Adding James to the mix will only improve them so much, and whatever gains he gives, Love will take away since he's a much worse defender than Varejao or even Thompson.
Sure, in a vacuum you make the Love-for-Wiggins trade 100 times out of 100. It's a very safe bet that Wiggins will never develop into the player that Love is now. However, this isn't fantasy basketball. Winning depends on how the pieces fit together. James' best position, as loathe as he is to admit it, as power forward, the same as Love. James had his best success with the Heat when Chris Bosh played center, he was at the four, and they had a three-and-D guy -- usually Shane Battier -- at the three. I contend that Wiggins would've fit a lot better with James and the rest of that Cavs roster than Love will. It would've given the team two dynamic defensive boa constrictors to shrink the floor for opposing offenses, it would've made life much easier defensively for Irving and Waiters, and the combined length and speed of James and Wiggins would've even entering the ball into the post a trickier proposition.
James has made it clear he's not interested in being thought of as a big man. He's slimmed down noticeably in the off-season. He doesn't want to play in the post on either end of the floor, but especially defensively. He never wants to take on the challenge of being at a height or weight mismatch and doesn't want to put himself in position to pick up fouls. (James' career foul rate is so low it's absurd.) For that reason I don't understand why they're even all that interested in Marion. He's not going to be the starting small forward if he signs with Cleveland. That's James' gig. All he'll be is a bench guy. Why not go to Indiana for four times the money and a starting job?
The bottom line to me is that James is not interested in being the next Tim Duncan. He doesn't have the patience to build something long term. He clearly didn't want to mentor Wiggins and will not tolerate baby-sitting any youngsters beyond Irving, Waiters and Thompson (the latter of which he shares agents with). Look at the guys James' is bringing aboard to help the cause. All of his ancient cronies from Miami. He's like a toddler who wants his super-team binky and wants it NOW. He got everything he wanted this off-season: A max contract, a stacked team, good PR and the mandate that he gets to be a small forward again. Its's pretty good to be LeBron James. He doesn't just want to win, he wants to win his way.
James may be a ten-tool player, but he's missing a pretty vital 11th tool: He's not a very good GM.