Everyone that follows the league probably knows that the trade between the Cavaliers and Timberwolves that will send Kevin Love to Cleveland has been agreed to in principle. It can't be officially completed until the end of the month so some pieces might move, with a third team maybe entering the picture. But for now it's Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first round pick (probably the Heat's) going to Minnesota.
As Michael Erler mentioned, the trade has turned the Cavaliers into the favorite to win the title, at least according to Vegas. But while pointing out that the talent upgrade helps the Cavs now, Michael made the case that the trade might not have been in the Cavs' best interest long term. And he's not alone in feeling that patience would have been the best course of action. Obviously LeBron James was for the deal, and he was perhaps behind it. So if that's true, he should shoulder some of the responsibility.
But I disagree with that position. I think this move was the right one -- and it will catapult the Cavs to the top of the East for the foreseeable future. And if LeBron was behind it, he's far from being a bad GM.
Before going into the meat of the argument, a quick look at the Wolves perspective. They had to make the trade. It was unavoidable. There was no way that a good season could make Love reconsider his stance the way LaMarcus Aldridge did. The relationship with the franchise was worse than Aldridge's and there were not many ways the Wolves could find another star to pair Love with to make him forget that.
It's impossible to come out ahead when trading an elite player; it just can't be done. But Minnesota got a good haul: young players with potential who are still on rookie deals. The Wolves' future championship aspirations rest on the shoulders of a raw 19 year old and in Ricky Rubio's ability to learn how to shoot. It's not a great position to be in, but no trade was going to really improve their team.
As for the Cavs perspective, I never understood why it seemed like a tough decision to so many people. Wiggins' potential is tantalizing but Kevin Love is already elite. He can score efficiently inside and out and is arguably the league's best rebounder. Sure, he's below average at defense but the good he does vastly outweighs the bad. And last time I checked, neither Wiggins nor Bennett are elite defenders right now. Wiggins definitely has that potential but it took Kawhi Leonard and Paul George a while to realize theirs. And it's not like he was going to plug the gaping hole the Cavs have at center.
Rim protection was always going to be a problem for Cleveland, even before the trade. They just didn't have anyone who could offer it under contract or the resources to get someone who did it at a high enough level to move the needle without including Wiggins. And even if they were willing to do that, there weren't any elite rim protectors available. OKC wasn't going to trade Ibaka. Noah is going nowhere. The Pelicans would have hung up if David Griffin brought up Anthony Davis. Who else was there that the Cavs could have targeted?
Now, if getting Love has doomed the Cavs to be bad at defense forever, it's a bad trade. But while Love is never going to offer rim protection, his game -- unlike those of players like peak Amare Stoudemire and Blake Griffin -- is compatible with a traditional shot blocking big's. His three point shooting would balance a team's spacing even if someone like Splitter, Asik or Tyson Chandler played center. So a team with Love at power forward and LeBron at small forward could be very good at offense and defense. It just needs the right complementary pieces. The Cavaliers don't seem to have them now but they have ways of getting them.
LeBron loves Varejao, but if Anderson gets hurt, he has a very tradable expiring contract. On a smaller role, Waiters should see his efficiency spike a bit, which increases his trade value. He's young and on a rookie contract. If they need help at other positions or he proves to be superflous, they can trade him. The same goes for Thompson. And in a very interesting move, the Cavs acquired Brendan Haywood, who due to some CBA-related quirk will have a $10 million unguaranteed contract next off-season. The Cavs even have a few unguaranteed contracts they can trade this off-season for an extra guy. There's still work to do but they have the pieces to continue to tinker with the roster.
The bottom line is this: elite players, even ones with flaws, are rarely available. The Cavs had the chance to nab a 25-year-old star to pair with an in-his-prime LeBron and an emerging Kyrie Irving. It didn't completely kill their flexibility to make future moves. The team didn't get significantly older from the trade, either. Love is only 25, Irving and Waiters are 22 and Tristan Thompson is 23. Most importantly, LeBron is only 29. The Cavs are not the Garnett-Pierce-Allen Celtics. They could contend for the next six or seven years. And the defensive problems they will face were always there, but they are solvable. The trade is a slam dunk.
The smaller moves that preceded it are a bit more controversial. Using the room exception on Mike Miller instead of a big man might not had been the best decision, especially if LeBron wants to play small forward more often. James Jones seems like a waste of a roster spot, even at the minimum. Yet those guys can space the floor and any team that has great one-on-one players needs that. You can't leave Miller open to help on LeBron, Kyrie and Love. But if you don't, they kill you on their own. It's a pick your poison scenario on offense that limits the negative impact those shooters have on the other end.
As for their reported interest in Shawn Marion and Ray Allen, it makes absolute sense and it would make them even more dangerous. At this point, Allen is a better version of James Jones. But Marion can play the four in small ball lineups so that LeBron doesn't have to. Marion would do what Battier did in Miami, only with better defense. And his lack of shooting would be masked by Love as long as the two are played together.
So what exactly did LeBron, assuming he was directly involved in most of these decisions, do wrong? He clearly increased the team's short terms chances of contending without unduly limiting future prospects. He retained some roster flexibility. He didn't create any weakness that wasn't already present in the roster but he did bolster the team's strengths. He used his pull to get shooters for cheap. And the appeal of playing with LeBron might convince Marion to leave money on the table and Allen to postpone his retirement.
The Cavs might not win it all this upcoming season, but they are in a great place as a franchise going forward.
I don't really think LeBron is calling all the shots in Cleveland. But if he was, he'd be an early favorite for Executive of the Year.