This is the first part in a two-part series debating whether the Cavs should trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. All opinions are entirely of the author.—Ed.
Not all professional sports franchises are created equal. There’s a reason the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series titles. There’s a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers have won five Super Bowls. There’s also a reason the Lakers and Celtics have combined for more Championships than the rest of the NBA combined.
Some teams are just better. Better talent, better management, better everything.
Of course, with the positive comes the negative as well. There’s a yin to every yang, and in this case the opposite side of the spectrum is that some teams are just bad. Painfully bad. Historically bad. Chicago Cubs bad. OK, maybe not quite that bad, but you get the picture.
This brings me to my main point; the Cleveland Cavaliers are a bad franchise.
Maybe not Cubs bad, but at least the Cubs have won a couple of titles.
The Cavs are a team that has spent the majority of its existence wallowing in disaster. Poor front office decisions repeatedly results in even poorer on-court performance. For a team that has nearly 45 years of history, not only have they never won the NBA Championship, they’ve never even won a single game in the NBA Finals. To rub salt in the wound a bit more, the most famous moment in franchise history showcases Chicago’s Michael Jordan burying a game-winning jumper over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference.
Not even their historic losses are deep in the Playoffs.
But, despite floundering in ineptitude since LeBron James’ departure back in 2010, the Cavs hit the lottery (figuratively and literally) in 2014. James’ return to the Cavs signifies a rebirth for the team despite continued front office numbskullery. Suddenly the team has the roster to, at least most likely, contend for the NBA Championship for the next few seasons.
Still, despite a roster packed with four No. 1 overall picks, the Cavs are viewed as a team with a lot of work left to do before becoming a legitimate contender. Even though James is in what you could likely consider his prime, the roster is packed with young, unproven talent that has, on average, been 13 games away from even a playoff spot (in the Eastern Conference, no less) since 2010.
So, basically, the general consensus is that the Cavs’ window for championship success is still a couple seasons away at the earliest. Which means LeBron would be around 31 or 32 years old by the time they’re ready to make a complete run.
For teams like the Yankees, Lakers or Celtics, that’s not good enough. It’s time the Cavs try to change the narrative and attempt to push themselves into a different echelon of professional sports franchise.
The Cleveland Cavaliers should trade Andrew Wiggins right now for Kevin Love. Now let’s talk about why.
The Cavs have suddenly found themselves in a win-now situation. They have the best player in the world and he’s in his prime. These are things that don’t happen very often, especially to a team like Cleveland. Their choices at the moment seem to be wait-and-see or go-for-it-all. Let’s take a look at the wait-and-see approach.
Other than James, Cleveland is a roster packed with young talent. Kyrie Irving is 22. So is Dion Waiters. Tristan Thompson is 23. Anthony Bennett is 21. And baby-faced assassin Andrew Wiggins is still two years away from being able to order a beer.
In the end, most of these guys are nothing but potential (albeit a lot of it). Cleveland would be banking on their scouting and the people who have told them just how good these guys will be in the future. And, looking back on the history of the Cavs’ scouting, I’m not sure that’s the best decision in the world. Regardless, this is a team that’s inexperienced and untested. It’s a team that would likely be fun as hell to watch, but wouldn’t be enough to beat the Western Conference powerhouse franchises like San Antonio or Oklahoma City. They might even have some trouble getting out of the putrid East if Chicago is healthy come playoff time. They’re a team that, if all goes according to plan and players reach their potential, could put together a legitimate run at a title within 2-3 years.
Or they could make one move and be the best team in the League right now.
There are too many things that can happen between now and the time Wiggins is able to dominate the League that could throw a wrench into the entire situation. What if LeBron gets hurt in two years and is never the same? What if the League locks out again and James loses another year of his prime? What happens when Anthony Davis becomes the best player in the League and goes to a team with talent? What happens when Cleveland doesn’t make a deal for Love and he does something like join Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City? There are thousands of different scenarios that could impede Cleveland’s championship progress the longer they delay. Even if Wiggins is a sure-fire talent that could lead the Cavs upon James’ retirement, there are too many unforeseen problems that could arise.
If the team made the swap now, Wiggins for Love, the team would know what they’re facing this year. The landscape has shifted in the League as much now as it will by opening night. For the most part, the League looks now as it will come October. And that, for the Cavs, is a good thing. The Spurs might be the defending Champions, but they’re still an aging roster that will be looking to make their third straight NBA Finals. Even the immortal Tim Duncan isn’t immune to fatigue after consecutive trips into June. Derrick Rose is coming off another knee operation, and even if he does reach his full potential eventually, it’s nearly impossible for him to get back at his MVP level of 2010-11. The Heat are out of the mix in the East without James. So are teams like the Knicks, Nets and Wizards. With Kevin Love, Cleveland would coast to the NBA Finals at least.
Once there, the road would be tougher, but still likely smooth sailing for the Cavs. The aforementioned comment about the Spurs still stands. The Clippers and Warriors are still (at least) one All-Star caliber piece away from being a legitimate contender. Other than the Thunder, there’s nobody in the West that would have a chance against Bron, Love and the Cavs. In fact, even OKC would have serious trouble trying to slow down a team with that many weapons.
The League is very beatable right now for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Love, it’s their world. Will it still look that way three years from now? Maybe. But probably not.
But what about defense? That’s the main problem in the argument, at least for most. Even with Wiggins, Cleveland looks to be a team that isn’t going to have any trouble scoring the basketball next season. Their biggest problem will likely be on the defensive end, and that’s certainly not something Love is going to do much to combat. There’s not an easy solution to this problem, and in the end it’s a legitimate one. Still, Love’s contributions go far beyond scoring the basketball. His 12.5 rebounds per game would have easily put him at the top of Cleveland’s stat sheet last season. In fact, Love averaged nearly as many defensive rebounds (9.6) as Cleveland’s leading rebounder (Anderson Varejao) had total (9.7). This limits second-chance points for the opposition while kick-starting the Cleveland offense, immediately having an impact on both sides of the ball. Perhaps Love isn’t the type of player to go out and shut down an opposing superstar, but saying he wouldn’t have a positive effect on the defensive side of the ball for the Cavs is foolish.
Obviously there will be arguments to the contrary. The most likely one is that Wiggins is a future superstar who could lead the Cavs for 10 years after James ultimately retires—taking a five- or six-year run and turning it into nearly 20. Suddenly the team isn’t just fighting for one Championship, but several over the course of the next two decades. In addition to Wiggins’ potential, upon his return LeBron mentioned that he understood this was going to be a long process. He isn’t expecting to win a Championship this season (or possibly even next season). He realizes Wiggins and the rest of the roster need time to develop and learn what it takes to be a Championship-caliber team in the NBA.
In the end teams play for one thing—Championships. It’s the reason fans go to games. It’s the reason, at least at first, why players get into this business. It’s why Michael Jordan and Joe Montana are considered the best. And, ironically enough, it’s why LeBron left Cleveland in the first place.
For a team that has never won before, this is an opportunity that doesn’t come often. Even if Andrew Wiggins turns into an All-Star player in the future, wouldn’t the long-suffering fans in Cleveland sacrifice that if it meant a Championship now? Passing on an opportunity because of the belief that a Championship window will be open for an extended period of time is a dangerous game.
Just ask the Washington Nationals.
For those of you unfamiliar with baseball, the Nationals were once the Montreal Expos before moving to the nation’s capital because nobody cared about them. Back in 2012 they shut down their best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, midway through the season in an effort to preserve his arm and avoid injury. They wanted him healthy and ready for the future.
But here’s the problem.
The Nationals were one of the best teams in the league in 2012. They were cruising to an easy division title and were seen as the favorites to win the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Until they mortgaged the present to try and preserve the future.
That season Washington lost in the first round of the playoffs.
They haven’t been back since.
Obviously it’s a different animal in the NBA compared to Major League Baseball, but the idea remains the same. Trying to secure something that is anything but secure, such as the future, is tricky (and often ill-advised). There are far too many variables at play that can prevent something four years from now from falling into place the way you would like it, no matter how hard you plan and how smart you are about it. That’s just life.
With Kevin Love the Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team in the NBA in 2014.
With Andrew Wiggins the Cleveland Cavaliers might be the best sometime after 2014.
Which would you rather have?