A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

If the Cavaliers win the title, they should be glad the Kevin Love trade happened

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The Cavaliers are 3 wins away from winning the NBA Championship and now have home court advantage in the Finals. Considering the underwhelming talent level of their supporting cast it would be an amazing upset but elite defense and one of the best players of all time is a hard combination to beat.

If they win, I’m sure some people will jump on the narrative the Kevin Love trade wasn’t necessary to win the title and thus trading away a #1 pick in Andrew Wiggins was for naught.

However the Love trade will still have been important to the Cavaliers championship by the role it played in a sequence of events leading to the rest of the Cavs roster.

Let’s say the Cavaliers decide after draft night Andrew Wiggins is untouchable. Presumably he will be groomed as the shooting guard of the future beside James. This has a few effects beginning with the arc of Dion Waiters, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith’s Cavaliers careers. First, because Andrew Wiggins could be slotted in as the starting SG in this place the Cavaliers may have been more motivated to trade Waiters in the summer. Secondly without a trade for Kevin Love, the Cavaliers may have felt they needed more veteran and win-now talent around Lebron, motivated by the same incentive that made deal Wiggins for Love. This is another reason why Dion Waiters along with Anthony Bennett may have been dealt quickly allowing the Cavaliers to build around Lebron, Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and then win-now veterans. Tristan Thompson’s connection with Lebron’s agent Rich Paul I assume keeps him on the Cavaliers.

Furthermore, even if the Cavaliers kept Dion Waiters until halfway through the season, acquiring Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith may not have happened. The Cavaliers targeted Iman Shumpert because of a desperate need for athletic defense at shooting guard. With an athletic guard in Wiggins on the team, Shumpert may not have been the type of player they were looking for. If the Cavaliers did get both Shumpert and J.R. Smith for Waiters, fitting all of Wiggins, Shumpert and Smith in the lineup may have required Shumpert to be the backup PG, Wiggins the starting SG and Smith the backup SG and this also could’ve affected the Cavaliers playoff run if it pushed Dellavedova out of the rotation.

Timofey Mozgov’s path to the Cavaliers is also altered. Aside from the pick the Cavaliers acquired for Waiters helping them get Mozgov, understanding how turning down a Kevin Love trade could have pushed Mozgov away from the Cavaliers roots back to the summer. Kevin Love’s salary was 4.6 million more than Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett combined in that trade. However the difference that largely matters is the 10.2 million difference between Love and Wiggins. Like Waiters, Bennett’s contract would be expendable if the Cavaliers found the right free agent signing. Let’s say for example the Cavaliers target Pau Gasol who signed for a contract starting at 7.1 million with Chicago. Between the extra salary space saved by not trading for Love and trading Waiters or Bennett, they land Gasol. Now they have Andrew Wiggins and Pau Gasol. This sounds like a great scenario for the Cavaliers as Gasol had nearly as good a season as Kevin Love and they didn’t trade their shiny #1 pick to get him. But with Pau on the team they may not have targeted Timofey Mozgov to fill their hole for a starting C.

A starting lineup of Kyrie, Wiggins, Lebron, Thompson and Pau likely makes the Finals in the East. However it’s not the same team. With a teenager and an old slowing center in the starting lineup their defensive identity changes. If they the Cavaliers go on to beat the Warriors with defensive guile, rebounding and glue it becomes a different series. Although they potentially could win the title, we don’t know if they would have.

There were other free agent options than Gasol, of course. Luol Deng signed for a 9.7 million starting lineup for Miami which could have been an option for Cleveland and allowing Lebron to stay at power forward in Cleveland. This may have led them to still trading for Timofey Mozgov halfway through the year, however by playing Lebron at the 4, the combination of Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov playing together may not have played together as often in the playoffs and altered their run. Another scenario is the Cavaliers picking up Thaddeus Young who the 76ers were shopping at the time. A trade such as Bennett for Young was possible at the time. Although this would have been a quality pick up it would have again hurt Thompson and Mozgov’s success starting together in the playoffs. Again, it is a different team. The personality of defense, rebounding and underdog heart the Cavaliers have built their run on is potentially not the same.

There’s one more critical reason how the Kevin Love trade would have played a role in the Cavaliers championship. The side benefit of trading for a star player like Kevin Love is that the rest of the league has one less Kevin Love. What makes this especially relevant is that the Bulls and Warriors were two of the other teams involved in Love trade offers. The Bulls reportedly were offering a deal like Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott for him. The Warriors were offering David Lee and Harrison Barnes. If Love ended up on one of those teams it likely alters the Cavaliers path to the title. Going through the Bulls in the East would have likely been necessary for the Cavaliers and the Warriors would have had a loaded team in in the West and likely made the Finals. Notably the deal could have also made the Bulls or Warriors worse if Jimmy Butler or Draymond Green were eventually added to those deals, just as the Cavaliers eventually had to include Andrew Wiggins. Nevertheless it’s a variable that has to be accounted for that could alter the Cavs playoff run.

It should be mentioned that this is all assuming that Lebron returns with or without the Kevin Love trade, although some theorize Lebron required the assurance the Love trade would happen before he signed.

I’m not saying the Cavaliers couldn’t win the title this season by keeping Andrew Wiggins and setting off a different chain of events. Just that if they do go on to win, all of the chain of events leading them to having this roster where it all came together, would have been important to the final result. The Love trade is part of that sequence. LeBron is not such a good player that you can say he would win with anyone. The Cavaliers learned that by not winning the title the first 7 seasons in the league and the Heat lost in the Finals twice with two other Hall of Famers on the team. If the Cavs go on to win the supporting cast’s scrappy contributions and having “the right players” will have been important.

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Written by jr.

June 8, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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