LeBron James makes a contender. In the Eastern Conference, The King, still deep in his prime, offers at the very least a free ticket to the conference finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers, even with James, are a young team and likely not championship ready just yet. There are, though, many indications that Kevin Love could be on his way to Cleveland as well. Paired with Love, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would have more talent than that of the championship runner-up Miami Heat of last year.
In order to acquire Kevin Love, a free agent come next off-season, the Cavaliers would likely be sending back some mix of salary to make up for Love’s almost $16 million cap, as the team has only around $6 million in cap space at the moment. They could also make up the difference by renouncing their cap hold on Spencer Hawes, but the big man could still potentially be a quality player to have at center on the bench.
Any salary and draft picks the Cavaliers will have to move is just a rearrangement of old furniture. The real centerpiece in any hypothetical deal would be Andrew Wiggins, recent number one draft pick. Cleveland would then be left with most of its young talent from last season, including former number one picks Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett, a pair of recent number four overall picks in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and one of LeBron’s favorite teammates in Anderson Varejao. The luster of James’ championship rings also represent the single best recruiting tool for veteran players. James’ former Heat teammate Mike Miller has already been brought aboard, helping to give the Cavaliers a bit of shooting and depth.
With all of the top draft picks in the past few years, Cleveland undoubtedly has talent. If they were to bring in Love for Wiggins, they would probably be a better team than LeBron James had in Miami across the entire starting five, save for shooting guard, where Dwyane Wade resides. Kyrie Irving is already far better than Mario Chalmers, not to mention six years younger and improving. Tristan Thompson, too, is a young improving player who averaged nearly a double double last season as a 22-year-old. Thompson’s upside surpasses anything done by Shane Battier or Udonis Haslem, who started most of the time at forward alongside James last season.
LeBron is the most versatile player in the world, and will fit in just as well with this Cleveland team as he did in Miami. Kevin Love is a top-10 player in the NBA, and even as good as Chris Bosh is Love does nearly all of the same things, but better. One of the ways Miami had evolved during the big three era is by moving Chris Bosh further and further outside. By last season, he had turned into a spot up three-point shooter, taking big men out of the lane to create space for LeBron and Wade. Even with the shift in strategy, Bosh took almost half as many threes as Love did last season, while Love shot them at a significantly better rate. Depending on how he would be employed by Cleveland’s new coach David Blatt, Love could play that role and allow Irving and James to dominate the ball, while also being free to rebound like he always has.
There in lies perhaps the biggest wildcard in the equation. Should Cleveland come up with a deal to secure Love, it becomes the job of a first year NBA head coach Blatt to solve what would be a unique puzzle of a roster. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has shown the ability to adapt his philosophy when needed, one of the marks of a good coach. Blatt has had huge success abroad, coaching most recently for Maccabi Tel Aviv, while also guiding the Russian national team to a Bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. He is a creative hire, and has all the makings of a solid NBA coach. Spoelstra was thrown into a similar “win now” situation in his first season, but Blatt arrives with far more experience than Spoelstra had.
Last year’s Miami team was talented, but nowhere near as good as they had been in years past. James’ new Cavaliers squad allows him a restart, playing with a younger team that can hopefully lesson the minutes load he had been forced to carry with the Heat. If LeBron James is paired with Kevin Love, the team has a good shot to surpass the result the Heat achieved last season and actually bring a title to Cleveland. It is a good team on paper, with potential to become even better in coming years.
Commentary by Brian Moore