The Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans have woken up each morning for the last few weeks with a sense of euphoria that the younger generations of Cleveland fans have never felt, while the older generations had seemingly forgot what winning a championship felt like. As great as a feeling winning of a championship is, and this city deserved it more than anybody, the free agency is well under way and the NBA landscape has drastically changed in a matter of days.
Cleveland will enter this upcoming season as the defending champions, but they aren’t the team to beat. The team they went back and forth with for seven games for the title just improved more than could ever have been anticipated. Kevin Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the defending Western Conference Champions, Golden State Warriors, in hopes of winning multiple titles, and their odds to win have multiplied exponentially. They are favored to win the title at an astounding 2/3 odds and the next closest team is the Cavaliers at 5/2.
When a team wins a championship, the following year teams will improve their rosters in order to dethrone them. The Warriors have done their job this off-season whilst the Cavaliers are yet to make any big move. They’ve lost players like Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova to teams willing to pay more for their services, but they were able to pull off a trade with the Chicago Bulls to bring in Mike Dunleavy. We have to keep in mind that they did win the championship and any big moves might disrupt the chemistry, but they need to add pieces to improve themselves. They are strapped down in terms of available money to spend so their other option to add talent is to trade some.
A player that has had speculation surround him since he became a Cavalier – summer of 2014 – is Kevin Love. A good player in his own right but widely believed to be overpaid and, to many, over-hyped. Now before we get on Kevin Love for his lack of all-star contribution in the NBA Finals, he did play well throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Against Detroit he averaged 18.8 ppg and 12 rpg. Against Atlanta he had 19 and 13, and versus Toronto he put up 15.2 & 5.7. He also seemed to find his footing on this team after Tyronn Lue took over mid-way during the season.
Now as great as that was, those statistics don’t tell the whole story for Love. Yes his scoring numbers were up in the playoffs, but it’s not as if he was breaking defender’s ankles with killer crossovers or flying over defenses to finish at the rim with tomahawk dunks. He was given wide open perimeter shots by LeBron, who defenses decided to double team to keep him from going off. Nothing Detroit, Atlanta, or Toronto did on defense worked as Cleveland torched everybody, but the Cavs had a roster in tow that was designed to contend with the Warriors. They played well against GSW and would win, but Kevin Love seemingly disappeared. However it’s more than just him not playing well.
With the league adopting the idea of a small ball line-up with players that are athletic, can shoot, and have the ability to do multiple things on the court, Love only suits one of those categories. He is considered a ‘stretch-four’ but if his shot isn’t falling, he falls through the cracks and almost becomes a detriment to have on the floor. He’s a limited defender who is nowhere near a shot blocker, and struggles to move his feet laterally. With his post-game diminishing greatly, he isn’t able to create shots for himself as he once was. Lastly, for a player that was paid $113 million to perform at a high level, he was continuously out played in the final round and was unable to find ways to help Cleveland either offensively or defensively.
With that kind of money being spent, and in case of injury, these two teams will likely face off again this time next year and Cleveland can’t afford to have Love play the way he did against this vastly improved Warriors squad. The Cavs may have won but they struggled greatly. They weren’t able to get enough production out of their third option, and other than herculean performances by LeBron and Kyrie, they had very limited depth on the roster. They will be going into year three with this ‘Big Three’, and although it has made improvements, it’s nowhere near a fully cohesive unit and that may be getting stunted by one piece; Kevin Love. He may have had a putrid performance but there is still strong value for Love, for whatever reason, and this is where Cleveland needs to pull the trigger and trade Kevin Love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Cavaliers fan myself and I love Kevin (no pun intended), but odds are that they will play the Warriors again and he simply matches up poorly against their roster. Love is being overpaid for how he ultimately performed when it mattered most, and if it wasn’t for LeBron and Kyrie carrying this team to a championship, this conversation would be much more prevalent. Just because they won, that shouldn’t shadow the problems the Cavs have with him on the roster.
One team that has had interest in Love through all of this is Boston. They feel that he fits well on their roster and they’ve made constant attempts to have him suit up in a Celtic jersey. There is a way where this can work for both teams. Cleveland trades Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert to Boston. The Celtics send Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Amir Johnson to the Cavs. Before you ask, the money would nearly match so you wouldn’t have to worry about there being too much of a differential in money.
Boston would get the guy they’ve been craving and a defensive wing that would get more options in Boston to get the ball to evolve his game. On the other side, Cleveland gets a whole lot better. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both excellent defenders on the perimeter and each are solid three point shooters. They both would make Cleveland’s line-up more dynamic and would add the much needed depth. Amir Johnson is also a fairly athletic big, who can move his feet well defensively and has more of an ability to affect opponents’ shots near the rim. He’s also in the last year of his deal, which he’s owed $12 million, so Cleveland would have that off the books by next summer giving them more flexibility to bring in free agents.
Cleveland may be the bigger winner in this deal, but Love is a guy Boston values highly and would be willing to trade assets for to bring in a name like him. The off-season is still young but the NBA landscape is set for the most part, and Cleveland knows what they must to do improve themselves if they wish to stay competitive with the now ‘Splash Family’ out west.