The Deal: At present, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported the Cleveland Cavaliers will trade Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Miami’s top-10 protected 2015 first round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. The deal cannot be made official until August 23 since that will be 30 days after Wiggins signed his rookie contract. We could also see some non-guaranteed contracts go to Minnesota to complete the trade and/or Anthony Bennett moving somewhere else in a deal that makes this a three-team trade.
The trade for Cleveland
While Kevin Love is not the best player in the league or even the best young player in the league, he was the best procurable player in the league for Cleveland. A Top-10 player right now at the age of 26, Love gives the Cavaliers a player who complements both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in ways that will continue to grow with time and experience. Putting a monstrous pick-and-pop player with two of the better PNR ballhandlers in the entire league means the Cavs will be brutally hard to defend when even two of them share the floor and the full trio will be incredibly potent. Working in catch-and-shoot players like Mike Miller and potentially Ray Allen makes a ton of sense offensively and the Cavs should score as long as their current core sticks together.
Some may harp on Love’s defense, but they are operating from two mistaken ideas.
First, Kevin Love’s defense has gotten better. Even without playing with a rim protector at Center (a must for any team but even more essential for a team with Love), he did pretty well last season on that end. Many of us also underrate the importance of defensive rebounding in the overall equation since they actually end possessions. Love has been elite on the defensive boards his entire NBA career and sat fifth last season and third over the last three combined behind only Omer Asik and Dwight Howard.
On top of that, poor power forward defense can be more easily mitigated than other positions. We saw this with the Warriors and David Lee last season and numerous other franchises in recent years.
Unlike other recent superstar trades (notably Dwight Howard in 2012), the Cavaliers gave up quite a bit to acquire Love. Even though Wiggins was not the top player on my draft board (he was fourth) because his offensive game needs a ton of improvement that may never come, he should still be a massively useful NBA player with the maximum amount of team control in terms of years. Bennett could still be a contributor and would have fit nicely on this new-look Cavs team, something I talked about with Ian Levy on last week’s RealGM Radio podcast.
Despite the heavy price, the Cavaliers acquiring Love was a masterstroke because he is the best player they could have brought in at this time. Cleveland did not have the cap space to sign Love outright next summer and waiting carried more downside risk than some in the media have argued. Wiggins’ value has more shakiness than room to grow in the short term and another disappointing stretch from Bennett could have been disastrous for his standing in the league. More than any of that, making the trade now gives the Cavs a full training camp and season to see their core together. That time and development has real importance in a league where teams can take time to gel, especially with a creative new offensive coach in David Blatt who gets the full toolbox at the outset.
Grade for Cleveland: A- (upgraded to a straight A if Love signs a longer-term contract next summer)
The trade for Minnesota
While keepig Love long-term would have been the best case scenario for Minnesota, it certainly looked like that would not happen. Given that caveat, Flip Saunders maximized the value of his best player and got an excellent return.
Other than Nikola Mirotic, Andrew Wiggins was the best single piece available given Minnesota’s specific constraints. Bringing in a player with eight or more years of team control and four years of cost control makes a ton of sense for a franchise that has trouble bringing in quality players via free agency without horrendously overpaying them. Wiggins’ athleticism should allow him to become a quality defender early in his career with the potential to become even better on that end with the knowledge that comes from NBA experience. Even if he never becomes dominant offensively, Wiggins can look at Andre Iguodala as an example of how to become a pivotal player by maximizing his positives.
Bennett should be much better than what he showed on the court last season. As a draft prospect a little over a year ago, I saw a player with power forward size and a nice perimeter game that could keep more traditional fours off-balance. An uptempo system like Minnesota should run coupled with a rim protector in Gorgui Dieng should help the #1 overall selection in 2013 immensely. I fully expect Bennett to eventually become a rotation player, which definitely has value in the league even if his draft position may have led to higher expectations. Swapping him for a single year of Thaddeus Young would be a major mistake.
The pick from Miami should be in the low 20s, a nice sweetener in an already good trade for the Wolves. While the front office will actually have to hit on the pick, Minnesota has a fair chance at a rotation player with an outside shot at becoming a starter. In addition, making the Love trade during the summer should substantially improve Minnesota’s own selection and help them pick up an impact piece high in the lottery that fits with their new foundation.
Even though I would have preferred an offer built around Nikola Mirotic and either Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson, we have no idea if such an offer was ever actually on the table before or after the draft. Even so, Minnesota picked up two cost-controlled lottery tickets with the talent to make it along with a potentially useful selection from LeBron’s former team. I am also happy that Minnesota did not use Love to offload other contracts since that would have been a comparatively inferior use of his value than better young talent.
Grade for Minnesota: A
The non-trade for Golden State
While acquiring Love may have been close to a done deal for the Cavaliers once LeBron James chose to return, it certainly appears the Warriors had a window to get a trade completed before then. Saunders reportedly liked their pieces but Golden State just could not make it happen.
Whether that failure came from not wanting to include Klay Thompson, thinking they could play hardball by waiting Minnesota out, refusing to take on Kevin Martin’s contract or some combination of the three it was a massive mistake. The Warriors now have to add extensions for Thompson and Draymond Green to their books next season with large contracts owed to David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry. In fact, barring some catastrophic event, Thompson and Lee will make less in 2015-16 than Martin and Love. Two years after declining a trade for James Harden, the Warriors passed a second time on an elite young talent to pair with Stephen Curry.
While there certainly was a chance Love would not have committed to the Warriors even if the trade happened before LeBron decided, the Warriors had the benefit of limiting Love to only teams with cap space next summer. While the Knicks and Lakers are in major markets, a move would have forced Love to leave a clear-cut playoff team and possible title contender for less money on a worse team. Very few superstars have made that choice in recent times. Heck, if the team really thought Love was going to leave after the 2014-15 season they could have sent him to Cleveland at the deadline for a package similar to what they sent to Minnesota which would have been a substantial upgrade for the Warriors.