The Cleveland Cavaliers have had probably the luckiest offseason in the history of the NBA, but they could blow it if they trade away the young Andrew Wiggins to get Kevin Love.
Let’s recap what’s happened thus far.
First, they won the draft lottery (for the third time in four years) to one of the deepest drafts ever and wound up with Wiggins—who, in his brief summer league stint, looks like a two-way star in the making.
Then, of course, they landed four-time MVP LeBron James in free agency.
You’d have to go back to 1996, when the Lakers drafted Kobe Bryant and signed free agent Shaquille O’Neal to find a team that had as good of an offseason as Cleveland has had here. Of course, the Lakers didn’t fall backward into either scenario like Cleveland did. They out-foxed the rest of the league in swooping in to trade for the 13th pick and selecting Bryant and then out-bid everyone to get a young Shaq.
Now, with Love on the block, rumor has it that they’re mulling a Wiggins-for-Love trade that would be silly for them. Here’s why:
1. Wiggins is a much better defensive player than Love.
Did anyone see Wiggins chase down Nick Johnson in summer league ball this past week, and block his layup? Ask any KU fan, who saw him play last year and was secretly hoping Wiggins would shock the world and stay one more year in Lawrence (like yours truly,) and do what he’s best at right now and it would be defense. And he’s only going to get better.
At this stage Love, who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for Minnesota last year, is clearly a much better offensive player. But, he’s only average defensively and with a scoring point guard in Kyrie Irving already in place in Cleveland, as well as LeBron at forward, Love’s output would likely decrease in Cleveland.
On the other hand, imagine Cleveland’s perimeter defense with LeBron James, who’s been named to the NBA All-Defensive 1st team five times in his career along with Wiggins. It would be like watching Jordan and Pippen stifle opponents 20 years ago.
2. Wiggins is younger and much less expensive.
Wiggins, 19, is six years younger than the 25-year-old Love, and will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 million (total) over four years in his rookie contract.
With Irving and James getting max deals, having Wiggins in a rookie contract gives the Cavs enough cap flexibility to add some parts.
Love, meanwhile, makes $15.7 million this next year, has a player option for the 2015–2016 season at $16.7, that he’ll likely decline if he’s still in a losing situation in Minnesota, and then any deal beyond that will likely start an even higher salary. In that scenario, the Cavs would probably have three max-deal players, giving them little leverage to add parts to what would still be a title-contending team.
3. Wiggins’ offense is underrated.
Coming out of high school a year ago, Wiggins was largely compared to James—only the greatest player in the world—and going by that comparison he didn’t live up to standards. Of course, even Michael Jordan only averaged 13.5 points per game his freshman year—which is even below Wiggins’s 17.1 per game at Kansas this past season, which was a school freshman record.
Wiggins will soon be known as a scorer though. He was admittedly passive at times at KU, but showed he could carry the load when Joel Embiid went down, at the end of the season. Prior to the extremely disappointing Round of 32 team performance against Stanford (that’s about as nice as I can be about it) Wiggins had averaged 28 points per game in his last four outings, including 41 in a loss to West Virginia.
4. Who exactly are the Cavs bidding against?
There’s no sense in giving Minnesota 120 cents on the dollar right now if no one else is even offering 75.
Minnesota is the team in a tough spot right now—not Cleveland—because Love likely isn’t re-signing with them beyond next season, so if they want something in return they’ll have to trade him now. The problem for them is that everyone knows he’s not staying, there are a limited number of teams that are contenders (who he’ll stay with long-term) with enough trade-able assets to get him, and even fewer teams that can then financially fit him under their cap.
So far all we’ve heard about is Golden State, whose front office seems split on giving up Klay Thompson in any deal, and Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Wiggins’s value, based on his summer-league highlight-reel play, keeps rising. With few other options for Minnesota, the Cavs would be wise to wait this one out, watch Wiggins’s value go even higher once the season starts, and see if they can’t acquire Love for a reduced price.