Cleveland Cavaliers: Looking Back, Was The Kevin Love Trade Worth It?


When LeBron James agreed to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, the logical next step appeared to be trading for a top-15 player to pair him with. But 11 months later, just how bad does that trade look?

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The King had returned. After a 4-year exile to the hellish beaches of Miami, the prodigal son had come back home to deliver a championship to his city. LeBron James was back in Cleveland with one goal in mind — to win it all in his hometown.

LeBron’s return, and the subsequent moves made by the Cavaliers, most notably the Kevin Love trade, had set Cleveland up to win. Visions of LeBron playing along side Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving gave people ideas about this team that bordered on biblical proportions. Games at the Quicken Loans arena were going to be a cathartic experience as the team and the fans played off of each other en route to some sort of unreal 41-0, 41-1 home record. The team was built to roll through the rest of the league, and bring the championship-starved city of Cleveland a trophy.

None of that happened. The Cavs stumbled out of the gate with glaring chemistry issues, falling at one point in January to a 19-20 record. Everyone was stunned — NBA personalities like Charles Barkley were calling for David Blatt’s head, Jalen Rose was tearing Kevin Love’s play apart, and I’m pretty sure Skip Bayless’ head may have exploded during an argument with Stephen A. Smith over Kyrie Irving’s lack of assists (okay, maybe one of those things didn’t happen).

In late January, the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the verge of destruction.

Then, the Cavaliers turned it around. The Big 3 began to mesh. LeBron returned from his “injury” refreshed and ready to go. The new additions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov were beginning to make big contributions. Even

Tyrone Lue

David Blatt was beginning to look like a somewhat competent head coach. I’m telling you, this was Brian Windhorst with a camcorder, and a song by Wham!, away from becoming a classic 80’s movie montage. Although it didn’t occur on the same scale as we had expected, things were finally coming together for the Cavaliers.

Now we’ve watched as LeBron has led another team to The Finals. Once again, he’s stepped up in the playoffs when it mattered, and put his team in a position to win it all.

That is, his team minus Kevin Love, right? LeBron has carried one of his teams to another Finals, without

Mar 10, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) talks with forward Kevin Love (0) during a timeout from the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. The Cavs beat the Mavs 127-94. Mandatory


: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

the guy that the Cavs brought in to help get him there. Love struggled in Cleveland from the start this season, but by the time the spring had rolled around, he had finally, if reluctantly, fallen into the role that the Cavs needed him to. It was actually starting to look as though he was going to be able to succeed in Cleveland. Then a totally innocent Kelly Olynyk came in and accidentally almost ripped Love’s arm off with a UFC type arm lock, and that was it for Love’s season.

At this point, with a full regular season behind us, I think it’s sort of safe to say that this whole Love in Cleveland with LeBron experiment has been a relative failure. Like a really really relative one. Like, “Kevin Love could return next season, play above-average basketball, and make a deep playoff run with this team and it would still be a failure” relative. We just never got what we expected out of Love with the Cavs, and I don’t think we ever will.

So just how big a failure was this experiment? Let’s see

Before we delve into it, let’s establish a few things first:

The Kevin Love trade was a caveat to the LeBron deal. LeBron wasn’t going to come back to Cleveland to carry a team through the playoffs again, (Whoops, that didn’t just happen…). He wanted another Big 3 to work with, and Kevin Love was a major piece of that.

Don’t believe me?

Why on earth would LeBron have neglected to mention the No. 1 overall pick in his Sports Illustrated piece to announce his return? If he really thought Andrew Wiggins was going to be on his team, LeBron probably would have mentioned him instead of Dion Waiters.

The Kevin Love injury was nobody’s fault, alright; maybe it was Kelly Olynyk’s — it was a freak injury that took Love out right as he was hitting his stride with this team.

Despite that, we also need to recognize that the Cavs make the Finals with, or without Kevin Love. As well as he had begun to play this spring, Kevin Love was not imperative to this teams’ success. Just as with

Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) holds his shoulder after colliding with Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) during the first half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at TD Garden. Mandatory


: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

every other star LeBron has ever played with, with the exception of ’10-’11 Dwyane Wade, LeBron had turned Love into a highly talented role player, there to serve at the behest of The King. Losing him hurt the Cavs, but it didn’t sink them — remember that.

Alright, so looking back on it, just how bad was this trade?

For starters, let’s be fair — no one could have anticipated the issues and the injuries that the Cavs faced, I can’t penalize them for not forecasting the bad fit that Love ended up being. Kevin Love’s style of play was sure to take a hit playing alongside LeBron, but no one could have foreseen the significant drop in his game that occurred.

What I can penalize the Cavaliers for is hemorrhaging their future for a star. And a star who had the ability to opt-out after one year at that. The Cavs gave up this season’s Rookie of the Year for a star who may, at least mentally, already be gone.

Once again, at the time, it seemed like a given that Kevin Love would be a rebounding machine with 3-point ability for the Cavs, and would continue to be a stud in Cleveland, and it would be a no brainer for him to opt-in. Who would have expected David Blatt to neutralize him completely by keeping him away from the basket? But that being the case, why should Kevin Love opt-in for next year? In Cleveland, Kevin Love has had his game minimized; reduced to a point where he no longer plays like himself. Sure, staying in Cleveland would essentially guarantee him a spot in the Finals at least three of the next five years or so, but I’m not sure Love is willing to do that at the expense of his own game — and happiness.

This season, Love has often been paralleled with Chris Bosh. Both are power forwards who were a part of so-called big 3’s that also included this century’s most transcendent player. The difference between the two forwards is in how they handled playing along side LeBron. Bosh accepted his role. Love didn’t. Chris Bosh was a more than content third fiddle to LeBron and Dwyane Wade in Miami, en route to four straight finals appearances.

Kevin Love never looked comfortable being his team’s third option, and it showed this season. As we’ve seen both in Cleveland and in Miami, playing with LeBron takes a sacrifice, and it has obviously been one that Love hasn’t been eager to make. Based on his attitude this season, and just the way everything has shaken out, especially with the Cavs moving on to the Finals without him, I don’t expect to see Kevin Love in a Cleveland uniform next season.

Kevin Love is still young and in the prime of his career. He has to know that there are other teams out there who would be elated to make him the focal point of their team, right? So why would he stay somewhere where feels he is being misused and underappreciated, when he could go somewhere — *cough cough* LA — where he feels like he could flourish on a successful team?

If all of the disharmony that we’ve seen this season is as pronounced as it appears, Kevin Love should be playing somewhere else next fall.

So what did the Cavs lose in making this trade if Love walks next month?

Oh I don’t know, maybe a rising NBA star who could have developed under LeBron. An athletic player who would have complemented LeBron perfectly, contributed right away, and might have extended LeBron’s career by a few years. Andrew Wiggins was fantastic this season in Minnesota, showing us immediately that he has what it takes to become an NBA star.

At just 19, Wiggins put up respectable numbers — 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game — and showed us things on both offense and defense that just can’t be taught. Obviously, if you take Kevin Love away from this team, and leave Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, it’s a very different looking team. Maybe they don’t make the Smith-Shumpert trade. They probably make a trade for a power forward with the money that isn’t going to Love, maybe for someone like David Lee.

As different as this Cleveland team would look with Wiggins on it and without Love, I still have no doubt that they would be playing in the Finals, just as they are now.

Alright, whatever, so the Cavs go to the Finals this year either way, the trade wasn’t a big deal. But how about a few years down the road? I know LeBron is superhuman and comes from the same planet as Tim Duncan, Tom Brady, and Bradley Cooper, but there will be a point where his body does begin to break down — it’s inevitable.

Holding onto Andrew Wiggins would have given LeBron the perfect second fiddle to play alongside as he aged. Rather than trying to gut it out playing injured, or trudging through another back-to-back in 2019, LeBron could manage his body, knowing he has Wiggins there to hand the team to. A system like this would extend LeBron’s career an extra 3-5 years, and in turn it would also be part of the grooming process necessary to make Wiggins a star in his own right.

But instead, five years from now, when LeBron hands the team over to Kyrie Irving on the 2nd half of a back-to back, we’ll watch as Kyrie drops something like 48 points in a loss to the Sixers (The Sixers will have to be good at that point right? Or will next year still be the year for them in 2020?).

We’ve seen teams attempt to do this in the past. When the Celtics took Len Bias with the 2nd overall pick in the 1986 draft, the idea was for him to develop into a star under Larry Bird, and for him to take much of

Jan 13, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) sits on the bench during the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Phoenix won 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

the burden off of Bird’s aching body. Tragically, Bias died of a drug overdose the next day, and never got the chance to put on a Celtics uniform. Say Bias doesn’t pass away, maybe Bird’s body doesn’t completely fall apart, and he plays into the early 90’s. Maybe Bird isn’t forced to sleep in traction the night before a playoff game, because he knows he has Lenny Bias there to take over for him.

That’s something that LeBron, and more importantly the Cavs, may have lost this summer. Rather than setting themselves up for the next 7-10 years, with one star developing under another, the Cavs had a win-now attitude, which may cost them down the road.

More likely than not, the Cavs didn’t have a choice in the Love trade (If “more likely than not” works for the NFL, it works for me). It was a condition of LeBron coming to Cleveland, and there was no other way it was going to work.

But 11 months removed from the trade, with Love possibly on his way out and Wiggins looking like a stud in Minnesota, and despite the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the Finals, I think it’s fair to consider the Love trade a failure for the Cavs — and one that they’ll regret.

Next: NBA Finals Preview: Keys, X-Factors and Predictions