Monday, August 11, 2014

What People Are Missing About Kevin Love Coming To The Cavs

No, just business associates
Let's just call this for what it is: LeBron James is now the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers. There is nothing all that wrong with this: it's kind of what happens in the NBA. But it's not exactly an optimal role for a player, since every player is going to go all-in on every hand, because, um, it's not like they've got a three to five year plan in place for long-term viability. But let's put that aside for now.

With the de factor announcement of the Andrew Wiggins / Anthony Bennett trade to Minnesota for the final year of Love's current deal, and the likely resigning of the power forward to a long-term deal afterward, most metrics are looking at Cleveland as the new lockdown choice for the finalist in the East. And, well, I'm not sure they are wrong, because the plain and simple fact of the matter is that any team in the East that has LeBron James on it, assuming he's healthy and not dead from fatigue, is a better than even money bet to win three playoff series in the East in 2014.

And no, I'm not being facetious in this, in any way. Who else do you like? Chicago, dependent on a point guard that can't stay healthy and an old imported power forward who is likely to get his ears worn out by his new defense-first coach for the entire regular season? Miami, going without James, depending on Dwyane Wade to somehow not be old and beaten down? Indy, who got their hearts ripped out in the playoffs, lost their best player to injury, and their insane but talented defensive stopper to free agency? Toronto or Washington or Charlotte, destined for regression as young players get too fill of themselves, and the depth gets exposed? Brooklyn or New York, with more money than sense or talent? The East will be better this year, but only because the benefits of tanking are so less tangible, and everyone but Philly will try to win games again. Anyway, moving on.

But the bigger issue isn't Love, or how he's soft inside and gives back points on defense while racking up rebounding numbers that mask his inefficiencies, or a continuous back and forth over how a guy with those numbers can somehow miss the playoffs for six full years, regardless of how inept his GMs were. The problem that I have with the Cavs are the other three starters.

Start with center Anderson Vareajo, who might be the most important player on the roster on defense. Sideshow Anderson is 31, the closest thing on the roster to a good defensive player that isn't James, and a man who hasn't played a full slate of games since 2008-09. He's played 146 out of the last 312 games for this team. Expecting him to hold up now, just because James is in town and the Cavs are relevant again, requires a fair amount of optimism.

Next, it's point guard Kyrie Irving. Neither James nor Love has played with a ball-dominant point guard before, and whether or not they'll play with one this year is the biggest question about this club. I'm not a fan of Irving's game -- to my eye, he's never made a teammate better, which makes him a pretty interesting teammate for Love. The single most important thing a PG can do on a James team is hit wide-open threes and contain your man on defense; that's so not Irving's game. I'd honestly feel better about this team with a relative no-name like Patrick Beverly at the 1, but maybe the thought process here is that Irving can take enough of the load on offense to limit James' minutes in the regular season. But it's not the offense, or the regular season, that concerns me the most about Irving.

Rather, it's on defense, where Irving has clearly conserved his energies up to now. For a guy who is as quick as he is, who gets as many minutes as anyone might want, to be so ordinary on steal numbers (1.5 a game, and that's been consistent) as a 6-2 PG is a red flag. (It's not like he's stopping anyone who takes him the in the paint, either.) And even if you want to wave those off, there are also the injuries: he's missed 20% of Cleveland's games in the first three years of his career. You know, when PGs are relatively spry.

Final point: who's the last starter on this team? If it's Dion Waiters, the third-year high pick from Syracuse who has had issues co-habituating with Irving, I don't know what he brings to the table, other than another guy with major defensive problems, and a guy who will provide empty regular season calories as a guy who finishes transition looks from James. If it's Mike Miller, I don't see how he stays healthy. If it's James Jones or Ray Allen, that's the same as Miller, and I guess you just ride the hot or healthy hand all year long. Notice, by the way, that none of these guys are lockdown defenders. It seems lacking, if not for the East, then at least, for the Finals.. and if the fifth starter is a problem, the bench is one, too.

I get why GM James would rather have Love than Bennett or Wiggins in his attempt for Ring #3, and the first in forever for Cleveland. I also see how this can all work. Irving might be the kind of guy who just needs better teammates (the All Star Games he's played in gives Cavs Fan hope here), and Love should blossom, especially if James plays down low more and sets him up from distance all year long. Maybe James can inspire defense, or erase enough mistakes with chasedown blocks to get more in the way of hustle and steals from the guards. Maybe the new coach, David Blatt, brings something to the table that will help to get definition and utility out of the benchies.

Or maybe James will carry a team to 60+ wins and three playoff series wins in the still weak East, rack up another 3,700+ minutes on legs and knees that have already logged just under 40K minutes in nine seasons, at age 30...

And maybe he finally gets hurt. And maybe it won't work against a deeper and relentless efficient Spurs team. Or a Thunder squad with its own sense of extreme urgency and jaw-dropping athleticism. Or maybe even some emerging power like a Clippers team without a cancer at owner, a Warriors squad that could be dangerous as well as entertaining with finally healthy bigs and a coach who would not rather be preaching on street corners, or a Rockets or Blazers squad that unexpectedly gels and improves...

Having made this deal, the Cavs are clearly the team to beat in the East.

But they are not now, and may never be... the team to beat in the NBA.

Because as good as LeBron James is, and as good as he might make Kevin Love...

Those are just two players, on a team with many more question marks than you should ever expect to see from a championship contender.

And even if it all works out...

Um, when's the last time a thrown together club wins in their first year together?

(Answer: Boston, in 2008-09. The last year a team fortified itself with a star power forward that was traded away from Minnesota. Courage, Cavs Fan!)

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