In some ways, hindsight is 20/20. This isn't one of those cases. What I'm about to say isn't a new idea. It isn't original. In many ways, it doesn't matter. I want to preface this article with this disclaimer because I'm afraid this is going to come off as a Wiggins versus Love debate, and it isn't that.
This is a LeBron versus LeBron debate.
On Friday, we are probably going to get our first extended taste of what an Irving-Shumpert-Smith-James-Mozgov (or Thompson) lineup looks like. Maybe not as starters. Maybe not even until the end of the game (if it's close), but we should get a glimpse of this lineup.
This is the lineup that has a chance to save the Cavs' season. It has lus defenders everywhere except point guard (no offense, Kyrie), shooters everywhere except center and ball handling (to varying degrees) everywhere except center. It's versatile. It's athletic. It's potentially deadly.
Love or no Love, this may be the Cavs' most potent end of game lineup, if only because Love is often relegated to spot up shooter at the end of games and is a liability on defense. That's not a knock against Love. If anything, it comes back to LeBron. In the closing minutes, he's going to have the ball in his hands. Maybe Kyrie gets a few turns. But Love's abilities as a basketball player become marginalized in these times. Better to have Shumpert out there, who is admittedly a worse shooter but not enough so that his defense doesn't make up the difference.
And no, this end of game lineup doesn't mean the Cavs are better now that Love went down. He is a superstar talent. If you have him on your team, your team is better. The problem with trading for Love in the first place is his best position is power forward, and that's the best position of the Cavs' best player.
That's where it comes back on LeBron. He has been reluctant to play power forward for extended minutes -- let alone as his full time position. He lost weight over the summer, which implies he intended on playing less power forward with the Cavs than he did with the Heat. He's bean adverse to the position, and I get it. It's more pounding when he's on defense. It's playing against guys who are closer to his same size or sometimes bigger.
But LeBron is such a mismatch at that position, he could redefine what a power forward is. He would be power forward that effectively plays point guard. A power forward who isn't just faster than every other man at his position, he's as strong as all of them except maybe Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph. All the things we love about Anthony Davis and Griffin on offense. The things we love about their versatility, LeBron would be but better. Think of what Draymond Green is doing for the Warriors at the four, and think of how much better LeBron is than Green at everything.
If he committed to playing this position full time on his return to Cleveland, things would be simpler. The Cavs would have kept Andrew Wiggins, who has star potential but more importantly a cheap contract the team can control for the foreseeable future. They could have still made the trade for Smith/Shumpert/Mozgov. A starting lineup of Irving/Smith/Wiggins/James/Mozgov with Shumpert and Thompson coming off the bench is similar to the lineup I mentioned previously in this article, but with added depth and the excitement of a promising, athletic rookie.
They could mimic some of the facets of the Bucks' swarming, near-positionless, switching defense. Maybe not to the extreme the Bucks take it as all their players are seemingly 6-9 and long as hell, but a version of that would be on the table. Tristan Thompson is the perfect center for that kind of system. The Cavs already play a more conservative version of that at times when Thompson is on the floor.
The Cavs would still have that Miami Heat first round pick, which they could have used to shore up the backup point guard position. They would have had the assets to trade for Isaiah Thomas or even Goran Dragic if they so wanted (although, Dragic would be a tricky situation for obvious ego reasons).
It avoids the drawback of making Love play in a different and lesser role than he's capable of playing. It avoids the fear of Love's impending free agency. It avoids Love's defensive issues. All the problems Love brings to the table disappears.
LeBron will inevitably age into being a power forward out of necessity rather than strategy. That may be in four years. It may be longer. When it does happen, I struggle to think where that would leave Love. I don't think Love ages into a rim protecting center. It's a troublesome notion for the future even if it has little to do with how the Cavs play basketball now.
It's all on LeBron, though. As soon as he was unwilling to play power forward full time, the Cavs had to find a multi-talented floor-spacing power forward to maximize his talents. That player was Love, and he was the next best option. If LeBron was always going to play small forward, there was no way he was going to start next to two big men who couldn't shoot. The choice from there was obvious.
Ultimately, it's LeBron's choice whether or not he wants to be a power forward or small forward. I respect that. It's his body. It's his career. If he doesn't feel physically capable of playing power forward full time, that's okay. To me, it feels like a missed opportunity to reach a new level of dominance in the second half of his career, but it isn't my choice to make.