Happy Andrew Wiggins-Kevin Love Trade Anniversary everybody!
Two years ago, the landscape of the NBA and specifically the franchises of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves were forever altered when the long-rumored trade to send three time All-Star Kevin Love to Cleveland in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins (along with Anthony Bennett, aka Big Daddy Canada, aka Yung Poutine) was finally completed.
By any objective measure, the ultimate goal for a team in professional sports is to win a championship. The Cavaliers accomplished that goal this past June. Does that mean that every single step taken that lead to that ultimate goal should now be looked at as the right move? Not necessarily. The Cavaliers could've locked up Matthew Dellavedova last offseason to pennies on the dollar compared to what he got this offseason, and because they failed to lock him up, the team lost Delly and may now have a hole at the backup point guard spot. Mistakes are still mistakes. They just become easier to live with when you can point to your ring. But winning an NBA Championship does make it much harder to argue that they should've kept a certain player over another player when they just won it all with one of them.
The argument to keep Wiggins instead of moving him for Love always came down to the length of time the title window would be open. This is unscientific, but could be broken down as follows. the Cavaliers argument for acquiring Love would've been to raise the chance of winning a ring to 25 percent for the next 3-5 years, whereas keeping Wiggins would’ve kept the odds at around 10% for the next 8-10 years. For a championship-starved team in a championship-starved city, for a franchise that lucked into the greatest player of his generation being born less than 40 miles from the team's arena, and a franchise that ultimately failed in the first LeBron era, trading for Love was a no-brainer. He’d just come off a season in which he averaged 26 and 12 while making 190 threes; no one had ever put up those numbers in the history of the NBA.
Love was a proven All-Star when the Cavaliers traded for him, whereas Wiggins was a spindly spring of potential. Going No. 1 overall isn’t a surefire path to NBA stardom; for every Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin or Anthony Davis, there’s an Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden or Bennett. Even if Wiggins did develop into a top-tier NBA player, it's still very rare for rookies in the NBA to actually make a positive impact towards winning basketball games. And LeBron was never going to waste precious years in his prime waiting for Wiggins to possibly develop into a useful player. Acquiring Love may have been a precondition to LeBron’s return, depending who you believe, and if that was truly the case, pulling the trigger on the deal was a no-brainer.
Has the Love fit been perfect for all of the two years he’s been in Cleveland? No. It’s a tough transition to go from being the unquestioned alpha dog of your team and a borderline superstar to being the third option. When you play on a team with LeBron James, every little aspect of your game is going to be under a microscope. It’s a sacrifice Love wanted to make in order to win, but it also came with having to take the brunt criticism for the Cavaliers’ struggles. When the Cavaliers wouldn’t play up to par, there’d inevitably be articles about Love’s unhappiness with his role, or whether the team would be better off trading him away. He’d sometimes post pedestrian box score numbers, especially for a guy that put up the numbers he did in Minnesota. But even when he wasn’t being totally utilized with the ball, his spacing and rebounding were still vital for the Cavaliers.
Love put up averages of 19 and 12 with 3.5 threes per game on 44% from beyond the arc during the first two rounds of the playoffs, both of which were Cavaliers sweeps, and the Love criticism was nowhere to be found. But when the Cavaliers went 3-1 in the NBA Finals, the whispers came out again. “Never should’ve traded for Love, Wiggins would be more helpful versus the Warriors.” Problem is, this sentiment was always about this ideal Wiggins that certain Cavaliers supporters had in their mind. In reality, he's a poor 3-point shooter (30 percent so far) and needs the ball in his hands to be successful on offense.
He’s also yet to turn his natural athletic gifts into being a positive impact on both ends of the floor, especially defensively where he lacks strength and consistency. But this isn’t meant to be a referendum on Wiggins. His future is very bright in this league and with a young nucleus led by Karl-Anthony Towns along with Wiggins and other youngsters like Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, the Timberwolves are a team that might be on the brink of something special.
But back to the Cavaliers... if Kyrie doesn’t hit the three and Steph makes his, does this mean the Love trade was a failure? Possibly. But that’s hypothetical. We’re dealing with reality and Kyrie did hit that three, and Love was a game-best +19 in Game 7 of the Finals, putting up a crucial nine points and 14 rebounds, along with playing the best defense of his life against the unanimous MVP on the possession after Kyrie put the Cavaliers up for good. There’s an adage amongst NBA writers and analysts that process is sometimes more important than results, but that should be thrown out when you get to Game 7 of the NBA Finals because Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers attained the ultimate goal of team sports.
They’re the reigning NBA Champions. That alone assures the trade’s positive legacy.