The Cleveland Cavaliers altered the NBA landscape when they re-acquired LeBron James earlier this summer and there were rumours that James would be getting help.
Numbers Game breaks down the big trade to bring LeBron a running mate, as the Cavs acquired Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with a follow-up deal that included the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Cavaliers Will Get: PF Kevin Love.
Love, 25, is one of the game's premier frontcourt players, coming off a season during which he scored a career-high 26.1 points per game, grabbed 12.5 rebounds per game and had a career-best 4.4 assists per game. The 6-foot-10 power forward has averaged double figure rebounds for five straight seasons, joining Dwight Howard as the only players to reach that threshold in each of the past five seasons.
Already a dangerous offensive threat because of his ability to pass and score, Love has raised the bar as he increases his shooting range. He attempted a career-high 6.6 three-pointers per game last season (making 2.5) and his 37.6% from beyond the arc was the second-best of his career, leading to the highest effective field-goal percentage (.524) of his career. He has played in three NBA All-Star games and ranked third in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (26.9), behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, last season.
Joining forces with LeBron in Cleveland does seem to set Love up for continued success, though there is going to have to be some accomodation made to get players enough touches. For example, Love has had more than 17 field-goal attempts per game for the past three seasons, topping out at a career-high 18.3 per game last season. LeBron has actually seen his shot attempts go down -- last season's 17.6 per game in Miami was a career-low -- but that's 36 shots per game coming into the Cleveland rotation.
How will those shots be allocated while still placating PG Kyrie Irving (17.4 attempts per game last season) and SG Dion Waiters (14.2 attempts per game last season)? Take out Luol Deng (12.7 attempts per game in Cleveland) and Spencer Hawes (11.0 attempts per game) and it becomes a matter of balancing an extra dozen or so attempts per game among the primary shooters. Expect LeBron and Love to be the leaders, so that likely means Irving and especially Waiters, will have to get used to a lesser role offensively. The price to pay if you're going to be a championship contender instead of a 33-win lottery team, but that's going to be a challenge for first-year coach David Blatt to navigate.
While he's a tremendous offensive player who should complement the rest of the Cavaliers' talent well because he's a real upgrade as a scoring big man, Love hasn't been much of a defender. He doesn't have the hops to block shots (0.5 per game for his career) and while he holds his own against power forwards, Love isn't as effective defensively when he's forced to play in the middle. (There is some trade-off, however, as Love scored an outrageous 41.7 points per 48 minutes while playing centre last season).
Love makes more than $15.7-million this season and has a player option worth in excess of $16.7-million for 2015-2016, which he has reportedly agreed not to exercise in order to sign a five-year, $120-million deal with Cleveland. That's a long-term commitment to play for the Cavaliers, and presumably that means playing with LeBron for those years, but it's at least worth noting that James is under contract for 2014-2015 with a player option for 2015-2016.
Having accumulated a supporting cast that makes the Cavaliers the front-runner in the Eastern Conference, presumably LeBron will be inclined to stick around (he has said he's not going anywhere), but there are some contract details to get worked out.
In any case, Love is the big piece that the Cavaliers need in order to rise up and contend immediately, making the most of their championship window with LeBron.
The Timberwolves Will Get: F Thaddeus Young, SG/SF Andrew Wiggins, F Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick.
Young, 26, was one of the few legitimate NBA players remaining on the Sixers' roster, coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 17.9 points, with career-bests in assists (2.3) and steals (2.1) per game. His 6.0 rebounds per game counted as the second-best mark of his career.
While Young was getting plenty of opportunities on a terrible team in Philadelphia, he was largely inefficient, posting career-low field-goal percentage (45.4%) and True Shooting Percentage (51.2%). Furthermore, Young isn't much of a defender either, so it's not like he's going to help the Timberwolves in that respect.
What Young will do for the Timberwolves is allow them to take time developing Bennett. Young is signed through next season, making a little more than $9.4-million, with an early-termination option before the 2015-2016 season. With a season to put up decent numbers as a starter for Minnesota next year, Young is likely to opt-out and cash in on a longer term deal.
19-year-old Andrew Wiggins was the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft following a freshman season at Kansas when he showed flashes of brilliance, but was also criticized for not producing on a more consistent basis. Consider the end of the season, for example. Wiggins dropped a season-high 41 points on West Virginia in his final regular-season game before scoring 52 points in two games in the Big 12 tournament and 19 in his first NCAA Tournament game before falling flat, scoring four points (on 1-of-6 shooting from the field). It's not the end of the world, by any means, but the contrast over merely a few weeks shows the ups and downs that are part of Wiggins' game at this point.
Nevertheless, there is still ample reason that he was the number one overall pick in the draft this year. Wiggins has rare athleticism, with tremendous speed when he breaks out in the open floor and spectacular leaping ability when he attacks the rim.
Wiggins' athleticism should allow him to become a quality defender and, while ball-handling and shooting are areas for improvement, Wiggins has a chance to be great.
It should take some time (considering he averaged 15.5 points on 40.5% shooting in NBA Summer League play), but Wiggins has the physical gifts to become a star player in the league and that's an exciting prospect for the Timberwolves, who sacrificed an already-established star in Love. With Wiggins signed for two years, plus two more team option years, on his rookie deal, the Timberwolves have time to watch Wiggins grow.
There aren't a lot of options in the T-Wolves' rotation right now, so Wiggins should start on the wing, alongside veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin. With Love leaving, there will be lots of touches available offensively, and Martin, C Nikola Pekovic and Wiggins figure to be the players getting the most looks.
Anthony Bennett, 21, was also the first overall pick, in 2013, but went through a miserable rookie season, finishing with 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, shooting 35.6% from the field.
Those numbers were undeniably terrible, but he doesn't have to be a lost cause altogether. He was out of shape at the start of last season, as he recoverd from shoulder surgery and, following the season, had surgery to help with his sleep apnea. A healthier, leaner Bennett put up 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, shooting 42.6% from the field in NBA Summer League play. That's a far cry from being ready to start, or fill a rotation spot in the NBA, but Bennett should have a chance to compete for rotation minutes in Minnesota, where there isn't a whole lot, aside from Young, in terms of competition for minutes.
It should also be noted that Bennett did start to come around a little bit, late in his rookie season, averaging 6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game from February through the end of the season.
With the T-Wolves a long way from contending, they can afford to give Bennett the reps he needs to improve and it's kind of important that he does because, after the 2014-2015 season, Minnesota will have to decide what they are going to do about the team options on Bennett's contract.
The first-round pick, reportedly Miami's, is protected. If it's a pick that ends up in the bottom 10 of the first round, it provides a little value, but is no difference-maker. From the 2003-2012 Drafts, picks 21-30 yielded, give or take a bit in each category, maybe two stars (Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, David Lee?), 18 starters and 31 rotation players. That results in at least a rotation player slightly better than half (51) the time.
Young offers some value, though he may be little more than a stopgap measure in the wake of Love's departure. If Bennett turns out to be a solid NBA player and Wiggins is an above-average starter (with star potential), then the Timberwolves get an adequate return for a player that they were potentially going to lose for nothing following next season. It's never ideal giving up the marquee player in an NBA trade, but rolling the dice on the potential of Wiggins and, to a lesser degree, Bennett, is a fair approach for Minnesota under the circumstances.
The hard truth, though, is that it's nearly impossible to win an NBA trade that sends a star player away, so doing their best under the circumstances still leaves the T-Wolves in a worse spot.
The 76ers Get: F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, SG Alexey Shved and a first-round pick.
Mbah a Moute is a 27-year-old journeyman who had some relative success in a defensive role earlier in his career, but he struggled to handle power forwards last season. In a reserve role, defending on the wing, he could be useful, but he's mostly a warm body who can fill minutes in Philadelphia.
Shved, 25, is a shooting guard who has trouble with the shooting portion. He's one of two NBA players to log more than 2000 minutes over the past two seasons, shooting under 40% from the field (35.8%) and under 30% on three-pointers (29.5%).
But, like Mbah a Moute, Shved really just fills a spot on the Philadelphia roster. He'll make a little less than $3.3-million next season, which is the final year of his current contract.
Winning seems like an afterthought for the 76ers at this point. Adding the first-round pick will help them stock talent, but Philadelphia keeps taking steps away from being competitive. While giving up Young isn't disastrous to the long-term fate of the franchise, they're worse without him and that, unfortunately, is probably part of the plan.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.