While LeBron James pondered his next maneuver at the start of free agency, he held the entire basketball world—and really, the sports world at large—in the palm of his hand.
Yet his level of influence has only expanded since reclaiming his throne atop the Cleveland Cavaliers organization. Cleveland's reported backtracking off of a firm commitment to keep top pick Andrew Wiggins out of the Kevin Love trade talks proves as much.
As James detailed in an essay co-authored by SI.com's Lee Jenkins, a desire to return to his home state dictated his decision.
While he got what he wanted in that respect, he also faced a different kind of challenge than he had in years.
After guiding the Miami Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals and two titles, he took his talents to a team that claimed only 33 victories last season. And that was Cleveland's best campaign since the King's infamous exit in 2010, an agonizing four-year stretch that saw the Cavs compile a .311 winning percentage and not make the playoffs.
The franchise had amassed an intriguing collection of young talent without him—the result of claiming three draft lottery jackpots in a four-year span—but those pieces were raw. They needed James' Midas touch.
At first, he sounded eager to give it to them.
"I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go," James wrote in the essay. "I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys."
The Cavs had to be thrilled to read those words. After all, they had just invested their latest top pick in Wiggins, a player who had tantalized scouts in much the same way James once did.
Despite ESPN Cleveland reporting about a few trade winds swirling around the 19-year-old, the Cavs publicly took the position that they saw Wiggins as a part of their present and future.
"There's no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew's not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed," Cavs coach David Blatt told reporters at the Las Vegas Summer League.
However, the story has changed dramatically since.
Cleveland's stance on Wiggins hasn't just softened—it appears to have completely reversed.
"A league source said on July 17 that the Cavs are now willing to trade the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft," Bob Finnan of The Morning Journal reported.
ESPN's Chris Broussard heard the same from his sources:
So, why the about-face on Wiggins? The plot twist seems to be the work of the four-time MVP.
"A source said James wants the 6-10, 250-pound Love on the roster," Finnan wrote. "And, what James wants, he normally gets."
The 29-year-old James is ready to collect more rings, as his legacy is on the line. No matter how high Wiggins' ceiling appears, the prospect cannot bring the same type of immediate production as Love.
Already a three-time All-Star, Love has the ability to simplify the game for James. The 6'10" stretch forward has launched 1,090 triples over the last four seasons and connected on 37.0 percent of them.
That percentage grows even more impressive after considering that Love misfired on 72 of his 92 long-range attempts during the 2012-13 campaign, a season in which he broke his right hand twice and played only 18 games.
With Love spreading the floor, James should have all the real estate he needs to wreak havoc under the basket.
In Miami's "pace and space" system last season, James shot 63.6 percent on drives, the highest conversion rate of any player with at least five such attempts per game. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he averaged 1.12 points per possession on post-up plays, sixth-best in the NBA.
Love also has a generational gift for outlet passing, a weapon he could utilize early and often with a dynamic fast-break finisher like James.
For those reasons, plus Love's talent as a scorer and rebounder (26.1 points and 12.5 boards a night last season), it comes as no surprise that James has reportedly made it known he'd like to have Love come aboard.
"LeBron James has reached out to Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love and expressed a desire for them to play together in Cleveland," sources told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears.
If James wants Love, then the Cavs do too. CBSSports.com's Ken Berger explained:
One aspect of this ongoing saga is clear: James has the leverage and has demonstrated he is unafraid to use it.
LeBron usually gets what LeBron wants.
This was true during his first tour with the Cavs, when his close friends and associates were given enormous latitude and influence within the organization. It was evident in the team's personnel moves, with former GM Danny Ferry doing everything in his power to keep James from leaving in 2010 -- from Shaquille O'Neal to Antawn Jamison to a failed bid to acquire Amar'e Stoudemire.
As The Starters' Trey Kerby observed, the Cavs' stranglehold on Wiggins loosened the second James set his sights on Love:
Some might say this should have never been a debate—that valuing potential over proven production is a dangerous game that could come back to bite a franchise.
However, if the Cavs had valued Wiggins over Love, there would have been basketball reasons to defend that decision.
"Love is an elite rebounder, but struggles on defense," Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote. "In fact, the Cavs would be a weak defensive team. You have James. You have [Anderson] Varejao. And you don't have much else."
Short on rim protection, Cleveland needs all the defensive help on the perimeter that it can get.
There are financial reasons to consider keeping Wiggins, too.
"Star potential on rookie scale deal for four years," one general manager told ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman (subscription required).
That's not to suggest the Cavs should want Wiggins more than Love, but rather to point out that it's a discussion worth having.
At least, it was until James entered the equation. With one flex of his muscle, the King ended that debate.
This is a superstars league, and James is the biggest and brightest in the game.
Whatever he says goes.
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