When LeBron James announced he was coming back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he acknowledged that winning would be a long process with such a young team.
That process just sped up.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports the Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves have a deal in place to send Kevin Love to Cleveland, along with an agreement to sign the All-Star forward to a five-year, $120 million-plus extension.
The deal involves the past two No. 1 overall picks, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, as well as a 2015 protected first-round pick.
While losing Wiggins hurts, it was ultimately the right move given the chance to acquire Love.
After years of collecting assets and high draft picks, the Cavaliers' championship window has officially been thrust open.
The trade for Love wasn't just a nice move by the franchise; it was necessary to make Cleveland a title contender right away.
Trading Potential for Proven Talent
For the past four years, the words "potential," "process" and "patience" were shoved down Cavaliers fans' throats.
Cleveland trotted out the likes of Christian Eyenga, Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels with less than desirable results.
To be fair, it hasn't been all bad.
Kyrie Irving has made two All-Star appearances in just three seasons. Dion Waiters is an electric scorer, and Tristan Thompson is a nightly double-double threat.
For all of their individual success, there's one thing the young Cavs have failed to do together: win.
When James announced his return, everything changed.
A four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, James' success in the league is well-documented. Not only is he already one of the all-time greats, but James makes the other players around him better. It's one thing to put up gaudy stats and show off flashy skills, but it's quite another to translate those traits to actual wins.
Now with James, expectations are raised.
Nate Scott of For the Win points out the power of James' influence in his return:
Would it have been enticing for James to play with Wiggins and Bennett, see them develop alongside him? Of course. But James knows better than anyone how small these windows are to pursue a championship, and at 29 years old, wasn’t going to wait the three years for Wiggins to learn the NBA game. He wanted players ready to win now, and he got them.
While James seemed willing to play the role of mentor when talking to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, one had to wonder just how patient he would be.
Cleveland featured 13 players last season who had three years of NBA experience or less, including eight rookies.
On a rebuilding team, youth is a good thing. On a team with a soon-to-be 30-year-old LeBron James, not so much.
While Wiggins and Bennett have upside, there's no telling how long it would take them to reach All-Star levels, if ever.
Trading both for a top-10 NBA player, Olympic team member and arguably the best talent at his position who's yet to reach his peak was absolutely the Cavaliers' best move.
Wiggins and Bennett have the potential.
Love is proven.
After four long, painful, potential-filled years, "proven" is a welcome change.
For many in Northeast Ohio, it's weird to see James now.
The hair line is pushed back, wrinkles are popping up, and even James referred to himself as the team's "old head."
Many got their first look at James on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Thousands more got to see him in person, as the school moved many of its games to the larger James A. Rhodes Arena on the University of Akron campus.
Thirteen years later, James is no longer the young prospect many remember.
While still in his prime, how many years does he have left?
James has already played more regular-season minutes in his career (33,276) than veterans like Chauncey Billups, Derek Fisher and Jerry Stackhouse. Even though he's yet to hit 30, James is 16th among all active players in total minutes played.
If the Cavaliers would have waited around for a few years letting Wiggins and Bennett develop, what would that extra wear and tear have done to James' body?
Father Time is undefeated and can be especially cruel to players who rely on athleticism like James does.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were both 29 when they won their final championships. Kobe Bryant hasn't won a ring since he was 31. Michael Jordan was the exception, able to extend his title window until age 35.
The bottom line?
James may only have about four or five years left as an elite player. Was it worth wasting a season—or two or three—to let Wiggins develop into what would hopefully be a good sidekick?
Love cannot only help carry James right away but at age 25 has a longer window as an elite player himself. When James reaches his mid-30s and some of those physical gifts begin to deteriorate, Love and Irving will still be there to lift him up. James likely recognized this as part of his decision to leave the Miami Heat, as Chris Bosh (30) and Dwyane Wade (32) were already leaning on him perhaps a bit too heavily.
During his first five years in Cleveland with a poor supporting cast, James was forced to play over 40 minutes a game four consecutive seasons.
With Love on board, James shouldn't have to worry about logging that exhausting amount ever again.
What Love Does for the Cavaliers
Love hasn't just put up All-Star numbers; he's achieved stats no player in the history of the NBA has touched before.
Last season, Love's combination of 20-plus points, 12-plus rebounds, four-plus assists and one-plus three-pointers made per game was the first time an NBA player has accomplished such a feat.
What makes Love so unique is his combination of elite rebounding and three-point shooting. Usually when a player spends so much time at the three-point line, his rebounding suffers.
Just five times in NBA history has a player grabbed at least 12 rebounds a game while also making at least one three-pointer. Charles Barkley was the first in 1996-97. The other four occasions were accomplished by Love.
His skill set should fit in beautifully next to James.
Bosh made a living in Miami as a floor-spacing big, helping open the lane for players like James and Wade to drive.
Love does everything Bosh does offensively—but better.
Cleveland needs that floor-spacing for its drive-and-kick players like James, Irving and Waiters. General manager David Griffin first recognized this when he traded for Spencer Hawes last season. His ability to play the pick-and-pop game was crucial given the plethora of penetrating guards.
As well as Hawes played for the Cavs, Love averaged 12.9 points and 4.2 rebounds more per game than him last season.
Let's not forget about those outlet passes, either. A few long tosses to James every night will really be fun to see.
While Love isn't a strong defender, he'll be sandwiched between James and likely Anderson Varejao in the starting lineup. James can help cut off penetration to the basket, thus putting Love in fewer one-one-one situations at the rim.
Whatever deficiencies he has on the defensive end, Love should more than help make up for on offense.
Wiggins may ultimately end up having a better career than Love. Bennett may thrive with his new physique and surroundings.
Still, there was too much uncertainty surrounding both. With Love, the Cavaliers know exactly what they're getting.
Words like "potential" and "process" have been thrown out the window.
Replacing them now are "championship" and "expectations."
All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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