So I decided to pull a LeBron and take a week off from basketball last week, but I’m back now, and speaking of “The King” today we are going to take a look at his Cavs and see what big change they might considering making to make them a more viable Finals contender. Welcome to the second edition of the “Three Man Weave”!
Cleveland Can’t Fear Change
Golden State’s blowout of Cleveland on Monday could not have been more convenient for me. Not because I pull for either team, but because I had decided to write this article a couple of weeks ago, and Monday confirmed my suspicions and lends credence to the things I’m about to say, at least in my mind.
Two claims need to be made before the argument is made: the first is that LeBron’s days as the alpha dog on a championship team are numbered and the second is that the pieces, as currently constructed, in Cleveland don’t fit. We all know that LeBron’s time as a premier NBA player can’t last forever, but he has been so good for so long that it’s easy to forget. Here’s the truth though, every year that Cleveland doesn’t win it from here on out is a missed opportunity and the championship window in the NBA is as small as it has ever been. For example, look at the Memphis Grizzlies, they have had opportunities to push for a Western Conference title, but injuries and the fact that the only roster help they could acquire was Jeff Green inhibited their ability to win a title and now that window is closed. This year, we are finally seeing signs of age starting to show on LeBron. He will hit another gear in the playoffs, but two and three years ago he would hit that gear about twenty or so times in the regular season too and we just aren’t seeing that anymore.
Some might argue that this roster can win a title by standing pat, after all virtually the same group made it to the Finals and even won two games last season. At this point in time in the season though, they look like a full tier below the top three teams in the Western Conference and the front office should be at least open to offers. The player on the Cavs most mentioned in trade talks, and the most likely major piece to move, is Kevin Love. Love is a tremendously gifted offensive player and a solid rebounder, but his game and LeBron’s aren’t really compatible. They like to score from the same places on the floor and Love doesn’t really create without the ball in his hands, nor does LeBron much anymore for that matter. He, Kevin Love, is also a minus defender and with him and Kyrie on the floor there is just too much offense (remember there’s only one ball) and not enough defense. So, let’s lay out a few potential trades and one general outline for a Love deadline deal.
Outlining a Love Deal
Here’s the blueprint (mine anyway): deal Love to someone for a starting-caliber two-way center and a decent point defender. This does two things for Cleveland: it allows Tristan Thompson to slide into the starting lineup as a plus defender at the four and it eases some of the defensive burden on Kyrie and LeBron. The hard part about trying to figure out this trade though is how other NBA teams value Kevin Love right now. On the one hand, he is probably one of the five most talented offensive post players in the NBA, but on the other hand he hasn’t really stood out in his year-and-a-half in Cleveland and the perception of “good stats, bad team” guy is probably in the minds of some. Anyway, here are my three potential Kevin Love trades that make sense for Cleveland and are at least realistic even if they probably won’t happen.
Deal #1: Kevin Love to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams
Rumor has it that Monroe might soon become available for trade, and I have no idea how available MCW might or might not be, but I can’t possible assume there’s a giant flashing “Not For Sale” sign on his chest. The main question I have about this deal is whether or not Monroe’s own defensive shortcomings make this a less than ideal move for Cleveland? I tend to think not. Monroe playing with Tristan Thompson would be a good enough defensive frontline with LeBron. Also, Monroe’s offensive game is a much better fit with LeBron and Kyrie as an excellent passer and screener who scores primarily from the block and mid-range.
As for Michael Carter-Williams, he adds some length and defense to a backcourt that could certainly use the latter. This would also allow the Cavs’ to experiment with an MCW-Kyrie-LeBron-Thompson-Monroe lineup. Kyrie can play off the ball as a scorer, while Carter-Williams handles most of the point duties. Also, thanks to his size, Michael Carter-Williams and Kyrie Irving can switch off between team’s backcourt members so that Cleveland can effectively “hide” Kyrie on defense. This deal all-in-all makes sense and I think it would improve Cleveland’s team from a fit perspective even if it does decrease their overall talent marginally.
Deal #2: Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova to Memphis for Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol may be on the tail-end of his prime, but he is still one of the best two-way centers in basketball, and once again helps move Thompson into the starting lineup where a Gasol, Thompson and LeBron frontcourt would be downright nasty defensively. Here’s the other positive on this for Cleveland, how do you defend those guys trying to go small ball? Golden State might can do it quasi-effectively and San Antonio would hack-a-Thompson through it probably, but it would still be tough and potentially force teams out of small ball lineups more frequently.
The downside to this deal is that in losing Dellavedova, Cleveland loses one of its grittiest defenders and toughest players. That also might be a reason why he would be attractive to a team like Memphis. Dellavedova and Z-Bo could potentially become the NBA version of Scut Farkus and Grover Dill. The Cavs would benefit immensely from the addition of Gasol though, so much so that it’s probably worth the loss of a decent reserve defender alongside Love.
Deal #3: Kevin Love to Orlando for Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton
A more casual NBA fan might look at those names and say, “Who???” However, Vucevic and Payton would actually be a pretty reasonable haul for Love, based on where they are in their careers especially. Vucevic is a strong low-post scorer and rebounder, who once again, adds low post rotation flexibility and is a stronger defender than Love. Elfrid Payton is the type of point guard who needs a certain type of supporting cast to thrive, but Cleveland might have that. Payton is definitely what you might call a “distributing” point guard, as he does not have much range on his shot. He rebounds well for a point guard, and is a good defender though. All in all, Elfrid is probably a poor man’s Rondo at this point in his career, who we can only assume has a much better attitude and general outlook on others.
One drawback to this trade is that it creates some backcourt rotation issues trying to get Payton and Dellavedova minutes because they couldn’t play together, but the way I see it if the bench players’ minutes are your biggest concerns then you are in pretty good shape. Another thing is that Payton is smaller than our other hypothetical point guard acquisition, Michael Carter-Williams, which might restrict the minutes he and Kyrie can play together a little bit more considering he pretty much has to guard other point guards.
The purpose of this was not to suggest that Cleveland should trade Kevin Love, but to suggest that they should at least weigh the options and maybe even test the waters. Would any of these trades work? I have no earthly idea, but I do believe that they seem plausible on paper and would create a better on-court fit for LeBron and Kyrie. What do you guys think?
Credit Cover Photo to Associated Press