The NBA held its 2015 Draft Thursday night. That puts us at about the one year anniversary of the Andrew Wiggins, Lebron James, Kevin Love triangle that eventually played out in Wiggins winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and Love opting out of the rest of his Cleveland contract earlier this week.
LeBron James so badly wanted to give the city of Cleveland and its fans a championship. He was throwing down like a Hurculean bad ass, dragging his dinged up and under firepowered Cavs through the playoffs all the way to the Finals.
When you're matched up against the best team in the league though - as Golden State clearly was this season - by game four of the Finals it became abundantly clear that dragging that stinking carcass any further was a burden even James found too heavy.
I've been a big fan of James his whole career. I've never fully understood why people bag on him all the time. He's a hell of a player, and since he's constantly compared to Michael Jordan, no one can argue the fact that he is way more of a likable human being than Jordan's pompous ass. I applauded James' decision to go to Miami for a chance to win a championship. He won two.
I applauded his desire to return, more seasoned, more accomplished, to try and bring his hometown team a title of its own. As I was watching James in Game Six of the Finals though, hands on his hips, exhausted, chomping on his mouthpiece while looking up at the scoreboard to see a Warriors' lead refusing to close, I couldn't help but wonder if James had actually made the quest to bring Cleveland a title more difficult with his cheerleading to bring Kevin Love into the fold at the expense of keeping their #1 overall pick, Wiggins.
We all remember Cleveland fans' public hissy fit when James dumped them for Miami. When the prodigal son returned it appeared that Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert was all too eager to give James whatever he wanted to make him happy.
First item on James' wish list? He was madly in love with the thought of playing with Love.
Wiggins was drafted by the Cavs on June 26, 2014. On July 12, James returned to Cleveland. Almost immediately he led the call to try and get Love to join him, leaving Wiggins in a brutal state of professional limbo. The Wolves knew Love wanted out of Minnesota. They wanted to trade him before his contract was up, and the Cavs took the bait.
Funny thing is that the Golden State Warriors were the ones who looked like they'd actually land Love, placing one half of the "Splash Brothers," Klay Thompson, on the trading block. That's when, according to this Sports Illustrated Report, newly hired Head Coach Steve Kerr and Warriors' consultant, and NBA legend, Jerry West smacked some sense into their GM Bob Myers. According to that SI article, West went so far as to threaten to quit if the Warriors traded Thompson for Love.
Reason being, Kerr and West realized the Warriors were close. They had a great young roster with a lot of talent that just needed to take the next step. West and Kerr felt Love would have disrupted the team chemistry, and more importantly, weakened the team for future seasons.
Gilbert, James, and Cavs' GM David Griffin took a much different approach, hastily throwing Wiggins to the T-Wolves to get Love, whom they acquired on August 23 of last summer.
And what was the return for their Love investment? Well, Thompson repaid the Warriors with his first All Star appearance and playing a huge role in Golden State winning the NBA Finals, over Cleveland. Love gave the Cavs three playoff games and then watched the rest from the seats.
Meanwhile, up in Minnesota, Wiggins earned his 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year Award while posterizing player after player with sick dunks, showcasing his freakish athletic ability. (Here's a video of Wiggins dropping 27 on the Cavs. Watch at about the 1:00 mark when Andrew throws down over Love's non-attempt to even guard the rim.)
Wiggins came into the University of Kansas as arguably the most over hyped player in the program's storied history. It was impossible for him to live up to those expectations. Still, he set the KU freshman scoring record while not having anything close to the shooting touch of the two men who held the record before him, Ben McLemore and Danny Manning. He took the scoring record because Wiggins is a better athlete than McLemore and Manning. How many times did Jayhawk fans see Wiggins drive to the rim, miss a layup, and then beat everyone to his own miss to put the shot back in? Wiggins had the fastest second jump of anyone in the nation.
Towards the end of his lone season at Kansas, once Joel Embiid was lost for the year, Wiggins' scoring output skyrocketed as he posted 71 points in back to back games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
Aside from his rapidly improving offensive game, the one area where Wiggins was spectacular right out of the gates, just as Rock Chalk Talk's own mikeville accurately stated in his last year's draft preview on Wiggins that made him the clear #1 pick of last year's draft class, was his ability as a defender. Long, quick, capable of closing on anyone, Wiggins was clearly one thing Love was not, an NBA level defender. His overall game improved drastically in just one season in the pros. More importantly though, Wiggins is still just 20-years old. Given his ability the kid looks set up for a big career.
Love strikes me as a modern day Vlade Divac. He's a skilled offensive player, great passer, joke of a defender. Like Divac, Love can be a good player on some good teams, but never a great one on any great squads.
By trading away Wiggins, the Cavs may have wasted a chance at greatness. A lineup of James, Kyrie Irving and Wiggins may not have carried the luster of a de facto all star team the way adding Love did going into the 2014-15 NBA season, but had the Cavs stood pat and held onto Wiggins instead of chasing Love they still would have made the playoffs - which is the main reason I couldn't wrap my head around the decision.
James came back to Cleveland saying it was going to take some work to turn the Cavs into a title team, but I don't think he was giving himself full credit on just how much of an impact his presence can have on a team. The Cavs had been garbage ever since James left them in 2010. Aside from James, they were pretty mediocre even with him there, and still posted back to back 60 win seasons. Quick, name a single player not named Lebron James from the Cavs 2007 NBA Finals roster. I only know one, Drew Gooden, and that's just because he was a Jayhawk. A year after James left Miami, the Heat didn't even make the playoffs even though they still had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and play in the NBA's remedial conference, the East.
Which brings me to my next point. The NBA East is so bad that three teams with losing records seem to make it to the playoffs every season. Even without Love, the James led Cavs would have made it to the playoffs, maybe not as the 2-seed, but I'd make a safe bet that they wouldn't have been any worse than a 4 or a 5-seed. Since the whole world watched James basically play by himself without Irving or Love in the playoffs, this seems even more likely. When the Finals rolled around, imagine how much more effective the Cavs could have been against the Warriors if they had Wiggins' defensive ability to close out on shooters and snag rebounds. James is a brilliant defender in his own right. Imagine if that Cavs team was built around James and Wiggins' ball hawking ability and athletic superiority.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course. Kevin Love may come back to Cleveland and prove me wrong, but with Love seemingly running out of Cleveland as fast as he can it appears ever more clear that Cleveland possibly wasted an exciting opportunity with Wiggins and Irving playing alongside of James' super stardom and on the floor coaching ability.
When James returned to Cleveland he signed a deal that would allow him to opt out and become a free agent in 2015. The NBA free agent period begins July 1. According to this article from the Cleveland Plains Dealer, James will reportedly take a "wait and see approach" on whether or not he'll sign again with the Cavs. The article states that "Cavs general manager David Griffin says James has been 'very engaged' in terms of the team's roster composition and intentions."
Oh, of that I'm sure. And if the King doesn't like how it's going, he could be done once again in Cleveland.
On a night when the Minnesota Timberwolves used their #1 overall draft spot to add Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns to play alongside Wiggins and fellow budding young star Zach LaVine, with the Love experiment over and James' future still uncertain in Cleveland, Cavs fans have to be wondering if their favorite son may have set them back in their city's desire to end its long title drought.