Lebron James has gone home. In his elegant letter printed in Sports Illustrated, a gesture that all but erases the greasy memories of ‘The Decision’, James explained thoughtfully and convincingly why he decided to return to the Cavs. Finally, after what seemed like an endless trade limbo, the first and most important deal has been done. The expectation is that all the other moves will now be set in motion; Chris Bosh, Chandler Parsons, Carmelo Anthony and, maybe most interestingly, Kevin Love.
Love, arguably the most tantalising free agent still available, is yet to decide on a team. Until Lebron’s news, Golden State seemed to most likely destination for the stretch forward, and one that seemed a very good fit. Golden State were able to use Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, even mainstay David Lee as counterweight to make the Love deal happen, and as a squad where the bigs need to be quality passers, and the PF needs to contribute in a big way offensively, Love would be perfect. The pick-and-pops that Love would gobble up with Steph Curry makes the mouth water. Love would be coming into a team that has had back to back playoff appearances, with a quality starting 5 and, although untested in the NBA, an exciting future under Steve Kerr. Trading in Lee makes sense, as hard as it would be for a lot of Warriors fans to accept; Love produces the same, if not more offensively than Lee’s 20 point a game, and is a much better rebounder. He will stretch the floor much wider than Lee can, he even has the potential to morph into the biggest Splash Brother, depending on how Kerr wants the team to play. He is an All-Star, a national team member, a big time star in the league, and he wants out of Minnesota. Golden State would love to have him.
But now Cleveland has exploded into the front of many people’s minds as genuine title contenders with James. Vegas even has them as the short-odds favourites for the championship next season. Before James’s decision, they were a very young team, with considerable promise but no tangible guarantee of success. Kyrie Irving is very good, with youth on his side, Andrew Wiggins could grow up into a superstar, and Thompson and Varejao are satisfactory enough at their positions. Promising, but not enough to turn Love’s head. Lebron changes this team into contenders by inserting the best player in the game into the line up, a player who can coax the best out of Irving and mentor Wiggins into a star. We saw in the playoffs this year that James can carry a team to victory by himself; there were nights where he got nothing from Bosh and Wade, but still managed to drag the Heat over the line. James is trading in sets of guards; a tired, ageing Wade and a clueless, ineffective Mario Chalmers for an energetic and hungry combo of Irving and Waiters (Wiggins can play SG as well). The team has been transformed. And this new Cleveland is one that Love will certainly now consider.
It may take Cleveland giving up Wiggins, which would be disappointing for both the Cavs and Wiggins himself. What better a situation could a young player be in than learning at the feet of King James? But even if they do have to do this, Love to Cleveland makes a lot of sense. He doesn’t clash with James in terms a where they would play. He represents easy change for James in terms of team mate continuity; Love is similar in many ways to Bosh, maybe a better shooter than Bosh, but not as good a defender. Then you have to address the effect James will have in terms of attracting more quality players. Already talk of other trades is starting, Mike Miller and Ray Allen are some of the names floating around in the general direction of the Cavs. This all bolsters Love’s hopes of success in the post-season, something he craves. A deep and quality squad could be assembled, one with a good mix of youth and experience, and with James as the figurehead, it would be one that could challenge for championships for the foreseeable future.
So, with one swift gesture from Lebron, Golden State’s plans have been thrown into disarray. What Kerr and the management thought was almost a done deal is now hanging on by a thread, such is the power of Lebron James. Love certainly has a decision to make, with two delectable options on the table. It’s a nice problem to have.