The Cleveland Cavaliers completed a four-game sweep of the Boston Celtics on Sunday, dominating the first half of Game 4 before holding on late. There was a lot of chippy play in Game 4, especially following an altercation between the Cavs’ Kevin Love and the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk. After getting tied up with one another, Love had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. He’s out for the next round and “highly unlikely” to return at any point this season, and many are wondering if the Cavs are in trouble as they prepare for the second round. But truthfully, the real root of the Cavs issue goes back to when the Cavaliers traded for Love in the first place.
Upon the return of LeBron James, the Cavaliers were desperate to stay in the headlines and create a Big Three that could immediately make them a title contender. They felt inclined due to the fact that James’ new contract only has him as a Cavalier for two seasons. Feeling pressure to win now from James’s contract, as well as the constant sufferings of everything in Cleveland sports, the Cavaliers shipped off their top draft pick Andrew Wiggins for Love.
Love is a proven scorer and rebounder, but that trade was overzealous to say the least. Wiggins, a 20-year-old with a high ceiling, was hung out to dry before he even made his debut. A classic case of over-management had the Cavaliers without an up-and-coming star. Instead, they felt they had a proven All Star (Love has been to three All-Star Games), and embraced the now. As good as Love can be individually and statistically, questions on his fitting in with the Cavs have come up more than once.
Any team that has James will cater their offensive game plan to his full court speed following an oppositions miss. For years the Miami Heat would go on impeccable runs when an opponent went in a shooting funk, and that strategy was inspired by James’ abilities in the open court. By surrounding themselves with shooters and fellow athletes that can get up to the rim, the Heat won the Eastern Conference for four years in a row.
After acquiring J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert the Cavaliers mimicked the former strategy of the Heat and catered to James. Smith and Shumpert were athletes that were unhappy in New York but were known for skills in the open court that can have an opponent trailing while they propel a run. Smith, in particular, fits with this strategy that the Heat and Cavs have both displayed with James.
While many blamed Cavaliers’ head coach David Blatt for Love struggling to fit in with the team, the real root of the issue is the Cavaliers felt it was smart to acquire Love for one year, instead of holding on to Wiggins for at least three. The alley oops that point guard Kyrie Irving would have been able to provide for both James and Wiggins would have been prime time television.
If Love walks from the Cavaliers at the end of this season, the risk they took in ridding Wiggins will have not paid off. His current injury status this season is nothing new, as he has never been able to start all 82 games in a season in his career thus far. Wiggins, was able to do that for the lowly Timberwolves, still averaging nearly 17 points a game as a rookie.
Perhaps things will work out for the Cavs as they still seemed prime to go deep into the postseason. But their eagerness has made the window of opportunity incredibly small, and that type of additional pressure is never good for any franchise. Love may still be able to return and help his team, but Wiggins undoubtedly would have been able to make an immediate impact and fit the pace of what the Cavs are trying to do.
Whether this trade truly pays off simply remains to be seen. Provided a miracle turn around from the Brooklyn Nets doesn’t occur, the Cavaliers will be facing the revitalized Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. That is a series that has 6 or 7 games written all over it.