The NBA Finals are only two games old and there is rampant speculation brewing over the current and future state of the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. While some may interpret it as same-old chatter to pass the time between games, there is a growing number of fans and media pundits who think there is more to this series thus far than just two wins from the home team. The Cleveland Cavaliers now hold the distinction for being on the losing end of their first two NBA Finals games by the largest total margin of victory. In doing so, they demonstrated an inability to slow down the Golden State Warriors juggernaut offense. To make matters worse, the team has found the proficient offense they perfects the second half of the regular season to be bogged down. Should the first two games be a forbearer of things to come, the remainder of the series will pass like a blur.
So what does that mean for the Cleveland Cavaliers going forward? This is a franchise that has promoted their “All In” approach, one that has seen their payroll skyrocket in an effort to bring the city of Cleveland their first professional sports championship since 1964. Knowing that their team’s window of opportunity is short, they proceeded to tie up LeBron James’ key supporting cast (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson) to large multi-year contracts, which will handcuff them financially for years to come. Of the aforementioned players, Kevin Love appears to be the one that a case could be made has underperformed compared to the rest.
In his first two seasons with Cleveland, Love struggled to find his fit in the team’s offense. That lack of identity for a player who was acquired with the reputation of being a double threat, thriving both on the interior as well as the perimeter. Add to that his propensity for defensive lapses as a player not known for his defensive prowess to begin with, and one has to wonder how much of the blame will be shifted in his direction should the Cavaliers fail to put up much of a fight for the remainder of the finals. Should Cleveland lose the series fairly handedly as the first two games indicates may happen, it will prove that this team as presently constituted does not have the talent to overcome the Warriors the following season either.
So what does the Cavaliers franchise do to increase the team’s chances to win a title before LeBron James’ skills erode? Free agency is not an option given their current salary cap restrictions. One option that is viable is that LeBron decides to depart the city once again, being convinced that his talents would lead to a title elsewhere. While this is possible, the PR backlash would be unprecedented and something that he may not want impacting his family and the many local charities he has founded in Ohio. But being a pending free agent, James does hold a tremendous influence on what the Cavaliers front office may do. Management do not want to be this close to a title and then let their homegrown star depart for the second time. In order to avoid this scenario, they will have to pursue the best option to overhaul the roster In order to do so, there are few viable options at their disposal. A trade(s) of existing players to free up cap space or obtain the right talent to change the team’s fortunes and seriously contend for the title. Prioritizing the current marketable players under contract, one name will appear at the top of the list of tradable commodities; primarily based on consistent performance and style of play fit… Kevin Love.
Should Cleveland pursue trading Love as a viable off-season option there are a handful of teams that would possess both the need and the wherewithal to pull off a deal. Consider the Boston Celtics to be a leading candidates, and is a team that has not been shy with respects to their interest in securing Love’s talents. For the past few seasons, team president Danny Ainge has sought a way to bring Love to Boston. It may turn out that the shortcomings of a conference rival could be the facilitator of his possible acquisition. The Celtics have cap space and assets to create a multi-year deal that could benefit Boston, Cleveland and other interested parties. As a young and emerging team looking to make the next leap into true contention, Boston has a multitude of high draft picks and developing young talent that could entice a team that is going nowhere and in need to rebuild its roster (Sacramento, Chicago) to part ways with their star talent in a multi-team deal that could reshape many teams’ futures. In fact, the Celtics likely pursuit of Kevin Durant could be greatly enhanced by making a deal of this magnitude; proving to the Oklahoma City free agent to be that Boston is a basketball destination to strongly consider.
Will the Cleveland Cavaliers remain intact beyond the 2016 NBA Finals? It is too early to know for sure. What does appear certain is the roster as it is constructed today lacks the athletic depth and offensive proficiency to beat the defending champion Golden State Warriors. I for one believe that Cleveland will act as quickly as possible to build a supporting cast for LeBron James to maximize its window of opportunity for a title. To recalibrate the roster, the team will have to give something of value to secure the talent needed to win. Such maneuvers are not easy, especially with players with large contracts. Lining up suitors who provide the talent and the salary cap alignment will be extremely challenging. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that the Cavaliers will be stuck with the current core and will hope to tweak the roster to fill positional needs. As a city now 52 years removed from a pro team championship and at risk of wasting their next best chance to bring a title to town, there is no telling what measures desperate people will do. If nothing else, this provides another layer of drama to what could be a very lackluster NBA Finals because watching double-digit blowout games leaves little for the basketball fan to pay interest to.