The worst-kept secret in the NBA essentially became official on Thursday when multiple outlets reported that Cleveland and Minnesota have agreed on a Kevin Love deal. As expected, this has affected the Cavs' NBA odds for the upcoming season.
Love is No Longer in the Air
The trade can't become official until Aug. 23 so technically it still could be scuttled if the Clippers wanted to trade Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to Minnesota, but it's done. The Aug. 23 deadline is when the Cavaliers can first trade No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins as NBA rules state that a rookie can't be traded for 30 days after he signs his contract. Just recently, Wolves owner Glen Taylor admitted the team was likely to trade Love either Aug. 23 or 24. Not exactly a subtle hint.
While this trade was almost surely going to happen regardless, a few things spurred the Cavs to make sure it got done: 1) their worry that the Bulls would sneak in and steal Love with a better offer; 2) the devastating injury to Pacers star Paul George, which opened up the Eastern Conference even more this season because Indiana won't be a factor now; 3) Love agreed to a wink-wink deal with the Cavs that he will opt out of his contract after next season but then sign a five-year, $120 max extension with the team.
Cleveland will send Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round pick to the Wolves for Love. Not a bad deal for them considering everyone knew Love was going to leave next summer. It's still possible that the Wolves trade Bennett to Philadelphia for Thaddeus Young, but we aren't here to talk about Minnesota.
The NBA's New Big 3
Love is a Top-10 player in the league, no question. He averaged 26 points and 12.5 rebounds last season and for his career is averaging 19 points and 12.2 rebounds. He forms an All-Star Big 3 in Northeast Ohio with LeBron James -- the only reason Love wants to play in Cleveland -- and Kyrie Irving. All three will be playing on max contracts, and I'd imagine the Cavs will skyrocket into luxury tax territory, but I'm also sure that owner Dan Gilbert could care less. Cleveland will have one of the highest ticket prices in the NBA now, and Cavs will be the league's marquee team for at least a few years. Gilbert will make his money, not that the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans needs it.
When I recently looked at Cleveland's wins totals for the upcoming season it was at 55 on NBA odds. Now it's at 58. The Cavs are -3000 on NBA odds to make the playoffs and +1400 to miss. Cleveland is -285 to win the Central Division and +200 not to. Finally, the Cavs are even money to win the East and -130 not to, and +320 to win the NBA title and -450 not to. Frankly, these could change further when the deal is officially rubber-stamped by the league.
Are the Cavaliers going to be a dynamic offensive team? No doubt about it. They could have three 20-point scorers, plus they added 3-point specialists Mike Miller and James Jones. Cleveland also may sign Ray Allen and Shawn Marion. Will this team make the playoffs? Unless LeBron and Love are both injured on the team bus or something, of course.
But I've said it before and will say it again: defense matters. Irving is not a good defender. Love obviously is a great rebounder, but he's not a good defender. Dion Waiters, the likely starting shooting guard, doesn't know what defense is. James is still a great defensive player, but now he will be guarding smaller, quicker small forwards instead of power forwards. That's probably why you have seen photos of James this week where he has lost a bunch of weight this offseason. He will be less a power player than he was in Miami.
By comparison, the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs' top competition in the Eastern Conference and Central Division, are one of the NBA's top defensive teams. They are adding Derrick Rose, who apparently looks like his former MVP self in Team USA camp for the FIBA World Cup, Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic to a 48-win team. The Bulls also are deeper than Cleveland. While LeBron has been incredibly durable, Irving and Love have not. Neither has played every game in a season yet. Irving missed 11 last year, while in 2012-13 Love played in only 18.
NBA Free Picks: The Cavaliers will win 56 games, finish second to Chicago in the Central Division and lose to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Take some of those "against" props on Cleveland where you can. The books are feeding off bettors' overexcitement on this type of big trade. It's a great deal for Cleveland, no doubt, but sometimes you have to look past the surface.