Cleveland Cavaliers Still Have Plenty To Prove After Kevin Love Trade

By Matt Johnson
Kevin Love
Getty Images

In a matter of minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers went from being potential title contenders to NBA favorites. At least, that’s what Las Vegas seems to think.

When it was announced that Kevin Love would be traded from the moribund Minnesota Timberwolves to a suddenly darling Cavaliers squad in late August, the nation’s favorite betting factory immediately installed LeBron James and company as 5/2 favorites to win it all in 2015.

Some media outlets took it one step further, suggesting that the Cavaliers might be the next great NBA dynasty.  If that sounds familiar, check in with Miami Heat fans. They might have an opinion or two to share when it comes to things like dynasties.

As for Cleveland, it’s obvious the Cavaliers have improved more than anybody else during the offseason. James needs no introduction while Love gives the Cavaliers a big man who rebounds and shoots well from the outside. Throw in the ever-improving Kyrie Irving and it’s certainly tempting to peg new coach David Blatt’s team as favorites.

Another tempting idea would be find out what the San Antonio Spurs think about all this. Or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or the Los Angeles Clippers. Or the Heat for that matter. After all, they’re all considered title contenders as well.

Could the Cavaliers be holding a gold trophy when all is said and done? Sure. Are the Cavaliers a sure thing? Not by a long shot.

Since LeBron’s initial departure from Cleveland, the Cavaliers have gone 19-63, 21-45, 24-58 and 33-49 for a record of 97-215 and a winning percentage of .310. Irving, who will be entering his fourth season in 2014-2015, has been on three of those teams.

For his part, Love has played on six Timberwolves squads since he first came to the NBA in 2008. The Timberwolves’ records in those years were 24-58, 15-67, 17-65, 26-40, 31-51 and 40-42.  Add it up and the Timberwolves posted a winning percentage of .321 with a record of 153-323.

Between both Irving and Love, neither player has ever experienced a winning season let alone made a playoff appearance. All of that is expected to change in short order with James triumphantly riding back into Cleveland. But to suggest that Cleveland should be considered overall league favorites reeks of being prisoners of the moment.

When James headed to Miami, he was already blessed with a teammate who had won it all in Dwyane WadeChris Bosh meanwhile had not only been to the playoffs twice while with the Toronto Raptors, he had won a division title with the team in 2006-2007. The result was two titles in four years.

No such resumes exist for Irving and Love as they prepare to join with James for the “Big Three Part 2.” Undoubtedly, James will be doing a lot of mentoring with his two new teammates as the season goes on. And many will point to James bringing the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2006-2007 as an indication that taking Cleveland to a title should be a matter of routine.

Nevertheless, the challenges facing James are bigger this time around. Playoff basketball is a different animal from the regular season and both Irving and Love will be learning on the fly. Meanwhile, experienced foes like the Heat, the Brooklyn Nets and the rising Washington Wizards await in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference? Seven of their eight playoff teams posted 50 wins or more with the Dallas Mavericks and their 49 victories being the lone exception.

In other words, there is still a lot of work to be done in Cleveland. The talent is in place and the expectations are set. Are the Cavaliers a juggernaut? On paper, maybe. Games are played on the court however and the Cavaliers will have plenty to prove heading into 2014-2015.

Matt Johnson is a Big Ten Conference basketball writer for  Follow him on Twitter at mattytheole or “like” him on Facebook.


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