Cleveland superstar LeBron James’ return home from Sunday’s World Cup final in Brazil appears to have moved the Timberwolves one significant step closer toward trading discontented star Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in a deal for No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.
Publicly unwilling this past week to trade the top player chosen in last month’s draft, the Cavaliers now appear open to discussing Wiggins’ inclusion, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
If completed, a trade will unite Love — who never has made the playoffs in six seasons and intends to become an unrestricted free agent next summer — with pal Kyrie Irving and James, winner of two NBA titles who last week left Miami to return home to play for the team that drafted him in 2003.
In the days after James’ announcement, Cleveland management and new coach Dave Blatt maintained they would not trade Wiggins. They have been reluctant to do so because of Wiggins’ elite athleticism and the kind of defensive potential that has some NBA scouts comparing him to former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen.
Cleveland’s refusal to include Wiggins in any trade possibly changed when James returned from Brazil and made his desires known, perhaps both to his team’s management and to Love himself.
Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that James has reached out to Love and told him he wants to play with his 2012 Olympic teammate.
The Wolves almost certainly won’t trade with Cleveland if it doesn’t include Wiggins.
Such a trade also likely would bring the Wolves 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and possibly a future first-round draft pick. Depending on the eventual pieces, the Wolves and Cavaliers might need to find a third team to facilitate the trade to make sure all the exchanged salaries fit under league salary-cap rules without involving Cleveland center Anderson Varejao’s $9.8 million contract.
James recruited former Miami teammates Mike Miller and James Jones to sign with the Cavaliers in the last week, and the team is working to sign former Heat guard Ray Allen.
Love signed a four-year contract in January 2012 that gives him an out clause next summer and allows him to become an unrestricted free agent without the Wolves receiving any compensation. But he’d leave $26.5 million on the negotiating table if he signs with anybody but his current team, which in July 2015 can offer him an extra fifth year and larger raises than any other NBA team.
Love likely must agree either to opt in a year from now for the fourth year of his contract, or agree to sign an extension for the Cavaliers to part with Wiggins and Bennett. Multiple media reports in the last week have quoted sources close to Love as saying he is “intrigued” by the prospect of playing beside James.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is believed to have talked at length this week about a trade with Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, much as he did last month with Golden State owner Joe Lacob before those negotiations broke down.
Taylor, Gilbert and the league’s other 28 ownership groups were in Las Vegas this week for the NBA’s summer meetings.
Those discussions with Golden State ended last month after a framework for a deal including Thompson was reached but Lacob killed the deal on the advice of team consultant Jerry West, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
The Wolves’ discussions with Cleveland could prompt the Warriors or possibly Chicago to renew their pursuit of Love and sweeten their offers.
Wiggins — a 6-8 swingman from Canada who played one season at Kansas — is playing for the Cavaliers in the Las Vegas summer league. He is doing so without a rookie contract, either because Cleveland is waiting to make its final roster moves under its stretched salary cap before it signs him, or because it can’t trade him for 30 days after he signs that contract.
Or maybe they haven’t signed him yet for a combination of both reasons.
Wiggins has been inconsistent in Las Vegas but has shown flashes of the athleticism that made him last month’s top draft pick.
He wowed fans at UNLV’s packed Cox Pavilion Tuesday with a spin move around three defenders that created an electrifying two-handed dunk. The play led one long-time NBA scout to remark, “That’s why you can’t trade him. Crazy talent.”
But Wiggins, Bennett and other recent lottery picks Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters all are young and likely at least a few years away from being prominent pieces on a title-contending team, even with James by their side.
At age 25, Love’s presence probably elevates the Cavaliers from the second- or third-best team in their division into an immediate contender.