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LeBron James, Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, Cavs

What if the LeBron-led Cavs never traded Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love?

Kevin Love, LeBron James, and Andrew Wiggins know the Cleveland Cavs were fresh from another disappointing campaign in the 2013-2014 season that ended in a 10th-place finish with a 33-49 record. The only bright spot on the team was former point guard Kyrie Irving who was slowly becoming a budding star in his third season in the league.

The former Duke standout copped the 2014 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honors and averaged norms of 20.8 points, 6.1 assists, and 3.2 rebounds through 35.2 minutes of action on the floor during that season. Despite the struggles, the team’s dismal campaign had a silver lining as it increased their chances of landing a high pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Indeed, the Cavs managed to find the pot of gold and were able to snag the top pick in the draft. They have now received the first overall selection in three of the previous four years. In 2011, the team drafted Irving followed by the decision to go with UNLV forward Anthony Bennett in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Cavaliers general manager David Griffin once again went with a Canadian prospect for the second-straight year and opted to select Kansas Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins over Duke Blue Devil Jabari Parker. It seemed as if the high-flying swingman’s arrival to Cleveland would be the last piece to the puzzle but fate had other plans.

A few days after the draft, hometown hero Lebron James then announced his return for a second stint with the Cavs. The team eventually turned from rebuilding mode to having championship aspirations in an instant. With heightened expectations, the four-time MVP knew he needed a troop that is composed of tenured veterans and championship-caliber players.

The Cavaliers front office led by team owner Dan Gilbert along with Griffin then opted to engage in a blockbuster three-team trade that would ultimately bring home their third star. Cleveland received All-Star forward Kevin Love while the Minnesota Timberwolves received Wiggins and Bennett from the Cavaliers along with Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers. They then received Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved from Minnesota and a 2015 first-round draft pick from Cleveland.

It wasn’t the last move as the Cavaliers continued to move pieces which eventually helped them to field a veteran-laden team with Kevin Love come the 2014-2015 season’s opening game against the New York Knicks. They brought in experienced players like James Jones, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood along with holdovers in Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Matthew Dellavedova to complement their newly-formed big three.

The capable roster with Kevin Love helped the Cavs reach the NBA Finals in the first campaign of James back in Cleveland. They finished with a 53-29 record to finish in second place of the Eastern Conference to march into the playoffs. The team easily toppled postseason opponents in the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and the Atlanta Hawks, respectively. However, they were stopped in their tracks by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors who won the 2015 NBA Finals series on a 4-2 outcome with both Irving and Love suffering series-ending injuries.

After a disappointing loss in the championship stage, the Cavaliers once again made noise in the offseason and reloaded their arsenal in addition to Kevin Love ahead of the 2015-2016 NBA season. They went on to add another pool of veterans in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov, and Richard Jefferson with hopes of coming out with a better campaign.

Midway through the season, the team held the best record in their conference with a 30-11 tally but still decided to part ways with then-head coach David Blatt. His lead assistant in Tyronn Lue took over the reins for the remainder of the season. The Cavs went on to finish the regular season with a 57-25 record to sit atop the Eastern Conference. They once again cruised past playoff counterparts in the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and the Toronto Raptors to enter the NBA Finals once again with Kevin Love as part of the roster.

The reigning champion Warriors came off a record-breaking 73-9 record with perennial All-Star Kevin Durant on their corner. Down 3-1, James carried the team — and Kevin Love — on his shoulders and came back to the series for a deciding Game 7 that went down to the wire.

The Cavs’ big three made impactful plays in crunch time with Irving’s ice-cold three-pointer, James’ unexpected chase-down block, and Kevin Love’s 1-on-1 lockdown defense against Stephen Curry in the dying seconds of the encounter. The Game 7 win finally gave Cleveland its first championship in professional sports since 1964 and ended a 52-year drought for the city.

After an inspirational championship run, the Cavs wanted to make it back to the Finals and defend their title in the 2016-2017 NBA season. They finished with a 51-31 record and imposed their will against the Indiana Pacers, Raptors, and the Celtics to reach the NBA Finals for the third-straight year. The Cavs and Kevin Love ultimately lacked the pieces to match the Warriors’ offensive firepower to lose the Finals series in five games.

Still not bowing out of their aspirations to gun for a second title, the Cavaliers and Kevin Love unit braved tougher competition. The team only finished with a 50-32 record to place fourth in the Eastern Conference after regular-season proceedings. They went on to figure in a hard-fought series against the Pacers which unexpectedly spanned seven games, f0llowed by a sweep dealt with the Raptors, and ended with another seven-game series victory against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The tough uphill battle eventually wore out the Cavaliers and Kevin Love. Their empty tanks were evident in the fourth rendition of their NBA Finals rivalry with the Warriors. Durant, Curry, and the rest of Dub Nation quickly ended the series and swept the Cavaliers to earn their second-straight title.

If both Gilbert and Griffin decided to not trade a raw prospect in Wiggins for a proven veteran like Love back in 2014, essentially none of their impressive playoff runs would be possible. Much more, their 2016 championship title where the power forward played a crucial role in the franchise’s attained success.

The UCLA product kicked his ego out of the door and sacrificed his individual aspirations in order to bode well with a Lebron James-led team. He unexpectedly went from having an All-NBA career to being the third option of a superteam in a span of a year.

Kevin Love recorded averages of 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in his final season in Minnesota which then dropped to a meager 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in the following season as he adjusted to a new role in Cleveland.

If the power forward didn’t find his way to Ohio, he will probably continue tallying monster double-double averages, become a perennial All-Star, and be the face of another team elsewhere along with the fact that Lebron James will most likely have one less ring on his collection.

On the other hand, the trade benefited Wiggins as a rookie trying to introduce himself to the league. He tallied 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game through 36.2 minutes played in all 82 games to edge out former Milwaukee Bucks swingman Jabari Parker for the 2014-2015 NBA Rookie of the Year award along with an All-Rookie First Team Selection. Had he stayed in Cleveland, the progression of his development as a player would be slower and he won’t be in the running for any individual honors.

Playing alongside a ball-dominant player like James would only allow him to get limited touches where he won’t be able to get his confidence going. He would also most likely be relegated to a 3-and-D type of player and will be utilizing his physical tools for defensive purposes only.

At the end of the day, both Kevin Love and Wiggins benefited well from the blockbuster trade with the former earning a ring at the height of his career while the latter was able to make his name known across the league as an up-and-coming player.