Unlike "The Decision," LeBron James' returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent Friday doesn't immediately create a star-studded big three. However, one more transaction -- the Cavaliers dealing for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love -- would bring together a trio of players, including Cleveland incumbent Kyrie Irving, that would have the potential to surpass the threesome that helped the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals four times and win two championships.
Even before James' announcement, reports suggested the Cavaliers and Timberwolves were discussing a Love trade, and ESPN's Marc Stein reported Friday that Love would commit to staying with the Cavs. That James' letter did not mention No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins will only fuel speculation that Cleveland is preparing to send a package centered around Wiggins to Minnesota.
If the Timberwolves are amenable, a Love trade is an easy choice for the Cavaliers.
While surrendering the top pick would be nearly unprecedented in modern NBA history -- once secured in the lottery, the No. 1 selection hasn't been traded since the Orlando Magic sent Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors on draft night in 1993 -- Love's trade value is also unique.
In May, I argued that Love might be the most valuable player to change hands since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was traded from Milwaukee to the L.A. Lakers in 1975. Not only is Love a top-five talent in the league, at 25, he's just entering his prime. Provided he's willing to re-sign with Cleveland, Love is more valuable than the average No. 1 pick. And while scouts project Wiggins as an elite talent, his performance at Kansas raised questions about his potential.
None of the other players or picks the Cavaliers might have to surrender in a Love trade would be huge losses for Cleveland. Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick, still must prove he's worthy of his rookie contract after submitting the worst first season by a top pick in terms of wins above replacement player (WARP) since the ABA-NBA merger. The Cavaliers' own picks are likely to fall late in the first round, though Cleveland does own the Heat's protected 2015 first-round pick, which suddenly became more valuable with James' departure.
Should the Cavaliers acquire Love, he'd be arguably the best player with whom James has ever teamed. While Love's résumé might not compare to Dwyane Wade's playoff success before teaming up with James, his performance is similar to Wade's in 2010. Last season, Love produced 20.3 WARP, good for third in the league behind James and Kevin Durant. In 2009-10, Wade posted 20.0 WARP as the leader of a one-star Miami team.
Crucially, unlike Wade, Love is likely to maintain that level of play for several years to come.
Wade's production has dropped each season since James joined him on the Heat. And while some of that has to do with the diminishing returns of pairing multiple stars, it has more to do with Wade's deteriorating physical condition. Love isn't the same kind of long-term risk.