The Celtics’ pursuit of Kevin Love was a long shot from the beginning. Although Love was intrigued by the idea of playing for Brad Stevens and with such a tradition-rich organization, the relationship never grew beyond a flirtation.
The Celtics did not have enough assets to send to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Cleveland Cavaliers dealt two former No. 1 overall picks and a protected first-round pick for the rights to Love.
The trade will become official Aug. 23, when rookie Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded, but this deal has been in the works for weeks, with Celtics president Danny Ainge relegated to steaming up the window as the negotiations unfolded.
So Celtics majority partner Wyc Grousbeck’s promise of “fireworks” this summer was a dud because of the Celtics’ lack of commodities.
It is going to be incredibly difficult for the Celtics to acquire a top-notch player this summer unless Rajon Rondo is on the block. The team’s younger players aren’t proven to attract a serious offer for Love, or another impact player.
Love, a three-time All-Star and the game’s premier power forward, wanted to win immediately; the Celtics could offer tradition and the tutelage of Stevens, but not immediate success. Love’s arrival in Cleveland now makes the Cavaliers a serious title contender.
The Cavaliers with Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, Bennett and Dion Waiters were an intriguing team but not contenders. The combination of Love, Irving and LeBron James could be scary, especially if the unselfishness of Love and James rubs off on Irving.
The Chicago Bulls appear to be the early favorites to win the Eastern Conference with a healthy Derrick Rose, newly acquired Pau Gasol, and center Joakim Noah. Although Rose appears sharp playing this summer with USA Basketball, his impact on the Bulls is uncertain.
The rest of the contenders in the East have flaws, making the Cavaliers even more compelling with Love. With the league’s best outlet passer handing the baton to James on the break with Irving and his crafty skills, the Cavs have a chance to race to the top of the conference.
Of course, the retooled Miami Heat, the younger Washington Wizards and rejuvenated Charlotte Bobcats are going to be factors. But Cleveland is preparing to win now.
James, in his Sports Illustrated letter, expressed patience with competing for championships, but that will no longer be the case with the presence of Love. James pushed for the move, contacting Love, who was ready to depart Minnesota after six seasons with no playoff appearances.
What this move illustrates is that James will exert perhaps ultimate power in the Cavaliers organization, with Cleveland debuting its own Big Three. This hardly means a threat to the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, however. It will take time for James, Love and Irving to blend and the balanced Eastern Conference will be a challenge.
So the Celtics likely will have to wait until next summer for fireworks, where they could potentially have $33 million coming off their salary cap in expired contracts. The Celtics learned the difficulty of building a contender by skipping steps. They need cap space. They need a couple of their younger players to develop into potential standouts, they need a team looking to shed a star player on an expiring contract.
All of that had to occur for the Celtics to land Love, and Minnesota president Flip Saunders was not going to present a package of draft picks, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to his constituents. Wiggins, who has drawn comparisons to James, and Bennett, who is looking for a breakthrough year after being in poor shape and battling a shoulder injury as a rookie, were far more attractive.
But it is also intriguing to watch what type of team Stevens will field come October. The Celtics should be improved with the additions of a healthy Rondo, Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, James Young, Tyler Zeller, and Marcus Thornton. And perhaps Stevens and Ainge will discover a gem through another transition season.
The fact Love is not in Boston should come as no surprise to Celtics’ fans. It was little more than a fantasy for those who want to return to the Big Three Days, competing for championships without waiting the requisite rebuilding period.
It’s official, this will take time, so be patient and appreciate the process until next summer, in which those fireworks may be for real.