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IS TRISTAN THOMPSON TRYING TO GET OUT OF CLEVELAND?

By any objective statistical or mathematical measure, Tristan Thompson is being unreasonable. The restricted free agent, entering his fifth year in the Association, is reportedly seeking north of Thompson$90 million to return to Cleveland, the only NBA home he’s known to this point in his career. Thompson’s sky-high salary demands are the reason he remains as perhaps the highest-profile free agent left on the market.

Having already signed starting power forward Kevin Love to a monster deal that extends through the 2019-20 season, it would be understandable if the Cavs decided they did not want to spend that kind of cash on Love’s backup. However, by even entertaining Thompson’s position, the Cavs have shown that they are committed to trying to bring him back. This commitment is undoubtedly motivated by Thompson’s inspired play during the Cavs’ run to the finals, lingering questions about Love’s health and fit with the team, Thompson’s unique skill-set, specifically his status as the game’s foremost offensive rebounder and LeBron’s insistence on the importance of keeping Thompson in the fold.

While the Cavs are committed to Thompson, there may be reason to question whether his Lebronoutlandish salary demands may be motivated by his desire to play somewhere else. The opportunity to play with a transcendent talent like Lebron and compete for a title every year is nothing to walk away from lightly, but when we look at where Thompson currently fits on the Cavs’ roster, and his likely standing in the years to come, we begin to see some method to Thompson’s salary-demand madness.

The Cavs picked Thompson with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After a solid rookie campaign, he came into his own during his sophomore season, starting every game and averaging over 31 minutes per contest. Thompson also started all 82 games in his third year, and slightly increased his playing time. Over his second and third seasons, Thompson averaged nearly 12 points per game and over 9 rebounds, turning himself into a solid, if unspectacular, post player.

Things changed dramatically for the Cavs, and for Thompson personally, last off-season. With the addition of Lebron and, more importantly for Thompson’s fortunes, Kevin Love, Thompson saw a significant fall in his importance to the team. He went from starting all 82 games to only 15, and his Loveminutes fell by five per game. Along with his minutes, Thompson’s scoring and rebounding also fell, as did his shot attempts, dropping from 9.3 per game to a mere 6.0.

Thompson has never complained publicly about his role on the team, but with Kevin Love signing a massive, five-year deal, Thompson would be right to be concerned about the direction his career will take if he remains in Cleveland. Love will be the starting power forward in Cleveland as long as he remains a Cav. Because neither Thompson nor Love can defend elite level centres (or elite-level anythings in Love’s case) for long stretches, Thompson is unlikely to play much alongside Love. This means that Thompson’s reduced minutes and role are likely to persist as long as he remains a Cav – and potentially get worse if Love can stay healthy.

Considering that Thompson is already 24 years of age, a long-term deal in Cleveland would mean that he would be confined to the Cavs’ bench for some of what should be the most productive years of his career. This would be a hard pill to swallow for a player that clearly sees himself as a legitimate NBA starter. It would also mean that, as Thompson hits his late twenties and potentially his best and last chance at a big pay-day, he will be best known as Kevin Love’s backup and not inTristan a position to command anywhere near the kind of money he might have been able to get as a 7 or 8 year starter. For that reason, from an individual standpoint, it’s almost a no-brainer for Thompson to get himself out of Cleveland just as fast as he can.

If Thompson does not sign a long-term deal with the Cavs’ this off-season, he is likely to end up playing on a one year qualifying offer next year before becoming a restricted free agent in the 2016 off-season. While it would cost him some money up front, this may be the best outcome of all for Thompson in the long-term. A one-year deal would keep him in Cleveland for 2015-2016, allowing him to quite possibly be a part of a championship team, which will only increase his value on the free agent market. Then, with the salary cap going through the roof in a year’s time, Thompson would likely command an even bigger deal than the one he’s reportedly seeking from Cleveland, and do so as a key part of a team – perhaps his hometown Raptors, still in need of a starting power forward – where a starting role and all the minutes he can handle are assured.

While Tristan Thompson may ultimately happily commit to Cleveland for the long-term, he should certainly do so with some trepidation regarding the impact of that decision on his career and future financial prospects. If he is going to go that route, and pass on being an unrestricted free agent in 2016, he is right to expect to be well compensated for giving up that opportunity.

THE CUBAN FALLACY

With the opening of the Team USA minicamp in Vegas this week, the American basketball world is focused on international hoops for what may be the last time before the Rio games kick off in 2016. In addition to rampant speculation over who will make the final squad, and drooling over potentialdream rosters, this camp will also invariably spark new debate over the participation by NBA players in international play.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has long held the mantle of opposing NBA player involvement in international competition. He does so not on the basis of traditional arguments in favour of the principle of amateurism, but rather based on the specious view that NBA teams are getting screwed because the IOC and FIBA are profiting off of NBA players without compensating their teams or the league. He argues that NBA teams are taking all the risk, without benefitting from the arrangement.

Unfortunately for Cuban, under the current agreement between FIBA and the NBA, there isn’t much he can do about it. At present, it is up to NBA players to decide for themselves whether or not they want to play for their countries. Teams can only prohibit a player from taking part if there is a “reasonable medical concern” motivating the decision (as is the case this year with the Spurs and Manu Ginobili). Absent such a basis, teams can only attempt to subtly influence a player’s decision (as Cuban reportedly did with Chandler Parsons in 2014). Of course, teams cannot be prevented from factoring the likelihood a player will play internationally into decision-making around contract negotiations – though they cannot prohibit a player from pCuban2artaking as a term of a contract.

While Cuban’s concerns are understandable, particularly in light of the recent season-ending injuries to Paul George and Dante Exum, his views are short-sighted and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of his relationship with his team’s players.

To begin with, participation in international competition is good for players and for owners. Players do not get paid to play for their countries, but it does pay dividends by helping them build their brand. Besides winning an NBA championship, MVP or maybe a scoring title, there are few honours available to an NBA player that outrank playing for the USA in the Olympics or World Cup. The exposure and prestige that come with wearing the red, white and blue factor into contract negotiations, endorsement deals and any number of other financial opportunities. NBA players in international competition is also good for the NBA. It raises the profile of the game internationally and makes Olympic and World Cup competition marquee events in the global basketball calendar, putting NBA players on centre stage outside of the traditional North American market.

Most significantly however, Cuban’s remarks reveal a fundamental and troubling misunderstandingCuban 1 of his relationship with the players that play for his team. Cuban needs to understand that he and the other owners employ their players, they do not own them.

NBA players are paid, handsomely, to play in 82 regular-season games, any playoff games their team qualifies for, and to show up for practice and other mandatory team functions. When an NBA team enters into a contract with a player, they are agreeing to pay them for those services, just like any other employment contract. An NBA contract may include certain other terms intended to limit risk – terms like, no sky-diving or hang-gliding or running with the bulls. These terms may well be reasonable and, if both parties agree to them, unobjectionable. If Cuban simply wanted the right to negotiate a no international competition term into player contracts, that would be a fair point.

Cuban wants much more than that, however. What his criticism implies is that he feels that NBA teams should have an exclusive right to profit off of their players. This is a radical departure from the standard employment contract model and would be akin to suggesting that a factory worker can’t bag groceries on the weekend without the factory getting a kickback. It would also be a major departure from the traditional nature of NBA contracts. Players have always used their spare time to earn extra income in a way that does nothing to further the interests of their teams. If Cuban wants USA Basketball to compensate him for engaging his players, he should also demand the Aug 12, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA players stand during the playing of the national anthem after defeating Spain 107-100 during the men's basketball gold medal game in the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sportssame from Nike or Adidas or McDonald’s or any other company that uses his players as spokesmen. While the risk of injury may be lower, it is certainly conceivable that a player could be injured shooting a commercial or attending a promotional event.

What Cuban fails to understand is that NBA players are people, not assets. An NBA contract is a substantial investment, but it is an agreement to provide a service, not a transfer of ownership. Having a player under contract does not give a team or an owner the right to dictate what players do with their free time, and certainly does not grant them an exclusive right to the profits generated by those players. While Cuban’s concerns about potential injury is understandable, he needs to accept that the risk of injury simply comes with the territory of being an employer.

COULD THE DANTE EXUM INJURY BE GOOD FOR THE JAZZ?

Jazz Nation was devastated last week when news broke that sophomore guard Dante Exum had torn his ACL in international competition on this rather innocuous looking play. The injury is, without question, a major setback in Exum’s development, and one he can scant afford given the limited elite level basketball he’s played to this point in his life.

The injury also won’t do much to help the Jazz’s prospects in 2015-2016 – a year in which someExum1 were predicting big things from Utah. In fact, prior to the injury, so many people were picking the Jazz as a playoff dark horse that Zack Lowe declared on his podcast that they no longer qualified as a sleeper. While Exum’s numbers last season were fairly pedestrian, by the end of the year he had moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz were certainly hoping for a bigger contribution in the coming year. While the prospects of the Jazz beating out two of the Thunder, Mavericks and Pelicans for the eight seed may have been overblown, there’s no question they would be better off with Exum than without.

Obviously, the Jazz are not building for the upcoming NBA campaign. Their sights are set 5-10 years into the future, when Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are distant memories and Chris Paul and Marc Gasol are shells of their former selves. The real question for the Jazz then, is what this injury means for their hopes of beating out Wiggins and Co for the Western Conference crown in 2021.

Exum2As difficult as it may be for the Jazz faithful to swallow right now, it may well be that the loss of Exum for this season makes them better when they are realistically hope to be in a position to contend for an NBA title.

First of all, it’s important to put into perspective what an ACL tear means in today’s NBA. Medicine has progressed mightily since this same injury put Bernard King’s career in jeopardy in 1985. In the medical realities of that day, we would have been justified in fearing for Exum’s career at this stage. Today, however, Exum is more than likely to be the latest addition to the list of professional athletes that come back from an ACL tear looking like it never happened. We saw Adrian Peterson do it in 2012, and more recently in hoops, we’ve seen Derrick Rose and Lou Williams return to form following the same injury. Particularly given that Exum only turned 20 in July, it seems much more likely than not that he will bounce back without losing a step.

If Exum ultimately suffers no meaningful loss of athleticism and remains the giant, throbbing ball of talent he is, the injury could actually work to Utah’s advantage in a couple of ways. First of all, it might give Exum an opportunity to sort out his shot. Dante shot 34.9% from the field and 31.4% from deep last season. While many rookies shoot poorly, these numbers need to get better if he’s going to turn into the elite level guard the Jazz drafted him to be. Exum’s workouts will be limited as he recovers, but one thing he will be able to do is shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Admittedly, neither Derrick Rose, nor Sweet Lou showed any meaningful improvement in their shooting percentage following injury, but it’s worthwhile to note that the time off may give Exum a chance to work on something that genuinely needs work.

More importantly, freed of the need to find Exum minutes, the Jazz will have a chance to sort out the burkerest of their lineup – by which I mean, figure out once and for all if Trey Burke (of the non-vitation to the Team USA minicamp)   is any good. Burke, a heavily decorated collegian and highly-touted draft pick in 2013 has been disappointing in his first two years in the league. Soon, the Jazz are going to need to decide whether to pay the man, or cut bait and move forward without him. With Exum out, Burke will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself and, hopefully, how far he’s come in three years in the NBA.

Finally, the biggest benefit the Jazz may get out of Exum injury is not having to pay Exum when his own rookie contract expires. While the injury is unlikely to have a lasting effect on Exum’s athletic ability, it will certainly slow his development. Based on his rookie season, Exum is not a max-deal type of player, but he certainly has max-deal type talent. Coming back from injury in 2016-2017, Exum is likely to struggle because he’s been out of basketball for a year and because he’s just not that good yet. This may mean that, when it comes time to negotiate his second contract, Exum may not have the body of work that would justify a max deal, potentially allowing the Jazz to lock him up at a discount, much the same way as Steph Curry’s glass ankles allowed the Warriors to sign the reigning MVP up at a substantial discount in 2012. Curry presently makes $11 million a season, dramatically less than his draft classmates Blake Griffin, James Harden. This discount on Curry gave the Warriors the flexibility to give a big deal to Klay Thompson, bring in a key free agent like Andre Iguodala, and keep Draymond Green in the fold following this year’s title. A discount on Exum in a couple years’ time could have similar benefits for the Jazz.

While this may all seem like small consolation for disappointed Jazz fans looking forward to a playoff run in 2015-2016, the future in Utah remains bright and only time will tell if it is in any way affected by the injury to Dante Exum.

NEXT MAN UP

After their surprise regular season Eastern Conference title in 2014-2015, the Atlanta Hawks could have been forgiven for blindly doing whatever it took to keep their roster intact. When the TorontoDemarre Raptors threw $14 million per at Demarre Carroll, however, the Hawks sensibly opted to let him go, rather than invest a fifth of their pre-tax cap space in their fifth starter.

While the Hawks clearly made the right business decision, Carroll does leave a significant, junkyard dog-sized hole in the Atlanta starting five. In his two breakout seasons in Atlanta, Carroll averaged over 31 minutes a game which, if nothing else, is a lot of floor time to fill. Last season, Carroll was also productive in those minutes, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 boards and 1.3 steals per game. More importantly, as anyone who watched the Hawks play last year knows, Carroll’s impact is only partially reflected in his numbers. The Junkyard Dog also brought a level of intensity, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, that is difficult to replace.

THJrThe Hawks have made a few offseason moves to help fill the Carroll void. They brought in Tim Hardaway Jr from the Knicks and picked up Justin “Jrue’s Brother” Holiday from Golden State. While both, particularly Hardaway, will be able to provide some valuable minutes at the three spot and may evolve into impact players down the road, neither will be able to step into Demarre’s role right away.

Instead, the person best positioned to pick up Carroll’s slack is the man that backed him up for most of last year – Thabo Sefolosha.

Sefolosha is currently rehabbing from a serious NYPD-inflicted injury that ended his 2014-2015 season (and seriously hurt the Hawks title hopes) and neither Sefolosha nor the Hawks are yet talking return dates. However, if Thabo can make a full recovery from the injury, he may be more ready than anyone thinks to step into the Carroll’s spot in the starting lineup. While Thabo has never produced on the offensive end in the way that Demarre did over the last two years, the Thabo2similarities between the two players suggest that Sefolosha may be on the verge of the same kind of breakout season we saw from Carroll in 2013-2014.

To begin with, they are physically virtually identical. Carroll is 6’8, 212 lbs, while Sefolosha stands 6’7 and weighs in at 222 lbs. Both are known for their athleticism and hustle, moreso than for their skills.

When we look at the numbers in the season before each player joined the Hawks, we can see that Thabo actually seems to have been well ahead of Demarre prior to landing in Atlanta. In 2013-2014 Sefolosha’s final season with the Thunder, he averaged 6.3 points, 1.3 steals, 1.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 26 minutes of action per game. These numbers are all slightly ahead of Carroll’s 6.0 points, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.8 rebounds per game in nearly 17 minutes for the Jazz in 2012-2013. While Sefolosha’s elevated numbers could be viewed as a product of the extra nine minutes per game he played in OKC, the fact that he was entrusted with more minutes playing for a better team is hardly a compelling argument in favour of Carroll.

Sefolosha’s numbers dipped in his first year in Atlanta (except in rebounding, where he jumped to 4.3 per), but this drop off is likely tied to the dip his minutes took when he found himself playing behind Carroll. When we compare the two on a per 36 minutes basis, Sefolosha’s stats are better than Carroll’s in rebounding, steals, assists and blocked shots, with Carroll edging Sefolosha out only in scoring.

Carroll and Sefolosha also seem to be developing along a similar path. Both began their careers as defence and energy guys, with Carroll adding his offensive abilities later on. His big leap in Atlanta Thabo1seemed to come from the three point line. Carroll did not shoot a meaningful sample of threes until his final year in Utah, when he averaged 1.1 attempts per game. It was not until he arrived in Atlanta that he was able to shoot with sufficient proficiency to justify attempting any more, shooting 36% in 2013-2014 and 39% in 2014-2015. Thabo, on the other hand, arrived in Atlanta having already proved that he can be deadly from beyond the arc. Prior to a drop off in his final year in OKC, Thabo shot 43% on 1.7 attempts per game in 2011-2012 and 41% on 3.2 attempts per game in 2012-2013. Whereas Carroll arrived in Atlanta needing to develop a 3-point shot, Thabo showed up fully formed.

It is clear that Sefolosha has all of the skills and natural ability needed to step in and replace Demarre Carroll as soon as he’s healthy enough to return to action. The biggest question mark is whether he will be able to bring the same energy and intensity that Caroll brought every time he stepped on the floor. If so, the best move the Hawks made this offseason may have been letting the Junkyard Dog get away.

THE UNCHOSEN ONE

You could be forgiven for forgetting all about him. Shabazz Muhammad’s name does not spring readily to mind when you think about the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves roster boasts three consecutive number one overall draft picks and the NBA’s reigning slam dunk Shab2champion. It’s easy for a player like Muhammad, who doesn’t fly quite as high as Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine, to get lost in the glitz and glamour of the other youngsters on the squad. However, he may yet prove to be one of the most important pieces in the Timberwolves rebuilding process.

Entering the third year in the NBA, Muhammad’s pro career has begun with a less than ideal start. Due to injuries and a D-League assignment, he has played in only 75 total NBA games over two years – 37 in his first year and 38 last year. These injuries, in themselves, are cause for concern. If Muhammad can get himself, healthy, there are ample reasons to believe he could be as important to their future as anyone currently on their roster.

It should not be forgotten that Muhammad is a world class talent. Before his lone season at UCLA, Muhammad was widely viewed as the best high school player in the nation. As a high school senior in 2012, he was named Mr. Basketball USA, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the McDonald’s All-American game MVP. Muhammad was ranked as the top high school prospect by Rivals.com and second by ESPNU and Scout.com and had his pick of top NCAA programs. Were it not for the NBA’s prohibition on high schoolers declaring for the draft, Muhammad might well have been a number one overall pick himself. While the gloss on Muhammad’s prep career wore a little with revelations that he was a year older than many had been led to believe, his talent at that time was undeniable.

Instead of going straight to the show, Muhammad spent a year in the house UCLAthat Wooden built. His year at UCLA was anything but smooth. Muhammad lost three games after being declared ineligible for recruiting violations (the decision was later reversed), he was criticized for carrying an unreasonably expensive bag, and failed to get appropriately excited when teammate Larry Drew II hit a game winner against the University of Washington. These criticisms had little to do with his on-court abilities, however, and Muhammad’s freshman performance only confirmed his elite level talent, particularly on the offensive end of the court.

Despite a proficient season of college ball, in the much-maligned 2013 NBA draft Muhammad fell almost out of the lottery. He was selected 14th overall by the Jazz, before being shipped, along with Gorgui Dieng, to the T-Wolves in exchange for Trey Burke. It was this drop in draft order, more than anything he had done on the Court, that has led to Muhammad being overlooked as a key component of the T-Wolves future.

Despite the lack of hype and the limited gameplay, Muhammad did show flashes of superstar potential in his second pro campaign. Muhammad had 28 and 30 point games and was third on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, while shooting an impressive 39.2% from beyond the arc. He was also second among perimeter players (to Ricky Rubio, shockingly) in rebounding at 4.1 per. In one 20 game stretch, Muhammad averaged 16.9 points per game, tying the season average of the great hope from the North, Andrew Wiggins. While comparing Wiggins’ rookie campaign to Muhammad’s sophomore season may seem unfair, it is worth noting that, to this point in their careers, Wiggins has played more total NBA games than Muhammad.

Beyond the stats, Muhammad showed a desire and tenacity that put the lie to the allegations of selfishness that tainted his college career and draft stock. Shabazz consistently crashed the boards on both ends, and proved himself a reliable finisher around the hoop, often fighting through contact to make plays.Wiggins

Shabazz Muhammad will never get the kind of hype that is bound to follow Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns throughout their careers. However, if allowed to flourish in the role he is carving out for himself, he may wind up as one of the most important pieces in the championship puzzle the T-Wolves are trying to put together.

THANK YOU, GILBERT ARENAS

It’s been too long since we’ve had a meaningful update from the wonderful world of Gilbert Arenas.

Fortunately, Agent Zero has blessed us with this gem of a window into what he’s been doing with his life since last playing in the NBA with Memphis in 2012.

Apparently, Gilbert won these prizes playing carnival games at the Orange County Fair. Gilbert makes the dubious claim that, as he was shooting, the “fans” yelled “the rims are bent”. It is unclear thumbs upif these were Gilbert fans that assembled as word of his virtuoso performance spread, or whether they were typical carnival game fans you can find at any Fair. In response to these cheers, Gilbert reportedly yelled out “Hibachi!”, the nickname he gave himself in 2006 (apparently after purchasing the rights to the name from Brendan Haywoood, who is a business genius).

Unfortunately for Gilbert’s legions of fans (aside from those who witnessed the event in person) the picture raises more questions than answers, such as:

  • Exactly how long did it take Gilbert to win all of these prizes?
  • How much money did Gilbert spend to play enough times to bring home this haul?
  • Did Gilbert really take his kids to the Orange County Fair just so they could watch him shoot hoops for hours and then help him haul his loot home?
  • Did the kids at least get to keep some of the prizes, or did they all go straight into Gilbert’s trophy room?Guns
  • Wikipedia says that Gilbert has five kids. Where is number five? Did he or she rebel after hour number four of watching pops shoot jimmys?
  • Is this the new hobby Gilbert has settled on now that he has had to abandon his former passion for illegal fireworks?
  • How early on in the process did Gilbert break out his six shooters?

Whatever the answer to these questions, I think we can all agree that it’s comforting to know that Gilbert is still out there, doing weird shit for all us sinners.

SUMMER OF LOVE

On June 16, 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost the 2015 NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. The following day, the Cavs had already been selected by the oddsmakers in Vegas as the favourite to win the 2016 NBA Crown – and for good reason. The Cavs are one of, if not the most, Lebrontalented team in the league. Given the state of the Eastern Conference, they should have a much easier road to the Finals than any other true contender.

In that context, it’s hard to criticize the Cavs off-season strategy of trying to keep their core intact. Lebron took the Warriors to six games with the worst supporting cast to make the Finals since AI’s 2001 Sixers. Surely the addition of Uncle Drew and Mike Love’s Nephew Kevin back into the mix would be enough to make Lebron an even .500 on the League’s biggest stage.

Still, the Cavs handed K-Love a massive deal to keep him in the fold this off-season. Any team that does that has to question whether the guy is truly worth it. Maybe more importantly, they have to KL2ask whether there might be a better way to spend that money.

The case for Love is not a weak one. His numbers dipped this year, but he has still been one of the most statistically productive players in the NBA over the past five years. Over the second half of the season, the Cavs were virtually unstoppable when Lebron, Kyrie and Love were in the lineup together. Consistency at the elite end of a roster also has value, as does the comfort and trust built over the course of an NBA season. It is difficult to argue that bringing Love back does not assure the Cavs a spot among the NBA’s 2016 title favourites.

For those reasons, there is no question that Love is worth the money the Cavs gave him. It is also certain he he would have received a max deal somewhere if the Cavs had not made the offer. The more interesting question is whether Cleveland could have better spent that money elsewhere. The answer to that question is… absolutely.

Kevin Love is an elite level player. However, because of their personnel and their style of play, the Cavaliers do not make full use of his talents. We see this partly in Love’s numbers. If we take 2012-2013 out of consideration given that Love played only 18 games that year, he averaged 26 or more points per game in his last two seasons in Minnesota and only 16 points per game this year in Cleveland. Love’s rebounding numbers, always among the best in the league, were similarly down this year, to the lowest they’ve been since his rookie year. There is value in having a 25 and 15 type of talent on a team, even if he is not putting up those numbers, but to some degree value has to be tied to actual production.

The bigger problem for Love and the Cavs is his ability to play effectively with Lebron and Uncle Drew. In Minnesota, Love got his points in two ways, shooting spot-up threes and posting up. Love does not get to use his post-up game in Cleveland. Lebron and Kyrie are options 1 and 2 in the Cavs offence. To be effective, they both need to have the ball a lot, and they cannot have two bigs in the paint taking up space they need to get to the hoop. When Love is playing with a centre like Mozgov or Varejao (which is always), he has to step out to give Lebron and Kyrie room to work. This creates an irreconcilable Catch-22 in the Cavs’ offence. Love needs to post-up to score effectively, but the Cavs’ offence needs him out of the way to be at its best. As a result, Love is too often relegated to the role of spot-up shooter and exiled to the three-point line, which also hurts his ability to contribute as a rebounder. Factor in that Love is often a defensive liability and, at the very least, the Cavs are not getting full-value for their money.

tristan-thompsonTristan Thompson’s performance following Love’s injury also gives us reason to question whether bringing him back was the right move. While Thompson is a much less gifted player offensively, he is a much better fit for Cleveland, giving the Cavs what they need in terms of defence and rebounding, without needing the ball to be productive. Thompson has yet to re-sign, and there are reports that the Cavs are contemplating a future without him, but whatever he would have cost to bring back, it would have been dramatically less than what they paid Love.

This comparison brings us to the real issue to be considered. It’s not a question of whether Love is a good player, whether he’s worth the money he’s being paid, or whether the Cavs are better with him than without him – the answer to all of those questions is obviously yes. The real question is, could the Cavs have found a way to get better value for the $20-$25 million they’re going to pay him in each of the next five years. When we consider who the Cavs could have signed for that money, it becomes clearer and clearer that Love was the wrong choice.

First, it appears that the Love contract may have cost the Cavs Thompson. Thompson is a better fit for the Cavs, and would likely have cost a whole hell of a lot less than Love (the biggest contract Thompson could have signed would have been $17,500,000.00 per year). In any business, when you can get equal or greater value for less money, it’s a good decision.

Looking outside of the Cavs 2014-2015 roster, there are a number of other intriguing options. Given their status as top contenders, they may have had a shot at big ticket free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan. Jordan in particular might have been a good fit for the Cavs given that he, like Thompson, is highly effective without any thought being given to getting him touches. A Jordan/Thompson front line would have been the most dominant rebounding 4-5 duo in the league, and would have been a much better fit with Lebron and Kyrie than a Mozgov/Love pairing. That said, the prospect of the Cavs bringing in another superstar is highly speculative, and even if possible, would come with the downside of the other 2/3rd of their big three learning how to play with the new kid. While the DJ hypothetical is an interesting one, the addition of someone like Aldridge or another superstar is unlikely to make the Cavs better in the short-term than would bringing back Love, just because the Cavs would have to start the process of learning to play together all over again.

The more intriguing option would be to split the money between two or three strong role players. The Cavs don’t need another volume scorer, they need guys that can defend, rebound, hit open shots and, maybe most importantly, given last years’ playoff experience, step in in case of injury. The following are five examples of packages the Cavs could have put together with Love’s money – they include only guys that changed teams this year (to prevent the unrealistic inclusion of guys like Danny Green, who wasn’t leaving the Spurs), and do not include David West, who took way too little to go to San Antonio.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews points to a teammate for an assist after scoring a 3-point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)Package #1: Wes Matthews (Dallas, $16 million) and Brandon Bass (LAL, $3 million)

We learned this off-season how valuable Wes Matthews is, even coming off a torn achilles. He would be an excellent fit with the Cavs, as a strong three-point shooter and an excellent perimeter defender who could take a lot of defensive pressure off of Lebron. Bass would be a solid backup for Thompson as a good defender and rebounder. He also has the ability to contribute offensively TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 30:  Brandon Bass #30 of the Boston Celtics looks to pass the ball against the Toronto Raptors during their NBA game at the Air Canada Centre on October 30, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)as a mid-range jump-shooter who does not need to dominate the ball to score.

Package #2: Robin Lopez (New York, $12 million) and Arron Afflalo (New York, $8 million)

Lopez is exactly the kind of big the Cavs need. A great defender and rebounder, and someone who does not need the ball to contribute. Arguably, Lopez may not be a great fit beside Mozgov, but having two strong rim-protectors on the same roster presents some interesting options. During his time in Orlando, Afflalo showed that he can be a legitimate scoring threat and if he can regain even some semblance of that form he could fill the role J.R. Smith was supposed to play on last year’s squad without the emotional volatility.

Package #3: Tyson Chandler (Phoenix, $13 million) and Lou Williams (LAL, $6.5 million)

The Chandler/Williams combo fits with the Cavaliers in the same way as Lopez and Afflalo. Chandler is an elite defensive centre (or at least has been to this point in his career). Reigning sixth man of thPistons at Wizards 1/18/14e year Sweet Lou Williams showed in his one year stint with the Raps that he can still fill it up off the bench – without all that J.R. Smith crazy.

Package #4: Greg Monroe (Milwaukee, $16 million) and Jeremy Lin (Charlotte, $2 million)

Monroe is an elite level centre, good enough to push Mozgov to the bench and probably a better option than Kevin Love outright. The fact that he comes in nearly $4 million cheaper than Love is just gravy. This discount would let the Cavs upgrade at the back-up point guard spot. For all his hustle, Matthew Dellavedova is not the guy you want running your offence in the Finals if Uncle Drew goes down again. Jeremy Lin probably isn’t either, but he’s shown himself to be a serviceable starter and could be a top notch backup with the right team.Jeremy Lin

Package #5: Demarre Carroll (Toronto, $13.5 million) and Marco Bellinelli (Sacramento, $6 million)

Demarre Carrol is an extremely athletic, versatile, hard-working player that is exactly what the Cavs need. Like Matthews, he is a great defender and has developed into a proficient three-point shooter. He contributed over 5 boards per game for the Hawks last year, primarily from the small forward position. While there aren’t a lot of extra minutes at the 3 spot for the Cavs, both Lebron and Carroll are versatile enough that they could play together. Bellinelli is a deadly three-point shooter with championship experience who could provide some much needed bench scoring.

There were a number of other players on the free agent market that would have fit for the Cavs and provided better value for money than Kevin Love. Guys like Cory Joseph, Al-Farouq Aminu, Monta Ellis and Derrick Williams all pose intriguing options. There is no guarantee that any of these players would have signed with Cleveland had they been pursued. However, Cleveland is a sufficiently attractive destination, that surely they could have put something together that would have made more sense than the $20 million they’ll be paying to Love next year.

In today’s NBA, there are too many teams with deep pockets to build a championship by blindly stockpiling talent. If the Cavs are going to succeed in their second chance with the best player in the world, they need to think about fit and getting the most value for their free-agent dollars.