Getty Images/Timberwolves Illustrations
2018-19 Basketball Extravaganza | Life Without LeBron
Twenty-nine different opposing NBA teams will walk through the doors of Target Center to play the Wolves this season, and we want you to know as much as you can about all of them. We’re going worst to first in order of last year’s standings and telling you everything you need to know. Next up, a Cleveland Cavaliers team that just lost the best player in the NBA.
Notable Players Acquired: F Sam Dekker (trade), G Collin Sexton (draft)
Notable Players Lost: F Jeff Green (free agency), F LeBron James (free agency)
Another year, another Finals appearance on the back of LeBron James. But it wasn’t as easy this year as it’s been in previous years.
Cleveland finished 50-32, fourth in the West. The Cavaliers were taken to seven games by the Pacers in the first round and by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. That was before the Cavaliers lost in five games to the Warriors in the Finals. It ended a four-year run to the NBA Finals against the Warriors which resulted in the only championship in Cavaliers history.
James was unbelievable in the playoffs, averaging 34 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game while shooting 53.9 percent from the field.
The regular season was a soap opera for Cleveland. On Feb. 8, Cleveland made the decision to blow things up, trading Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas, Dwayne Wade, Iman Shumpert and a first-round pick to acquire Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., George Hill and Rodney Hood.
What a day it was.
Unfortunately, it didn’t move the needle much. Cleveland’s minutes leaders in the playoffs were James, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Hill, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver and Tristan Thompson.
It’s hard to blame Cleveland for making the trade. First of all, it isn’t exactly a bad trade. No great players were dealt and the team got some young players with upside. Meanwhile, the team was under such immense pressure considering they knew if they couldn’t win it all, it likely meant the end of James in Cleveland.
And that’s exactly what happened.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
The Big Question:
Will we see Minnesota Kevin Love return?
Cleveland is Love’s team now.
We’ve seen Love’s role, predictably, change since being traded to the Cavaliers back in 2014. That’s what happens when you play with LeBron James.
After averaging 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds in 4.4 assists per game in 2013-14, his final season with the Wolves, Love has averaged 17.1 points, 10 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in the last four seasons with Cleveland.
Love will get every opportunity to be the guy in Cleveland, mostly because, well, there’s really nobody else. If you have a fantasy basketball team, try to get Love if you can. I could see a situation where he averages 25 points, 12 rebounds and 4.0 assists out of necessity.
The biggest concern is his health. After missing just 17 games in his first two seasons in Cleveland, he’s missed 45 over the last two.
How Do The Wolves Beat Them?
It feels like Minnesota will be favorites over Cleveland this season. Of course, step one is to shut down Love. But there are other guys on this team capable of getting hot, even if they haven’t done so consistently throughout their careers. The list includes Smith, Korver and Hood.
One Wolves player to watch against Cleveland is Andrew Wiggins. In eight games against his (kind of) former team, Wiggins is averaging 27.9 points while shooting 54.6 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from the 3-point line.
The Wolves were 1-1 against the Cavaliers last season, blowing them out at Target Center before losing at the buzzer in Cleveland.
After the top four teams in the East (in no order: Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana), it’s hard to see how the rest of the conference will stack up. Cleveland could make the playoffs if Love returns to his Minnesota form, if Collin Sexton proves to be a competent point guard in his rookie season and if Hood, Nance Jr. and Clarkson can emerge as more than just borderline rotational players, that would likley mean the playoffs for Cleveland.
For me, that’s one too many ifs. I have Cleveland on the outside looking in on the playoffs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the Cavaliers finish in the top-10 of the lottery, they’ll keep their pick. If not, it goes to Atlanta via the Korver trade made back in 2017. Wowzas. It seems like there is a very real chance the Cavaliers finish somewhere between 11-14. That would be the worst-case scenario.
Describe This Team In 15 Words Or Less
If we don’t see the Minnesota Kevin Love, this team could be in trouble.
So When Can I See Them?
The Wolves have their home opener against the Cavaliers on Oct. 19. Minnesota will travel to Cleveland on Nov. 26.