The Minnesota Timberwolves have traded their superstar, Kevin Love, to Cleveland, and that’s supposed to be a dark day for a franchise. But not this time.
This looks to be the kind of trade that makes both teams better. The Cavs have a third star to pair with LeBron and Kyrie Irving. The T-Wolves get three promising pieces, in solid power forward Thaddeus Young plus Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two overall No. 1 picks.
Cleveland sacrifices potential long-term greatness for immediate gratification. The rookie Wiggins paired with LeBron could have been a fearsome duo for years to come. But Love almost surely will be more impactful in 2014-15, and when your city hasn’t won a sports championship in 50 years, that’s a sacrifice you can make.
Meanwhile, Minnesota wasn’t making any ground in the Western Conference with Love. And it didn’t have any great prospects for future success even if Love hadn’t threatened to bolt when his contract was up, which he had.
To escape that quagmire with a decent roster loaded with young talent signals a banner job by president/coach Flip Saunders and general manager Milt Newton (yep, the Kansas Milt Newton, starter on Danny Manning’s 1988 NCAA title team).
Wiggins, Bennett and Young join a team of point guard Ricky Rubio, big center Nikola Pekovic, sharpshooter Kevin Martin, veteran Mo Williams, defender supreme Corey Brewer, athletic rookie Zach Levine and promising shot blocker Gorgui Dieng. That’s not a roster that will contend for the Western Conference title, but that’s a better roster than the 40-win Timberwolves of last season.
Which means the West just keeps getting tougher. Ten Western Conference teams had at least 40 wins last year. Two more had at least 34 wins, and one of those was the Pelicans, who have added Omer Asik to team inside with Anthony Davis and will get better fast.
That’s 11 quality teams in the 15-team West, and only the Lakers, Jazz and Kings can be considered downtrodden. The landscape keeps getting more treacherous for the Thunder, which shares the Northwest Division with Minnesota and plays the Timberwolves four times.
Meanwhile, the East had just seven teams with at least 40 wins last season, and while Cleveland has made a huge leap up from the dregs, some of the East’s quality teams are sliding down. Brooklyn and Indiana foremost. And the Eastern Conference has five teams with virtually no hope for 2014-15: Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit.
So the West just keeps getting tougher, while the East shuffles deck chairs. A mediocre West team gets better by trading its superstar and improves its long-term prospects as well. That’s potentially a trade for the ages.
And that’s why it’s better to be in the West. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. The East offers an easier path, both to the playoffs and in the playoffs, once you’re there. But the West is the fast lane. The West is the fast heat. You’ve got to be sharp in the West. Got to be fine-tuned to stay tough in the West.
Teams find out how good they really are, playing in the West. You keep up, or you get run over. Get better, or get lost.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.