LeBron: Love would be key piece

AKRON, Ohio -- LeBron James is cautiously optimistic the Cleveland Cavaliers soon will acquire Kevin Love and believes he's a big piece in the chase for a title.

"If he comes aboard, I will be very excited to have him," James said in his first public comments since signing with the Cavs last month.

"I don't even really care about the 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds], I care about his basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had the opportunity to spend 32 days with him in the 2012 Olympics. He was huge for us ... he's a great piece."

James was cautious to frame his comments about Love, saying he knew there were hurdles left to clear before the Cavs can complete a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Top draft pick Andrew Wiggins is included in the talks, and the rookie cannot be traded until Aug. 23 under league rules.

"We can't get too far into it because of league rules, we don't know for sure," James said. "I'm not getting my hopes too high on it right now because you don't know what could happen between now and the 23rd."

The Cavs and Wolves have been operating under the assumption for weeks that they soon will complete the blockbuster trade, but the teams have purposely tried to avoid confirming the deal to adhere to strict league rules on the matter, according to NBA front-office sources.

Sources nonetheless tell ESPN.com that the general framework of a Cavs deal for Love -- which would send Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick to Minnesota -- has actually been in place since mid-July.

Furthermore, sources said Friday that James has been anticipating Cleveland's trade pursuit of Love and is optimistic about its chances of getting him from the moment he agreed to re-sign with his home-state team on July 11.

But sources say the Cavs and Wolves, knowing that league officials are monitoring this transaction closely, have been careful not to make any public acknowledgments that trade details have already been agreed to. That's because Wiggins remains ineligible to be moved until 30 days pass from the signing of his rookie contract.

The Cavs were granted permission last month by Minnesota to speak to Love and his representatives in an introductory fashion, sources say, while James and Love have also been in direct contact in recent weeks about their long-term intentions of playing together.

On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that the Cavs and Wolves have agreed to a trade in principle and that Love has an agreement to re-sign with the Cavs next summer for five years, $120 million after opting out of his contract.

But sources insist that no agreement for Love to sign an extension in Cleveland next summer -- when he can become a free agent -- is in place.

In addition, under NBA rules, such an agreement would be illegal, and, if proven, it potentially could be grounds for the league to block this trade and dole out punishment to both teams.

The Wolves were infamously sanctioned heavily in 2000 after it was discovered the club had promised a lucrative future contract -- in writing -- to Joe Smith, incurring a fine of $3.5 million and the loss of four first-round picks, as well as suspensions for owner Glen Taylor and then-GM Kevin McHale.

Sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the Cavs and Love can make no such arrangements about the future, even verbally, without violating salary cap circumvention rules in the league's collective bargaining agreement. Love has made it widely known he intends to opt out of his contract at season's end to become a free agent in July 2015, but the circumvention rules state that any discussions between the Cavs and Love regarding any future contract cannot take place until Love becomes a free agent next summer.

ESPN.com has reported numerous times over the past month, since James committed to return to Cleveland, that Love has let it be known he wants to play alongside James and would be willing to make a long-term commitment to Cleveland as long as James is there. But Cleveland would be making this trade with no such guarantees, because James is under contract for only the next two seasons -- with the right to opt out and return to free agency next season -- and because Love is likely to take his cues on the length of his next deal with Cleveland based on what James does.

Love has an option in his current Wolves contract for the 2016-17 season for $16.7 million that he could legally pick up as part of the trade. But sources say Love has been adamant about becoming a free agent in July 2015, no matter where he's playing, to have the ability to sign the most lucrative possible deal next summer as opposed to doing an extension of his current contract.

The Cavs' interest in Love stretches back to before the draft in June, when they hoped to trade for him in part so they could pitch the tandem of Love and Kyrie Irving to James in free agency. But those talks didn't advance because the Wolves were more focused on completing a deal with the Golden State Warriors, which ultimately collapsed when the Warriors refused to part with Klay Thompson.

The Cavs initially weren't planning on offering Wiggins for Love and believed they could court Love as a free agent next summer once they freed up the cap space to execute such a deal. But within days of James officially signing his new Cleveland contract and having additional personal discussions with Love -- which do not violate NBA anti-tampering rules because the league does not police player-to-player discussions -- Cleveland had changed its stance and, according to sources, made Wiggins available to the Wolves.

The basic trade framework was agreed upon shortly thereafter, sources say, with Taylor and Cavs counterpart Dan Gilbert directly involved in the talks, in addition to Wolves president Flip Saunders and Cavs general manager David Griffin.

Sources say the clincher from Cleveland's perspective, though, was James' firm belief that he will be able to convince Love to stay as a teammate going into the future, even without a contractual commitment after this year. That made the Cavs more comfortable parting with Wiggins, who is a potential All-Star and would've been under contract with the Cavs for at least the next five seasons under much more favorable terms.

Both, in the meantime, continue to pursue other moves to fortify their post-trade rosters. As ESPN.com reported last month, Minnesota has already begun pursuing a trade for Philadelphia's Thaddeus Young to replace Love. Sources say the Cavs, meanwhile, are already touting Love's arrival as a lure in hopes of closing free-agent deals with Shawn Marion and Ray Allen.