By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
LAS VEGAS — The best advice for Andrew Wiggins at this point is to rent. Don’t buy.
If the recently re-crowned King of Cleveland is calling Kevin Love, as Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday, then it can’t be too long before the Wiggins-for-Love swap goes down. LeBron James gets what LeBron James wants.
And poor Wiggins thought getting used to hoops life in Lawrence, Kan. was a rough transition.
But man, all this so fast has to be a bit crushing for the 19-year-old No. 1 pick. First the best player on the planet completely omits him in his epic “I’m Coming Home” essay in Sports Illustrated and is now dissing the kid with the hope of discarding him by personally reaching out to Minnesota’s discontented double-double machine.
This has to be one of the strangest Summer League experiences in the history of top draft choices. Last Friday, as Wiggins is preparing for his hyped pro debut in Las Vegas against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker in front of an overflow crowd, he finds out with the rest of the world that James is returning to Cleveland. Wow, cool. Then the rest of the world reads along with Wiggins about how excited James is to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and his favorite crazy-haired Brazilian Anderson Varejao. No mention of Wiggins. Whoa, not so cool. (Interestingly, James also didn’t list 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett as a member of his mentorship club either. Bennett would likely be included in a trade).
In the days between then and now, new coach David Blatt has told reporters Wiggins isn’t going anywhere while whispers come and go and come again that he is-he isn’t-he is available, and now LeBron’s talking to Kevin. To his credit, Wiggins, the one-and-done star out of Kansas via Canada, has handled it like a pro.
That the 6-foot-8 wing and projected phenom played against Houston on Thursday revealed that a trade is not imminent, not yet. The Rockets’ defenders had zero clue how to keep Wiggins from using his super-stretchy arms and legs to get from the top of the arc to the basket in only a few long strides with a ball fake or two mixed in.
Wiggins officially only attempted five shots, and made three, but secured 15 of his 21 points on 20 trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and another blocked shot, this one of the chase-down variety in the fourth quarter (he’s second in the Summer League in blocks per game and first among non-centers).
“You know what you got to like about a kid like that is it doesn’t make a difference if it’s the fourth game of Summer League and the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him,” Blatt said. “He just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him and a real good demeanor. Andrew’s going to be a high-level player and it’s good to see it.”
The 6-foot-10 Love is a high-level player, a three-time All-Star, and he, James and Irving would make quite the offensive triple-threat. And that’s the crux of it all: Go for the gold right now with Love or patiently wait — hope — for the kid to get great. We know what LeBron wants.
With the rumors swirling, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly thrilled to have their new coach and top pick inundated by trade questions during what should be breezy Summer League postgame interview sessions.
After Thursday’s game, Cavs officials quickly whisked Wiggins off to an ESPN photo shoot and then immediately to a sit-down autograph session for trading card behemoth Panini in the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans stood in a line that snaked around the corner and out of site.
From there, Wiggins was in the custody of his agent and was not made available to wax about his 15 free throws and 21 points or to talk ice fishing.
The second question posed to Blatt asked if the persistent trade rumors are a distraction for Wiggins. After all, a No. 1 pick is typically immune to the business side of sport for at least a couple years, not a couple minutes. If a top pick is traded it almost always occurs on Draft night, a deal having been worked out in advance. A Cleveland official monitoring the outwardly personable Blatt’s interview session quickly stepped in to deflect the question, but Blatt, just as quickly, said he could answer it.
“I can answer that just because rumors are rumors, that’s why they call them rumors,” Blatt said. “And sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. So if you have to deal with now, so be it. It’s Summer League, he’s learning everything as he goes along.”
Not exactly a comment to inspire confidence on a down payment. If the Cavaliers decide to move Wiggins in a deal for Love, the Timberwolves will jump for joy and jump on it fast, before Cleveland has time to rethink it. But watching Wiggins in Summer League should have the Cavs proceeding with caution. His size and ability are apparent to the most casual observer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but he’s showing he can use his length and quickness to be a very good two-way player, and soon.
And wouldn’t James love a young set of legs to chase the other team’s best player on a nightly basis? Wiggins could become James’ pre-knee problems Dwyane Wade, a slashing, offensive force and a defensive partner capable of hyper-trapping the perimeter and busting it the other way.
LeBron, fast approaching 30 and now taking his contract year-by-year — apparently to maximize his annual take as the salary cap is estimated to increase each year, and not as an escape — clearly doesn’t feel he’s got time to wait.
The ball’s in Cleveland’s court, and that’s got to be a tough thing for the No. 1 pick who has come to find out he isn’t fit for a King — at least not at this juncture of his reign.
“No, no, I don’t talk to him about any of that stuff because, for me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Blatt said. “At least not right now.”