HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Let’s stop referring to Andrew Wiggins as the No. 1 Draft pick. He is the No. 1 trade chip, and until further notice, it is all he can be.
When the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 6-foot-8 rookie swingman wrapped up the Las Vegas Summer League last Friday with rumors swirling of his inclusion in a potential deal for Minnesota’s Kevin Love — a disturbingly silent figure in all this — Wiggins was asked if LeBron James, the re-crowned King of Cleveland, had hit him up with a phone call, connected via Skype, through text, a follow on Twitter, liked him on Facebook or perhaps sent him a selfie on Instagram.
After all, a full week had passed since the King penned his love letter to Northeast Ohio and, ostensibly, became the wide-eyed Wiggins’ dreamy teammate.
Wiggins only smiled and said he’s been busy and surely LeBron’s been busy, too, before telling how awesome it would be to grow up beside the King. Apparently James has been busy working in the shadows. Last week he reportedly reached out to Love to extol the virtues of Rust Belt living. But there was no reach-out to Wiggins, no welcoming him into the Cavs’ booming No. 1 Draft Pick Club, no welcoming him to his hometown — “hey, check out the cribs in Shaker Heights” — no “get to work fellow prodigy, see you soon.”
LeBron’s first-person essay in Sports Illustrated was certainly warm and heartfelt and, it was assumed, sincere. But less than two weeks since it exploded on the Internet, the shine of his sentimentality has worn thin. LeBron’s strategy off the court is becoming as calculating and cutthroat as it is on the basketball court.
He signed only a two-year contract, a business decision we are told he smartly made in order to reap maximum annual earning power in line with the league’s projected salary cap increases with each season. In two years the league’s television contracts expire and the NBA is expected to land monstrously lucrative new network deals. That’s in two years, which makes James’ opt-out after next season — the leagues first revolving free-agent superstar? — just a bit curious.
In his essay, LeBron stated his affinity for becoming a mentor, for the time-honored process of growing a championship team, unlike the ready-made one he joined four years ago in Miami: “We’re not ready right now. No way,” James wrote of his current Cleveland cast. “Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that.”
In actuality, Love’s trade demands had the alarm bells blaring on LeBron’s patience the moment he committed to Cleveland. He’s made it clear to owner Dan Gilbert what he expects. He expects Love.
This is all about James’ expectations, if not his demands. It’s his show now. Four years after he bolted town as the villain through a trail of flaming No. 23 jerseys, he valiantly returned home a hero again. This time he’s ensuring that if the ship doesn’t sail it will be Gilbert left holding the wheel.
James’ behind-the-scenes power play for Love, plus his short-term contract — interpret it as you wish — are the first shots fired as he seizes control as CEO. The King knows his return to the Cavs has already generated millions in new revenue for the fortuitous owner, both within the organization and for Gilbert’s private ventures. As a perennial free agent, James darn well knows he can shut off that spigot at any time, and this time the fans’ ire will point sharply in Gilbert’s direction.
After all, what more could James do?
The Cavs will reportedly sign Wiggins to a contract this week. That doesn’t mean the 19-year-old will be off the table. It only means he can’t be traded for 30 days. It doesn’t put a moratorium on front-office negotiating.
If James wants Love, as it appears he staunchly does, Cleveland needs to do the deal already and avoid the risk of Golden State reconsidering its stance to include Klay Thompson or another team making a run at the three-time All-Star and double-double maestro (as Chicago is reportedly doing).
That wouldn’t be a good start with James as he wields the mightiest hammer in all the league.
So give James what he demands. And give Wiggins, left twisting now nearly one month since Draft night, what the No. 1 Draft pick deserves — a team to call his own.