A raw talent so alluring that several franchises sabotaged their 2013-14 seasons for a shot at landing him, Wiggins has been treated for the past six weeks like somebody’s backup date for the prom. As soon as James stunned and, in many quarters, delighted the NBA by announcing his return to Cleveland, Wiggins became less a piece of the Cavaliers’ bright future and more a means to an end — that being Kevin Love.
A deal that will deliver Love, the all-NBA power forward, from the Minnesota Timberwolves to James’ insta-contender in Cleveland already has been struck, according to many sources, awaiting only a formal announcement once Wiggins is eligible to be traded Saturday. Draftees who sign their rookie contracts cannot be traded by NBA rule for the first 30 days and Wiggins put his name on a five-year, $24.8 million deal on July 24.
Soon thereafter, Cavs general manager David Griffin and Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders reportedly agreed on the much-anticipated trade. Wiggins will go to the Wolves with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, forward Anthony Bennett and a future first-rounder for Love, according to the reports. The Wolves are said to have a deal set to trigger, too, with the Philadelphia 76ers; multiple outlets have reported that Thad Young will head to the Twin Cities for that future No. 1 pick, along with forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved.
All of which means Wiggins, a wing player with preternatural leaping skills and a gift for stifling on-the-ball defense, will be part of a future-focused rebuilding effort after all. It will just be Minnesota’s, not Cleveland’s, and the cupboard will be slightly more bare.
He’ll be joining fellow raw rookie Zach LaVine and crafty (if slightly tarnished) playmaker Ricky Rubio in what Minnesotans hope will at least be an alley-oop circus to rival the L.A. Clippers’ “Lob City.” With second-year big Gorgui Dieng and veterans such as Young, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer on hand, the Wolves probably won’t be ending their 10-year postseason drought next spring. But they won’t be taking a dive in search of lottery chances either.
Remember, this is a franchise that has never even improved its draft position in the lottery, never mind snagged the top pick overall. Prior to Wiggins and Bennett coming aboard, the Wolves have had just two former No. 1 overall picks on their roster — Joe Smith and Michael Olowokandi. They’re hoping their yield from these next two picks is a little greater.
Love has been a specter this NBA offseason. He excused himself from participating with Team USA because of the trade speculation and media attention it would have received during the 2014 FIBA World Cup preparations. He will exit Minnesota with amazing double-double stats, rare inside-outside skills, a dinged reputation as a leader and, through six seasons, a thin resume (horrible W-L record, zero playoff appearances) that is expected to change quickly next spring.
Wiggins, meanwhile, is about to experience something foreign to young players of his stature. Of the 37 fellows drafted No. 1 since the NBA-ABA merger, through Bennett’s arrival in Cleveland in June 2013, none has been traded so early in his playing career.
Michigan’s Chris Webber (1993) was traded before he took his first professional dribble, when the Orlando Magic sent him to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three more first-round picks on Draft night. Wiggins was drafted, smiled for the cameras in Cleveland and actually played in Summer League games for the Cavs, all while the trade reports swirled. But that seems like it for him with Cleveland. At least for a while.
Here is a look at the fates of the 37 top picks prior to Wiggins:
- Never, ever traded (12): Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Brad Daugherty, James Worthy and Magic Johnson.
- Traded well into their careers, 4 years or more (18): Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, Kwame Brown, Kenyon Martin, Olowokandi, Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Johnson, Derrick Coleman, Danny Manning, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Mark Aguirre, Joe Barry Carroll and Mychal Thompson.
- Traded on draft night (1): Chris Webber.
- Traded within one year of selection (1): Pervis Ellison.
- Others (5): Anthony Bennett (TBD), Greg Oden (never traded but waived after chronic injuries), Elton Brand (traded after second season), Joe Smith (traded in third season) and Kent Benson (traded in third season).
It’s looking as if Wiggins — and Bennett, for that matter — will fall somewhere between Webber and Ellison on the quick-change-of-scenery scale for No. 1 picks. Webber, remember, almost counts double; he was traded by Golden State to Washington two weeks into his second season over a rift with then-coach Don Nelson.
The immediate question on Wiggins will be, how might this affect his confidence and development, getting jerked around like a prize heifer or a chess piece? Long term, no one seems worried that whatever trauma an early-career trade might represent will stunt his professional growth.
And Wiggins’ one-season college coach, Kansas’ Bill Self, told the Associated Press that the 19-year-old likely won’t be shaken at all. Once he’s permitted to get on with this rookie thing.
“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,’ “Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’ ”
In Minnesota, Wiggins will have a coach in Saunders who, as the team’s POBO, will be doubly committed to the young player’s success. He’ll have an assistant coach in Sam Mitchell, a former Coach of the Year winner in Toronto, who was widely credited for his influence (as a player) on a former Wolves rookie, Kevin Garnett, 20 years ago. Wiggins also will get minutes, touches and a lot of leeway in which to learn from early mistakes.
Even the folks in Cleveland don’t doubt what they’re giving up.
“He’s going to be fine,” one Cavaliers insider told NBA.com. “He’s got all the talent in the world and he’s a great, great kid. It’s just … c’mon, Kevin Love? We had to do it.”
For the 2014 No. 1 pick — and for the fans eager to embrace him in Minnesota (presumably as soon as this weekend) — it’s going to be more a matter of, “C’mon, Andrew Wiggins.”