Kevin Love goes to Cleveland, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young go to Minnesota, two expiring contracts and a protected first-round pick go to Philadelphia, and the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year race goes back into the blender.
The last part is far down the list of implications now that the blockbuster trade involving an All-Star power forward and the last two No. 1 picks has gone final, somewhere after what the deal means to the Cavaliers as championship contenders and measuring how much of a setback this is to the Timberwolves. (It’s not like they were stringing together playoff appearances with Love, after all.) But the ever-changing look for the first-year class gets more interesting by the week.
The other big-picture development with the three-team deal finally complete is that the June 26 draft wasn’t close to setting the line on Rookie of the Year. It still wasn’t close weeks later after the biggest moment of free agency, LeBron James buying a return ticket to Cleveland. Back then, Wiggins had the benefit of learning work ethic from the greatest player in the world and the added bonus of being able to develop out of the spotlight as a complementary part of the Cavs, Doug McDermott didn’t have nearly the same chance to get open looks with the Bulls and Julius Randle didn’t have to contend with power forwards on his own team before dealing with the rest of the league.
– Wiggins in Minnesota, or anywhere with more of a featured role than he would have had with the Cavaliers, dramatically increases his chances for Rookie of the Year. Scouts and front offices had cooled on him since the start of what became a one-and-done career at Kansas, when Wiggins was the top player in the nation in his recruiting class and the consensus choice for the top pick in the draft. But that level of athleticism combined with the instant opportunity he should get with the Timberwolves equals the possibility of an immediate impact.
He goes to a team with a point guard, Ricky Rubio, who will deliver the ball. Plus, the Wolves have a chance to not be terrible — Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, the fast-improving Gorgui Dieng heading into his second season, Young coming from the 76ers, Kevin Martin — and a good season for a decent club resonates with voters more than putting up numbers on a 30-win group.
– Nikola Mirotic, the No. 23 pick in 2011 who developed into a lottery talent playing in Spain, is finally coming to the Bulls to play power forward and some small forward. The obvious problem for his Rookie of the Year chances is that both are crowded spots, including the presence of fellow newcomer McDermott. But Mirotic is 23 now (turns 24 at midseason) with physical and basketball skills further along than other rookies, and steps into an organization with a star coach and a foundation of success.
– McDermott, meanwhile, has been a Bull from the start, but everything has changed around him. Mirotic moving to the NBA is a potential minutes hit in addition to the presence of Mike Dunleavy as the incumbent at small forward. But Chicago signing Pau Gasol provides another smart big man, along with Joakim Noah, who can pass and find a shooter on the perimeter. And the return of Derrick Rose will give opponents another Bull to worry about with the ball, something that had been lacking.
– Nerlens Noel, expected back on the court after missing last season in Philadelphia while recovering from a knee injury, had enough very good moments in Summer League in Las Vegas and Orlando to show he will be a prominent part of this rookie class. That makes two players from previous drafts who could have a big impact on the 2014 Rookie of the Year race.
– Gasol, who could have played center with Randle at power forward, left the Lakers, but Carlos Boozer joined the team after being amnestied by … the Bulls. Randle is obviously the future in L.A. But as a prospect who projects as being able to score inside right away, he has a chance to be the present as well. However, with win-now mode in effect as long as the roster is built around Kobe Bryant, Boozer has an advantage as a veteran.
So much has changed. The long-distance look at the Rookie Ladder coming out of Summer League, with the disclaimer that changes were possible before the first actual 2014-15 ranking, was Noel first, followed by McDermott, Jabari Parker, Elfrid Payton, James Ennis, Jordan Adams, Randle, Gary Harris, Dante Exum and Jordan McRae. The new, larger opportunity for Wiggins probably moves him into the top five.