There’s been a great deal of ink spilled these last few days over the blockbuster trade between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers. Rather than analyze the situations surrounding Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Love in the present, Hardwood Paroxysm’s Evans Clinchy stepped into his time machine and analyzed Wiggins from an entirely new angle. The setting: August 2020 in Minnesota, where Wiggins is the centerpiece of another earth-shattering NBA trade.
It seems like just yesterday that Andrew Wiggins was first arriving in Minnesota, a wide-eyed, idealistic 19-year-old kid with dreams of turning the Timberwolves into a true contender. The 2014 NBA draft was a mere six years ago, but so much has changed since. What happened? How did Wiggins evolve from promising 19-year-old rookie to beleaguered 25-year-old malcontent? How much of that transformation is real, and how much is manufactured narrative spin?
Oh, man. So many questions. Where to begin?
Way back on Aug. 23, 2014, when the Wolves first traded for Wiggins in a megadeal involving Kevin Love and fellow No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett (hey, anyone remember THAT guy?), Flip Saunders had high aspirations of turning a lottery team into a winner and Wiggins into the game’s next great superstar. Wiggins is a top-10 player in today’s NBA according to any advanced metric or enlightened basketball pundit, so it’s hard to say Flip failed. But the team’s maddening failure to reach the postseason during these six Wiggins years has brought a thunderstorm of scrutiny to Wiggins and the franchise alike, effectively necessitating a move.
Now Wiggins is gone, headed to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he’ll join forces with Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric to make the two-time defending champions even stronger. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie will give back 17 second-round draft picks in return, planting the seeds for yet another long-term rebuild in Minnesota. The cycle begins anew.
It hasn’t been a good century to be a Minnesota fan. The Wolves still haven’t reached the Western Conference playoffs since 2004. Their best players then were Kevin Garnett (now a notoriously reclusive hermit who was last spotted in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in the winter of 2018), Sam Cassell (now the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks after last month’s shocking ouster of Jason Kidd) and Latrell Sprewell (who’s made headlines as an intriguing third-party candidate for president of the United States this November). That era of Minnesota basketball is long over, needless to say.
The present-day Wolves are as depressing as they are hopeless. How is this team supposed to rebuild when its core players are an oft-injured Ricky Rubio, the 37-year-old Mo Williams, Nate Robinson playing for his 24th NBA team and a man known only as “the expiring contract of Gorgui Dieng?”
It didn’t have to be this way. Those 2014 Wolves were brimming with potential. The team had so many opportunities to make this work. They had a young Wiggins. They had Rubio in his prime. They had solid vets in Nikola Pekovic and Thaddeus Young. But in true Minnesota fashion, they found every possible opportunity to mess this up.
There was the season where Saunders, cripplingly overreliant on veterans, refused to play a young Wiggins for more than 12 minutes a night, even when he was the team’s clear best player. There was the year that went in the tank as soon as a bitter dispute over Glenn Robinson III’s contract extension derailed the team’s chemistry and sent them back to the lottery. And then last season, things looked good until Rubio suffered an injury to a body part mankind never even knew existed, becoming the first human being ever to break his left arterioverticlavicular bone.
Even one such season is disappointing; six in a row is catastrophic. But for the Timberwolves? It’s been 16 and counting, and it’s just kinda come to be expected. This is Minnesota, and These Things Happen.
Those of us who are old enough remember seeing Garnett 13 years ago, playing out the final moments of his miserable stint in Minnesota, losing and downtrodden and desperately looking for a way out. He eventually landed in Boston, where he immediately won a title.
Then in 2014 came the Wiggins/Love trade – the second once-great Timberwolves star, Love also found instant success when he won the 2015 and ’16 NBA Finals alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Will the same happen for Wiggins? One can only assume so. Wiggins is still only 25 and he’s heading to one of the best franchises in the NBA. He’s escaping the raging tire fire of Minnesota just in time.
There’s still hope for the Wolves yet. With the bevy of draft picks it’s receiving in the Sixers trade, the team can retool through the 2021 draft, loading up for yet another attempt at becoming relevant again.
That effort might pay off. Or, more likely, we’ll find ourselves right back here again in 2027 or so, looking back on yet another failed iteration of the NBA’s most comically inept franchise. In the Twin Cities, this story has become rather predictable.