And so the young princes are exiled to the cold fringes of the basketball empire.
If this is a fable, a hero’s journey, we know what comes next: adversity, the trials by fire, and then: overcoming, victory. It is, in real life, a tale for Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to write and, enticingly, could follow a well-worn script, struggles before the payoff of success.
The two young Canadian basketball players – back-to-back NBA No. 1 picks – are set to be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that has missed the playoffs each season of the past decade. Wiggins and Bennett are dispatched from the Cleveland Cavaliers and heading to Cleveland is all-star Kevin Love, who with the freshly returned home LeBron James and all-star guard Kyrie Irving will form a powerful troika, a Miami Heat North, an instant title contender.
Meanwhile, Wiggins and second-year man Bennett arrive in a situation typically reserved for highly prized young players: a struggling team. Love had helped somewhat elevate Minnesota but now it becomes much more difficult. However, Wiggins and Bennett join a roster of promise.
The question is, to employ a hockey analogy: do the Minnesota Timberwolves become the Edmonton Oilers? More specifically, are these Timberwolves the 1980-81 Oilers, or the 2013 Oilers? In the early 1980s, it was Wayne Gretzky’s third year as a pro, Mark Messier’s second, and Jari Kurri’s first. The team had radical ups and downs, scratched into the playoffs, and then upended an aging dynasty, the Montreal Canadiens.
The 2013 Oilers, with three consecutive No. 1 picks on the roster, were predicted by some to succeed in the lockout-shortened season. They were so-so and finished 12th in the Western Conference. Last season, success – finally – was predicted. The Oilers fell backwards, last in the West, embarrassingly far behind the next worst team, the Calgary Flames.
Minnesota may appear to be, at first glance, banishment for Wiggins and Bennett, but while the tutelage of LeBron James is lost, much could be gained. Wiggins and his new troupe of young potential all-stars have to make their own path. It does not always come together. But through adversity, in fables and life, greatness can be forged.
The loss of Love is a big one for Minnesota but he was leaving, he had already declared, like Kevin Garnett before him. The Timberwovles, with Wiggins and Bennett, reload. The two join an array of interesting names. Fellow rookie, No. 13 pick Zach LaVine, is, like Wiggins, 19 and, like Wiggins, remarkably athletic.
Shabazz Muhammad enters his sophomore season and like Bennett wants to redeem himself after a not-impressive rookie year. And there’s an international feel, especially with the arrival of two Canadians, all of it a hint, a whisper, of the San Antonio Spurs: second-year centre Gorgui Dieng is from Senegal, and fourth-year point guard Ricky Rubio is from Spain.
The trade news, rumoured for weeks, was reported as an “agreement in principle” on Thursday by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!. Associated Press later reported the same and added another element could be included, with Minnesota bringing in a veteran from Philadelphia.
No. 1 picks normally are not battered by trade rumours to welcome them to professional sports. Wiggins has weathered it. Last Sunday, in a short live interview with ESPN in his Cavaliers uniform – after his picture was taken for his rookie card – Wiggins was peppered about his future. It was a bit awkward but the 19-year-old handled it well. “Yeah … I hope so,” he said when asked if Cleveland wanted him. “I just want to play for a team that wants me,” he said. The NBA is a business. “You just can’t take it personal.”
At the NBA rookie transition program this past week at a hotel in suburban New Jersey, Wiggins was in relative good spirits. It’s still fun. His NBA dream nears its true beginning. “It’s been busy in the last six weeks but I pulled through it,” said Wiggins on Tuesday in an interview, of a summer that began as No. 1 pick and vaulted quickly to the trade rumours.
“It’s all preparation for the next step, which is the regular season. I enjoy it. It’s all excitement for me.”
Trade speculation began the very moment James announced he was going home in The Decision Part 2 a month ago, when his open letter mentioned a number of new teammates with whom he was excited to mentor – but tellingly did not include the names Wiggins or Bennett. The Cavaliers insisted they wanted to keep Wiggins, a prize No. 1 pick they lucked into, but they want Love more, so they let go of Wiggins.
A deal will not be official until Aug. 23, when a month-long period following the signing of Wiggins’s rookie deal in late July ends and he is eligible for trade.
News of the deal was news to Wiggins, who on Thursday was at the final day of the NBA’s rookie transition program. Tim McCormick, retired player, ESPN analyst and working with the NBA at the program, congratulated Wiggins about the trade and Wiggins said he had not yet heard. “Wow,” said McCormick in a tweet he later deleted.