Cleveland’s Trade Mistake is Minnesota’s Prized Piece
Thirteen Years Ago
Kevin Garnett was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the 2003-2004 NBA season. His 24.2 PPG helped his Minnesota Timberwolves reach the Western Conference Finals. Garnett’s pack of ‘Wolves featured Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Fred Hoiberg, Wally Szczerbiak, Ervin Johnson, and Michael Olowokandi.
The Timberwolves had been eliminated from the first round of the NBA playoffs in seven consecutive seasons prior to the 2003-2004 campaign.
Minnesota faced a stacked Los Angeles Lakers team that had won 3 of the previous 4 NBA Championships. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil were joined by a pair of veteran championship chasers in Gary Payton and Karl Malone with hopes of acquiring some new hardware.
The Lake Show would defeat the Timberwolves in 6 games but would eventually get beat up in the NBA Championship to the rugged and scrappy Detroit Pistons and their imposing defense.
This would mark the last time the Minnesota Timberwolves would make an appearance in the post season.
The Drought and the Trade
In 2008, Minnesota and the Memphis Grizzlies negotiated a trade that brought Kevin Love and others to the Timberwolves. Love would have good years in Minnesota. He would come alive in 2010 and was a core piece of the Timberwolves’ offense. Love would go on to average 26 points twice in the next four seasons.
The Cleveland Cavaliers would select Andrew Wiggins with the 1st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The next month, Wiggins was part of a three-team trade that landed Love in Cleveland and Wiggins in Minnesota. With the acquisition of Zach LaVine in the same draft and Rubio still on the roster, the Timberwolves were beginning to build something special.
Wiggins would go on to have a stellar season and win the NBA Rookie of the Year. Love would go on to play postseason basketball but would suffer a shoulder injury in Game 4 of the First Round of the Eastern Conference match-up against the Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers may have been better off keeping Wiggins on their roster considering the year he had.
But, what’s done is done.
Thirteen Year Later
Wiggins continues to be the leader of the pack in Minnesota. His productivity has steadily increased year after year. Love – on the other hand – earned some jewelry, but his time in Cleveland has come with some ups and downs to say the least.
Love has the hardware, but Wiggins has been the better player between the two over the last three seasons. Wiggins has 4,995 total points since entering the league. Since Love has been a Cavalier, he’s totaled 3,604. That’s a difference of 1,391 points! Cleveland could have used some of those points over the last few years.
T’Wolves Hire Thibs
In 2016, the Timberwolves hired Head Coach Tom Thibodeau to do what he did during his time in Chicago and take the team to postseason. He would need some more weapons to transform the young, hungry ‘Wolves into a playoff team.
With Wiggins running the show, Minnesota drafted Karl Anthony-Towns 1st overall in 2016. Like Wiggins, KAT would go on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year. Had last season’s Timberwolves been in the Eastern Conference, they would have been one of the top seeds.
The West – however – is much, much tougher. Especially heading into 2017.
Thirteen Years Later
Minnesota made some great offseason moves thus far and is putting themselves in a good position to have a playoff run in 2017. They acquired the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler – who had been linked to Cleveland and Boston – and reunited him with his old coach.
Butler is familiar with Thibs coaching style, but he’s not the old man coming in to be a mentor to the young bucks. He’s a lockdown defender who can get buckets. He – like Wiggins – plays the Small Forward position. However, their styles are totally different. They can feed off each other and put the team in winning situations.
Although they had made some moves that meant the departures of players like Rubio, LaVine and others to acquire Butler, it will be well worth it if the payoff is the playoffs.
Wiggins – even with the addition of Butler – will still be the Alpha Wolf. It will be his team. And Butler will support that. Wiggins game will continue to evolve even more through the work he puts in studying from Butler.
If he can add Butler’s defensive intensity to his game, Wiggins could become one of league’s best. The ‘Wolves will be a very entertaining team to watch this season and will be challenging for a spot in the Western Conference.
Minnesota is working on an extension for Wiggins that will lock him up for the next 5 seasons. With Butler’s veteran presence and experience, the development of chemistry with Karl Anthony-Towns, and the guidance of Tom Thibodeau – Wiggins and the ‘Wolves best seasons are not too far way.
Thibodeau’s teams are historically gritty and relentless. They thrive off defense. But they now have defenders that can score and score big. Things will begin to come together.
They also added other offseason vets in Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Teague. Gibson – like Butler – knows what to expect with Thibs. Crawford and Teague will fit in just fine. And the ‘Wolves will be on the hunt.
The Warriors should enjoy these next years – as I’m sure they will – while they can afford them (literally). Soon they’ll notice there is a hungry pack of ‘Wolves right preying on them from the shadows.
And Andrew Wiggins will be at the front of the pack.
Stats referenced at nba.com
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