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Well played, Flip

Tomorrow is the day Flip Saunders can pull the trigger on trading away a superstar and be in the rare position of being lauded as a genius by many Minnesota fans.

Tomorrow is the day Flip Saunders can pull the trigger on trading away a superstar and be in the rare position of being lauded as a genius by many Minnesota fans.

Call it a perfect storm of events for a Timberwolves franchise that could use some good fortune after years of bad lottery luck and self-inflicted wounds. Minnesota was put in an unenviable position when Kevin Love made it clear he wanted out of town.
Instead of jumping at early offers that were appealing in their own right, Saunders waited until the LeBron James sweepstakes came to a close and got his guy. Unless something falls apart last minute, Andrew Wiggins will be holding up a Timberwolves jersey in front of the cameras as early as this weekend.
It’s a coup for the local franchise in a day and age when NBA superstars often hold all the cards in where they end up after demanding a trade. Try shipping a player to Milwaukee or Minneapolis? They simply say they won’t re-sign there and that option is off the table.
It took the stars aligning for this to work out in the Timberwolves’ favor. Never has Cleveland been the destination of choice for an NBA player demanding a trade, but that’s the power of James. To Minnesota’s good fortune, it coincided with one of the best drafts in recent history and made the first pick in that draft available.
Saunders had to target Wiggins over anyone else if the Cavs were willing to part with him. On draft night, he selected Zach LaVine, a 6’5” guard out of UCLA who is loaded with athleticism, but didn’t even start for the Bruins during his freshman season. At the press conference, Saunders talked of having to try to hit a home run with a player like LaVine over settling for a double on a sure role player without as much upside.
Saunders is right. That’s the only way Minnesota will ever be anything other than mediocre, and the addition of Wiggins is the ultimate home run swing.
“From a raw, athletic-ability standpoint, he can do some things that I’ve never had a player be able to do physically,” Kansas coach Bill Self said about Wiggins before his freshman season last June.
That’s coming from a guy who has 532 wins and a national championship in 21 seasons. It says something when a coach of that magnitude offers up that kind of praise before a player ever takes part in a college game.
Wiggins underwhelmed in his one year at Kansas by some people’s estimation, but was it ever possible for him to meet the expectations he had coming into college? He still led the Jayhawks in points at 17.1 per game to go along with 5.9 rebounds.
At 6’8” with a seven-foot wingspan, he’s already considered an elite defender. The biggest question he has to answer now is does he have the mentality to be the guy that takes over games offensively? Can he be the lead superstar on a team that wins in the playoffs?
The Timberwolves were never going to get a known commodity who is that type of player, so they gambled on a player with the ultimate upside. Klay Thompson, who was reportedly offered at one point in trade talks before Golden State took him off the table, is a good two-way player. I don’t think he’s the type of player who leads a team through the Western Conference playoffs as the primary star.
I would argue that Love isn’t, either. Don’t get me wrong. Love is a rare power forward who is great as a three-point shooter and as a rebounder.
He can score with anyone in the league, but his defensive shortcomings are one of the reasons the Timberwolves couldn’t close games last year. That team had enough talent to sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed, even in the loaded Western Conference. It was on Love to lead them there, and he didn’t get it done.
Now he gets his wish. Love will go to a team that is loaded offensively with James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. He’ll win 50-plus games and have a chance to compete for a title right away.
The Timberwolves have to be thrilled with what they are getting in return. The deal will reportedly net them another former top pick in Anthony Bennett and likely lead to a trade with Philadelphia for Thaddeus Young to fill Love’s spot in the starting lineup.
The real coup is prying a player like Wiggins away who has potential to be the new face of the franchise. It’s a rare trade of a superstar where both teams can feel like winners when all is said and done.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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