Andrew Wiggins receives warm welcome in Minnesota
Canadian Anthony Bennett also part of big trade
Andrew Wiggins spent the previous month seemingly in hiding, side-stepping questions about a trade that was all but finished and coming to the realization he was not going to be teammates with LeBron James.
On Tuesday — finally — Wiggins and the rest of the new Minnesota Timberwolves got to address the issue head on and have their moment in the sun.
The Timberwolves unveiled the bounty they got for All-Star Kevin Love at the Minnesota State Fair, and Wiggins wore an ear-to-ear smile for most of the day as hundreds of fans followed him around the fairgrounds. It was a warm welcome after the disappointment of being drafted No. 1 overall by Cleveland, only to be shipped out when the Cavaliers decided to acquire the veteran Love to help James chase down a championship.
"It's been a crazy summer, really up and down. Kind of lost, not really knowing where I'm going," said Wiggins, a native of Vaughan, Ont. "But I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got off the plane at the airport, so it's all good now. I'm excited for this season."
Wiggins made the remarks while sitting on a stage with Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., and Thaddeus Young — the two other players that came to Minnesota in the three-team blockbuster — and Timberwolves first-round draft pick Zach LaVine.
Truth be told, Wiggins has known for weeks that he was never going to play for the Cavs — becoming just the second No. 1 overall pick since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 to be traded without ever playing a game for the team that drafted him. But a seldom-used rule in the collective bargaining agreement prevented the deal from being consummated for 30 days.
"I've been hearing all the talks for a while now," said Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. "So me being here in Minnesota, it's a great (state). It's a great fan base, great team coming up where everybody's young. We have some vets, too. I'm just here to learn from everybody."
Reports leaked out long before the deadline that the deal was agreed upon and Wiggins had to make a couple of awkward promotional appearances where he bobbed and weaved around questions about his uncertain future. When it was made official, Wiggins had to hear about moving from a team that expected to contend for a title with the NBA's best player on board to a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in 10 years.
For a 19-year-old, that could be tough to swallow.
"For me it's not really hard to accept it," Wiggins said flatly. "I'm the type of guy that I go to where I'm needed. I go to where I'm wanted, really. That's what I like."
He handed out autographed photos at the fair and was followed from station to station by dozens of giddy fans. Wiggins and LaVine went down a giant slide, Bennett ate some deep fried alligator meat and Young reveled in the festive atmosphere.
"I've never been a part of something this big before," said Young, a seven-year veteran.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was ecstatic about the enthusiasm the deal has generated among a worn-down fan base. It contrasts sharply with the deal the team made back in 2007 to trade Kevin Garnett to Boston.
"I spoke the truth that if Kevin (Love) would stay here I think we would have the best season," Taylor said. "But inside I knew I don't think Kevin was giving us that alternative, even though it's what I wanted. So now you have the thing where Kevin kind of said trade me or you're going to pay the (price) next year. We had four teams that came to us with significant offers. But this truly had the biggest upside."
Earlier in the day, the players visited Target Center for the first time as Timberwolves. Wiggins walked around the locker room and slipped on a white No. 22 Wolves jersey with his name on the back. As he sat down in the chair in front of his locker, he let out a big sigh.
Finally, all the trade talk, all the uncertainty, all the posturing was over. He is a Timberwolf now. And instead of being a sidekick for James, he's one of the central figures in a team that appears to at least have a sense of direction for the first time in the last decade.
"It was a big relief," Wiggins said. "Now it's solidified. I'm situated in a spot where I know I'm going to be at for a very, very long time. It's comforting."