Flip Saunders made lemonade. Isn’t that how the saying goes?
Strip down the proposed Kevin Love trade to its simplest terms and that’s how this looks. The Timberwolves franchise player told them he wanted out and would not change his mind, and Saunders turned that into the No. 1 overall pick, who, according to some talent evaluators, has the potential to become a superstar.
What’s not to like?
Yes, it’s true that the Wolves are exchanging a sure thing for an unknown, a top-10 player for hope — which is something this organization has peddled for years — but Saunders didn’t exactly carry ironclad leverage in this situation.
The entire NBA knew that Love had put Minnesota in his rearview mirror and had to be traded, so it wasn’t as if Saunders could hold out for the moon.
And yet he landed Andrew Wiggins, a 19-year-old with elite athletic ability.
Wiggins is projected to be a superstar defender. He’ll need to grow and develop as an offensive player, but his ceiling looks high enough that the gut punch of losing a player of Love’s stature doesn’t hurt as much.
Look, this isn’t a perfect deal for the Wolves, if the one being reported indeed becomes official and announced on Aug. 23. (Imagine the reaction if either side gets cold feet between now and then. Hell hath no fury like LeBron scorned.)
Wiggins figures to become an organizational cornerstone, but after him the picture looks murky. Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick, averaged 4.2 points off the bench as a rookie. What is his future?
The Wolves reportedly also will receive a protected 2015 first-round pick. Will they keep that or include it in another trade, possibly for Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young, a veteran forward who could fill Love’s spot? That lemonade would taste more like champagne if that happens.
Some people will love this trade, some people will hate it, but it’s hard to assign a final grade until we see how the entire picture looks once the carousel stops spinning. Left unknown at this point is whether Saunders can unload J.J. Barea and/or Luc Mbah a Moute.
Through no fault of his own, Saunders inherited an unsalvageable situation that forced his hand. And let’s reiterate one important point here: This trade is not happening because of a growing perception that Love is an immature jerk. This trade is happening because David Kahn refused to give him a maximum contract.
Love desperately sought that fifth season, but the Wolves undervalued him. That decision looked like a gross miscalculation then, and it looks even worse now.
But that’s done, and Saunders has shown the right amount of patience in handling this delicate situation. Saunders didn’t rush into a trade on draft night, instead allowing the LeBron James sweepstakes to play out in order to get an accurate gauge on potential trade partners.
The reports involving the Golden State Warriors sounded intriguing, but only if they included Klay Thompson. Saunders stood firm that any deal with Cleveland must include Wiggins, and ultimately both teams will get their wish.
If the Cavs don’t make the NBA Finals this season with LeBron, Love and Kyrie Irving, their season should be viewed as a colossal bust, barring significant injuries, of course.
In Wiggins and fellow first-round pick Zach LaVine, the Wolves will have the two most athletic players in the draft. Those two flying down the wings with Ricky Rubio at the controls could make for an entertaining style of play.
That’s the vision of Saunders, the personnel boss. Now, it’s incumbent on Saunders, the coach, to develop this young talent. That’s how this deal ultimately will be judged.
If Wiggins develops into an elite player or superstar under Saunders — or whoever he hires to replace him as coach — this trade will make Wolves fans view Love as a distant memory. If Wiggins fails to meet expectations as the No. 1 overall pick, this trade will haunt the organization just like all the other examples in its graveyard of mistakes. That pressure falls squarely on Flip’s shoulders.
Be prepared for growing pains. The trade will make them incredibly young, the Minnesota Timberpups. Wolves fans have had their patience tested to immeasurable depths, but this young core of talent will need time to develop with no guarantees of a sweet reward.
But this looks like a promising deal, potentially a great one. Kevin Love did not want to be here and had one foot out the door. And Saunders managed to replace him with a young player who realistically could become a star, along with other pieces in the deal.
That’s a palatable outcome to a messy situation.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org