We’ve had a few days to digest the news that 1) Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland and 2) the Timberwolves are one of four teams to which he would like to be traded. The others? The Knicks (huge market), Heat (amazing weather, recent championship history) and Spurs (model NBA franchise).
The Timberwolves can offer none of those things (at least in the winter), having missed the playoffs 13 years in a row and never having even appeared in the NBA Finals. What they do have now are two bona fide stars — Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns — and another athletic scorer in Andrew Wiggins to form a Big Three.
Having time to absorb the idea that Irving wants to play for the Timberwolves leads inevitably to questions of how Minnesota would pull off such a deal and whether it would be worth it.
If nothing else, these questions provide some honest roster clarity about how to feel about the Wolves and what their pecking order really is.
The immediate question from a lot of corners has been: Would you trade Wiggins in a deal for Irving? A month ago, there was a similar question being asked: Would you trade Wiggins for Butler? I was convinced Wiggins would need to be part of any deal for Butler, and I was on board with it. As it turned out, Tom Thibodeau was able to pull off the trade without giving up Wiggins, giving the Wolves every right to feel great about the future even if they make no other splash moves.
So here we are again. The vaunted ESPN trade machine finds a way to make the money work: Wiggins, Cole Aldrich and Adreian Payne for Irving. Cleveland could then try to offload Aldrich’s contract on someone else, saving them on their huge luxury tax bill.
A Big Three of Towns, Butler and Irving would be scary. It would give Minnesota three of the top 25 players in the NBA (in terms of PER last season and in terms of consensus opinion). It would put them in a weird place with free agent signee Jeff Teague (also a point guard), but a team is only as faithful as its options (to paraphrase a colleague).
Irving is signed for three more seasons (the last of which is a player option) at roughly $20 million per year. It would give the Wolves not just a legitimate playoff window but raise the stakes to start talking about a deep playoff run.
So yes, if they could pull off a trade for Irving they absolutely should. They seem like a long shot in that capacity compared to the Spurs and Co., but this paragraph from ESPN.com is interesting:
League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part to recruit Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.
That story also indicated Teague would likely be part of any trade between the Wolves and Cavs, but if so he couldn’t be added to a deal until Dec. 15 because of league rules regarding free agent signees.
Pushing all logistics aside, though, here’s the most interesting thing: Butler and Towns are doing the lobbying to get Irving. Nowhere is Wiggins mentioned — ostensibly because he would almost certainly be part of an outgoing trade … and because he is clearly No. 3 in the Wolves’ Big Three.
At a certain point, you have to wonder: How is Wiggins, a former No. 1 overall pick and an emerging talent in his own right, going to feel about being third fiddle and being the one whose name is constantly brought up in trade rumors? It’s not unlike the player he was already traded from Cleveland to the Wolves for three years ago: Kevin Love, whose name circulates in trade talks regularly.
The Wolves are reportedly working on a five-year extension for Wiggins that will pay him $150 million, which you would think is an indicator of commitment on both sides. But a cynic could view it more as a leveraged business transaction: the Wolves are able to pay Wiggins more than anyone else, so Wiggins will take it — even it means he isn’t here for anywhere near the duration of the deal.
Bottom line: the deal for Butler and now the reports of Irving’s availability tell us who some of us consider untouchable of the Wolves core (Towns and now Butler) and who isn’t (Wiggins in both cases). That tells us more about how we feel about Wiggins than anything else.