The Timberwolves waited 30 long days to finalize and announce Saturday’s blockbuster trade that sent unhappy superstar Kevin Love to Cleveland for three players and a reframed future.
But it was the moratorium mandated by NBA rules that allowed them Tuesday to synchronize the franchise’s change in direction with an event that couldn’t be any more Minnesotan: They introduced newcomers Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to their new home and to the masses at the Minnesota State Fair, where all three players and fellow addition Zach LaVine soaked in the cheers and sunshine on a perfect late summer’s day.
They ate stuff on a stick, zoomed headfirst down the giant slide and toured the fairgrounds accompanied by uniformed police and followed by trailing faithful fans who really haven’t had anything much to cheer about in a decade without a playoff appearance but found hope in Tuesday’s welcome.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Young, who played his first seven NBA seasons in Philadelphia before spending his first real day as a Timberwolf surrounded on grounds that drew more than 100,000 fairgoers Tuesday. “I’ve never been a part of something this big before.”
Wiggins, the June draft’s No. 1 overall pick, finally found a home after a summer in which he was selected by Cleveland and played for the Cavaliers’ Las Vegas Summer League team last month but then had to wait through an awkward month before the Wolves, the Cavs and the NBA finally could admit he had been traded.
On Tuesday, he experienced what he called his new home “showing me love” and said the reception gave him “chill-bumps.”
“It has been a crazy summer, up and down, kind of lost, not knowing where I’m going,” Wiggins said from a stage surrounded by hundreds of fans at the team’s formal news conference to announce the trade and introduce the new players. “I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got out of the airport [on Monday]. It’s all good now. I’m excited for the season. I’m going to do good by all you guys. I’m going to do my best to work hard and show love to all you guys and hope I get the same in return.”
On the same afternoon the Cavaliers introduced Love in Cleveland, Minnesotans — as represented by teenagers wearing paper pig ears and new parents pushing industrial-sized strollers — welcomed Wiggins and Bennett, the past two NBA draft’s No. 1 overall picks, and Young, a seven-year vet who now at age 26 will start next season at Love’s power-forward spot.
“Everybody talks about me being the replacement for Kevin Love,” said Young, who was acquired from Philadelphia as part of the three-way trade. “I’m not trying to do that. I’m not trying to go out there and do individual stats. I’m not trying to be a 26 [points] and 12 [rebounds] guy. I mean, I would love it, but at the end of the day, defense and teamwork wins championships.”
What he is trying to do, Young said, is help a Wolves team that hasn’t won in a decade.
“I’m just ready to get this franchise back to the playoffs,” Young said. “It has been 10 years. It has been too long. Way, way, way too long. I’m all for this. I’m ready to get with these young guys and get going. Let’s go.”
Bennett was chosen first overall by the Cavaliers in the 2013 draft, but struggled mightily through most of a rookie season in which he was both recovering from summertime shoulder surgery and being out of shape.
“I just want to prove that I can play,” said Bennett, who underwent surgeries on his tonsils and adenoids last spring that he says has helped his sleep apnea. “Last year, I never got a chance to showcase that. I just want to go out here and play well. I have Thaddeus Young here I can learn from.”
The players introduced Tuesday are new to Minnesota, but not to each other or some of their new teammates. Wiggins worked out in preparation for the June draft with LaVine, chosen 13th overall by the Wolves, in California. Young is friends with Wolves veteran Corey Brewer because both are from Tennessee and said the two have been talking for most of the last month like “we were already on the team together.” He also has played with new teammate Chase Budinger on a U.S. national team that won a gold medal in France.
Wiggins and Bennett both grew up in Toronto, where they played AAU ball together and were members of the same Canadian national teams. They also played together for the Cavs’ summer-league team in Las Vegas.
“The chemistry is already there,” Wiggins said. “I don’t have to learn his game and he doesn’t have to learn my game.”
The only thing Bennett needed to learn in Tuesday’s sunshine was the taste of alligator.
“Not a stick,” he said after finishing a long, chewy bite. “It’s good, though. It tastes just like chicken, like everyone says.”