A week after forgetting to put on his jersey before a game, lollygagging his way through a passive performance, getting jeered by the Target Center crowd and insulting Timberwolves fans, Andrew Wiggins returned home.
There was virtually no reaction. If the Target Center crowd booed him Friday night, I missed it.
So a maximum-contract, supposed franchise player commits most of the deadly sins of sports stardom, including insulting the paying clientele, and draws no reaction, even after his first shot of the game produces an airball?
This might be the saddest aspect of Wiggins’ career. He can’t even muster the energy to be a good villain.
He should have paid more attention to Jimmy Butler, the current patron saint of NBA dysfunction, or Christian Laettner, the player the Wolves celebrated Friday night.
Butler embraced the role of world-wrestling-style villain. He was good enough to matter and arrogant enough to think he mattered more than he actually did. His talent and toughness made his obstinance feel tragic — in Chicago, Minnesota and now in Philadelphia, where Butler has set a personal record for clashing with his coach and key teammates. The man is more committed to drama than Denzel Washington.
Laettner, another former Wolf, was similarly committed to villainy. He stepped on opponents while at Duke and once, in an infamous interview in the Wolves’ locker room with a Star Tribune reporter, pointed at the name plates above most of his teammates’ lockers and recited, “Loser, loser, loser … ”
Chuck Knoblauch knew how to properly alienate Minnesotans. He demanded the same contract that was given to Kirby Puckett, and not long after demanded a trade.
The ultimate Minnesota anti-hero, Randy Moss, made Butler look like a community theater wannabe.
Moss was historically great and fatally flawed, a transformational player who delighted in distracting from his on-field performance, whether he was bumping a cop with his car, walking off the field before a game was over, slamming a caterer or saying he played when he wanted to play.
Wiggins has the athletic and statistical résumé to matter. He is a tremendous leaper with varied offensive moves and the athletic ability to be a dominant defender. He is the seventh-youngest player ever to score 7,000 points in the NBA. He was a No. 1 overall pick and was traded for an All-Star, in Kevin Love.
I remember being the rare Minnesotan to feel underwhelmed by that deal. While Wiggins’ athletic ability seemed infatuating, he had not bothered to play hard or learn how to dribble while at Kansas. Beware the player who is supposed to learn to play hard after he is paid millions.
Wiggins is playing under a five-year, $148 million contract and is a key player on a collapsing team. Yet the locals, at least in person, seem as apathetic about him as he is about getting back on defense.
It was fascinating to hear ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, a friend of Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, critique Wiggins when the Wolves played the Celtics in Boston. Wiggins played well offensively, as he periodically does, but he often got caught in limbo, failing to attack the offensive boards or get back on defense.
Friday, Wiggins remembered his jersey and scored 10 points in the first quarter. His lax defense contributed to the Magic taking a 19-point lead in the second quarter, and his offense contributed to the Wolves dominating the rest of the game.
Wiggins finished with 16 points on 8-for-19 shooting. He contributed one rebound, four assists, zero blocks, zero steals and two turnovers in 33 minutes.
The Wolves won 120-103, improving to 18-21.
Asked to assess Wiggins’ play, Thibodeau said: “Good. I thought he was very aggressive in the Boston game, I thought he was the same tonight.’’
Wiggins wasn’t in the locker room after the game during media access, but there wasn’t much for him to react to.
He didn’t get booed Friday. That’s a sign of either progress or apathy.