From the moment Gersson Rosas took over the job as Timberwolves president, he made a clear distinction between Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Even though both were max-contract players, there was a difference Rosas acknowledged that previous coach and President Tom Thibodeau didn’t: Towns was a productive player, and a burgeoning offensive talent while Wiggins wasn’t living up to his potential.
Rosas made it clear that Towns was the centerpiece, the player around which the entire franchise would revolve. As a 6-11 center who could shoot, Towns was the kind of rare player who could help relaunch the team in Rosas’ image.
Wiggins? Well, he had some work to do.
Rosas was always encouraging of what he saw in Wiggins, and never said a bad word about him. Rosas would always say the team needed more from Wiggins and the Wolves needed to provide the resources to help Wiggins thrive. At his introductory news conference, Rosas made a comment that takes on a different light after the Wolves traded Wiggins to the Warriors for D’Angelo Russell on Thursday.
“The reality is this: If I go out on the market to get a player, I’m not going to find a player that’s got a bigger upside than Andrew,” Rosas said in May.
Nine months later, the Wolves were sending two draft picks — a top-three-protected first-rounder in 2021 and a second-rounder in 2021 — to the Warriors for Russell, who the Wolves view as their point guard of the future.
The future never materialized for Wiggins in Minnesota after they acquired him in the Kevin Love trade with Cleveland in 2014. His tantalizing talent never equaled paramount production. He was trending in the right direction after his third season, when he shot 45% (36% from three-point range) and averaged 23.6 points per game. Jimmy Butler’s arrival saw a noticeable regression for Wiggins, whose points per game declined to 17.7 and free-throw percentage from 76% to 64%. Last season wasn’t much better before Rosas came to town.
Rosas, Wiggins and coach Ryan Saunders did form a connection and, in the offseason, Saunders and Rosas convinced Wiggins to revamp his game. He began driving to the basket more and taking more three-point shots instead of his patented long twos — an analytical albatross.
Sources said the Wolves were happy with Wiggins’ commitment to their style of play — that they asked him to do more than almost any player to revamp his game, and he took it in stride. His improvement this year (22.4 points per game, 44% shooting) helped make him a little more attractive in the deal, though the Wolves just see Russell as a better long-term fit for how they want to play.
Wiggins was the target of constant criticism during his tenure with the Wolves. He once said he didn’t read any articles about himself, in part because few ever had anything positive to say. On his final night as a Wolves player, he talked about how he dealt with the criticism.
“I have an amazing girlfriend, two dogs and a kid,” Wiggins said. “Life outside of basketball is great. A lot of time I can keep my mind off the negative stuff that revolves around it. Once I go home, you think about it. … But there’s life outside of basketball.”
Now, there’s a different life inside of basketball for Wiggins, one where he gets a fresh start to make good on the promise he’s always had.