Offloading an NBA superstar like Kevin Love is an inexact science devoid of middle ground, crawling with compromise and concession, thick with irrepressible adversity that is combated only by acceptance.
By landing Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves are accepting what other teams might reject, securing a future that, while precarious, still promises direction.
Let's be clear: There is no winning in the Timberwolves' situation. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports says they will ship Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers come Aug. 23, thereby etching his future in marble and theirs in smoke.
The Timberwolves are now facing another rebuild before their current one is finished, their decade-long playoff dry spell still intact, their reputation as a franchise forever coping alive and unfortunately well.
But this is as close to usurping an insurmountable obstacle as they can come. Acquiring Wiggins is the right play.
When an incumbent NBA superstar gives you lemons, teams typically wallow in their sour-tasting fate or try to make lemonade. The Timberwolves have made lemonade. And they've spiked it with something: hope.
There is no other move for the Timberwolves. If Wiggins is available, you trade Love for Wiggins. End of story.
"This is the best-case scenario outside of Love changing his mind and wanting to remain with this team long-term," A Wolf Among Wolves' Zach Harper writes. "It’s also the best return a team has received in dealing away their star player or at worst it’s right there with the haul the Denver Nuggets received for Carmelo Anthony."
Any alternatives don't even begin to rival Wiggins' potential. The Golden State Warriors were using David Lee as their centerpiece but refusing to give up Klay Thompson, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. Lee is a fine player—an All-Star and double-double machine—but he's on the wrong side of 31 and can only keep the Timberwolves competitive for so long.
Even if the Dubs relented on their "Klay is untouchable" stance, Wiggins is the better headliner. Ignore ceilings for a second. Amick also said Thompson's camp was seeking a max extension, so the Wolves would have had to pay top dollar for a player with no more than a year to evaluate his worth to the franchise.
Competing offers aren't so competitive after that. The Chicago Bulls had been linked to Love on and off, per Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, and while they have the assets to make things interesting, gutting the roster for one player isn't their style. Ask Carmelo Anthony.
Proposals got progressively embarrassing from there. The New York Knicks came calling with Amar'e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert as the primary bait in what was an obligatory, hey-we-have-to-try attempt, according to The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring.
No other package gave the Timberwolves a potential cornerstone like Wiggins. Never mind Anthony Bennett or Thaddeus Young.
This is about Wiggins, who on his own holds more probable pizzazz than anyone else who could have been traded for Love, as Sean Highkin, writing for Sports On Earth, powerfully punctuated in the beginning of the month:
Maybe they find a third team to take on Kevin Martin or J.J. Barea. Maybe the Cavs take back one or both of those contracts. Maybe Thaddeus Young is involved. Maybe some other ancillary pieces are swapped out. They'll figure all of that out. But none of it ultimately matters as long as they get Wiggins. If it were somehow financially possible to trade Love for Wiggins straight-up, that would still be the best offer the Wolves will get for Love. As long as Wiggins is involved, the Cavs have a package that can trump anybody else's -- or, for that matter, any other package for a player of Love's caliber in recent NBA history.
Collections of players are nice. Creating additional cap flexibility by unloading financial albatrosses is great.
Direction is better.
Wiggins is direction. He is the future. He projects as an All-Star. Long before he reached Kansas, he was revered as the second coming of LeBron James himself.
Is he actually the second coming of LeBron? Probably not.
Will he be better than Love? The Timberwolves don't know. And that's the point.
Mystery sells in instances like these.
No way, no how will the Timberwolves be immediately better off post-Love. It's just not possible. Rare is the superstar trade that allows the victimized party to maintain the status quo.
The Denver Nuggets are the closest example. They flipped 'Melo to an incautious Knicks team and remained competitive. More than three years later, they're still stuck in mediocrity. Their future isn't dark and dim, but they aren't any better off than they were with Anthony.
That's the ultimate goal: getting better. And it's different for the Timberwolves, who haven't made the playoffs since Jude Law was named People's Sexiest Man Alive in 2004.
For them, it's about building something that will eventually be better than what they have, which admittedly isn't that great right now. Love didn't carry them to recurrent playoff berths the way 'Melo did for the Denver Nuggets, Chris Paul did for the then-New Orleans Hornets or Dwight Howard did for the Orlando Magic.
All the Timberwolves should be angling for is long-term, sustainable success. Wiggins doesn't promise it, but he makes it possible.
Sustainability Trumps All
Sustainable is the operative word here.
The Wolves cannot be looking for flashes in the pan or rentals. They are not the Los Angeles Lakers, who can look to rebuild through free agency, expediting a process that typically takes years or, in Minny's case, a decade-plus.
"I’m here to beat the odds that was set against me, wished the worst luck to anyone who bet against me," Wiggins wrote on Instagram.
That unabashed fervor is something the Timberwolves need more than anything.
Longevity is more important to them than anything.
Perhaps Thompson and/or Lee would have kept them competitive and accomplished more sooner. Maybe they could have netted another package headlined by players ready to make more of an immediate impact. But what long-term good does that do them?
Established players age. They can leave for an instant contender in free agency at some point. They hold more leverage. That's why for a team like the Timberwolves it's pointless to preserve present circumstances, as Tom Ziller of SB Nation argued back in May:
Without Love, Minnesota would be among the NBA's worst squads. Trading him for a veteran player or two isn't actually going to solve the Wolves' long-term problems since you don't make a new version of the Melo trade and get Minnesota into the playoffs. The Timberwolves are too shallow. The only way to go if you're trading Love is to go for the full-blown rebuild. Again.
Wiggins, at 19, is not a flight risk. The Timberwolves have him for at least four years the way his rookie contract is structured, per ShamSports. Given the frequency with which players coming off rookie deals sign extensions with incumbent teams, it's more like at least six years. Or seven.
This combination of potential and long-term access makes Wiggins the right target.
After the Love trade, the Timberwolves are in control of their own fate more than ever. They have their core locked down for the foreseeable future. What happens to Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Nikola Pekovic, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III, Gorgui Dieng, Bennett and, most importantly, Wiggins is up to them.
They, like Hardwood Paroxysm's Derek James diagrammed, have the chance to move forward:
It’s never fun to begin another rebuild, especially since it feels as if Minnesota has been rebuilding for 10 years, but now there’s hope and direction. It won’t be easy. The Timberwolves’ roster consists of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Glen [sic] Robinson III, Gorgui Dieng– and now Bennett and Wiggins –who are all under 25 years old. Young teams rarely win immediately, but the potential to see another star rise again is certainly there, as is the potential to eventually return to the playoffs.
Moving forward is never easy. Not one bit. Not when making such a substantial, albeit necessary, sacrifice.
Harder, though, is wangling the means to move forward with a future just as bright, if not brighter than what's happening now. But that's just what the Timberwolves are doing.
"It was a mistake to not give Kevin Love a max deal before," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said, per Minnesota-based sportswriter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. "I regret it."
Regret is for hopeless and hapless nostalgics. The Wolves, by targeting Wiggins, are showing they're not obsessing over nor trapped by hindsight. They aren't chasing a quick panacea.
Wiggins is their mulligan, their opportunity to get this rebuild right.
Their well-fated, fittingly charted direction.