Andrew Wiggins Just the Beginning of the Minnesota Timberwolves' Rebuild

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Andrew Wiggins Just the Beginning of the Minnesota Timberwolves' Rebuild
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As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski on Aug. 7, first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins has emerged as the centerpiece of the Cleveland Cavaliers' trade for disaffected Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love.

Per Wojnarowski, "The deal cannot be finalized until Aug. 23, because Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, cannot be traded until one month after the signing of his rookie contract."

Along with 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a first-round draft pick, Wiggins' elite upside was apparently too much for Minnesota team president and head coach Flip Saunders to turn down. In time, the deal could very well prove a win-win for both sides.

At the very least, it's a golden opportunity for Wiggins, who reasons to see plenty of playing time and touches for an organization that now finds itself rebuilding in the wake of Love's imminent exit.

"I just want to play for a team that wants me," the 19-year-old told ESPN's SportsCenter earlier in August, per USA Today's Nick Schwartz. "So whichever team wants me I’ll play for."

Though prior to Wojnarowski's report, that comment came amidst swirling speculation that Wiggins' days in Cleveland were numbered.

So, too, did a conversation with Wiggins' former mentor, Kansas coach Bill Self.

According to the Associated Press' Dave Skretta, via The Huffington Post, Self explained:

When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, 'I hope I get traded.' And I'm like, 'No you don't.' And he said, 'Coach, I do. It's better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I'm forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they're going to be patient with me and I'm going to be a piece.'

Minnesota can certainly afford some patience with Wiggins. Without Love in the fold, the Timberwolves won't be contending for the playoffs—much less a title—anytime soon. In turn, Saunders has the luxury of allowing his prized new prospect to learn on the job.

While the growth yielded thereby is all but certain, it's far too soon to anoint Wiggins the league's next big thing. Nevertheless, he boasts exceptional potential, as noted by the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood:

The tools are undeniable. His quickness, lateral movement and reach make him a strong defender. [Kansas assistant coach Kurtis] Townsend says Wiggins’ second jump is the most impressive he’s ever seen. Wiggins shot 44.8 percent overall at Kansas, 34.1 percent on three-pointers, and averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

But potential aside, this is still just the beginning of what could be a fairly protracted journey.

As Steve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann note in a special to ESPN.com, "Wiggins is no Kevin Durant. Even in a best-case scenario, he simply can't be expected to help his team win this season. And probably not the season after that either."

Whatever Wiggins amounts to—and whenever he gets there—Saunders and the Timberwolves still have their work cut out for them.

David Sherman/Getty Images

After all, Minnesota's current roster was built around Love in a bid to contend sooner rather than later. The organization had hoped that it would at least make enough playoff noise in the short term to persuade Love that he needn't bolt for greener pastures.

Needless to say, those ambitions never materialized. Instead, the Timberwolves find themselves saddled with a mismatch of veterans and youth even as they turn their attention to surrounding Wiggins with similarly youthful talent.

The win-now mandate associated with the Love era has been replaced with a more forward-looking mindset, at least in theory.

In practice, Minnesota's makeover is probably just getting started.

There are at least three promising pieces already in place (besides the incoming Wiggins and Bennett). 

Much of the team's fortunes hinge on point guard Ricky Rubio. The 23-year-old averaged 9.5 points and 8.6 assists last season, just his third in the league. But the book on Rubio is mixed.

"His ability to create is undeniable and he has been great defensively, particularly creating turnovers, leading the league in steals this past season," explains Basketball Insiders' John Zitzler. "However, he must work to become a more efficient scorer; Rubio has had difficulties with his shot his entire career, owning a career true shooting percentage of just 48.5 percent."

Minnesota may be asked to bet an awful lot of money on the possibility that shot improves in the near-term.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Darren Wolfson, a contributor to 1500ESPN, indicated in July that Rubio's agent was pursuing a five-year, maximum offer.

CBSSports.com's Matt Moore argued that "this is a bad idea for Minnesota." 

NBCSports.com's Dan Feldman laughed uncontrollably.

So Rubio's future in Minnesota is by no means a foregone conclusion. While the two sides could certainly arrive at an agreement that pairs him with Wiggins for years to come, the organization may balk at Rubio's rich demands. Without Rubio in the fold, the Timberwolves' first priority would become finding a young replacement—a need it could address with the premium draft position it's likely to secure next summer (and perhaps the summer after that).

The team's other intriguing youngster is 24-year-old big man Gorgui Dieng. Though the Louisville product won't wow you with last season's averages, he tallied 11.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and two blocks per game with increased playing time in April. That improved upon an impressive March in which he posted 8.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.

Love's absence paves the way for a steady dose of Dieng, perhaps giving him the chance to showcase his ability over the course of an entire season.

Finally, Minnesota is hoping for big things from 13th overall draft pick Zach LaVine. The guard out of UCLA possesses elite athleticism and should be good for plenty of highlight footage from the outset. His handling ability may even provide the Timberwolves with some insurance at point guard in the event things don't work out with Rubio.

Despite the club's emergent youth movement, there remains a need for more assets and promising prospects. Given the uncertainties associated with unproven talent, there's no such thing as having too much of it.

Moreover, the organization has some decisions to make about veterans Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, both owners of pricey long-term deals that may not fit into an extensive rebuilding project. The former is owed nearly $48 million over the next four seasons, while the latter has three years and a little over $21 million left on his contract.

Minnesota could determine that one or both veterans lend needed leadership to an otherwise nascent rebuild, but it could also look to save some money and acquire some additional assets. There are probably cheaper ways to infuse the rotation with experience and wisdom.

Kevin Love leaves behind a franchise that's already poised to start over. But this is a process that will take time.

And it will take more than Andrew Wiggins.

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