For the Minnesota Timberwolves, watching three-time All-Star Kevin Love punch his own ticket out of town is a catastrophic loss with potentially devastating consequences.
Yet, these Wolves aren't walking with their heads low. Like a late-arriving movie guest with a front row seat, their necks are cranked all the way back for the aerial displays soon to be put on by high-flying rookies Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins.
So much of Minnesota's offseason focus has understandably centered around the loss of Love. With his 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists officially shifted over to the debits column, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, it's hard to remember a section of credits still exists.
But forget, for a moment at least, what the Wolves were forced to sacrifice this summer. Try to think about the things they possibly gained: an indefinite lease on the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport runways, high-flying performances that could dazzle Cirque du Soleil cast members, excitement in the face of disaster.
Will the arrival of LaVine and Wiggins do anything to help the franchise's 10-year playoff drought? Let's just say Wolves fans shouldn't need to base their vacation plans around the NBA's postseason schedule. Not in 2014-15, at least.
But from an aesthetics perspective, it's hard to contain the growing excitement for what could be forming in the Gopher State:
For now, there is probably more style than substance on this roster.
Still, given the hand they were dealt, the Wolves played it as well as they could. Rather than pursuing Band-Aid solutions when a surgical overhaul was obviously needed—win-now pieces do nothing when the entire puzzle doesn't produce a roster ready to win—Minnesota found a reset button packed with promise for a bright future.
That starts and stops with landing Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in June's draft who was regarded by some as the best high school prospect since LeBron James. However, since Wiggins isn't actually on the roster just yet, it seems more fitting to put LaVine under the microscope first.
A one-and-done product from UCLA, the 13th overall selection wasted little time securing his pilot's license at summer league.
LaVine has freakish hops. While that alone won't allow him to stand out in a league littered with physical specimens, it should put him in the same category as those kept in heavy highlight-reel rotation.
"When you're drawing comparisons to guys like Gerald Green and Russell Westbrook, you know you've got 99th percentile athleticism," Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien wrote in his scouting report of LaVine.
Of course, LaVine didn't pave his NBA path on athleticism alone. He flashed a 37.5 percent three-point shooting stroke during his lone collegiate season. With the quickness to keep pace with point guards and the size to slide over to the wing, he has the weapons needed to become a plus-defender.
His game should round out with time, but his natural tools will be available from day one.
With springs like these, words can only do his athletic gifts so much justice. Videos that may or may not one day be used as evidence of superhuman ability are needed to truly appreciate what exactly he brings to the table.
LaVine can make the mundane seem miraculous.
How many other players can transform a photo shoot into a slam dunk contest application?
Believe it or not, LaVine isn't the only player on this roster to make that incredibly short list.
During his own time under the lens, Wiggins also tossed his name into the hat.
There is a ferocity to LaVine's game, a punishing side to his finishes.
Wiggins is different. He can throw down a thunderous flush, but a smoothness seeps out of his pores.
Everything he does seems effortless. Maybe that comes from cashing in the jackpot prize in the genetics lottery—his father, Mitchell Wiggins, played six seasons in the NBA and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was an Olympic sprinter—or perhaps from spending countless hours under the watchful eyes of the basketball world.
Regardless of the source, the product is stunning.
"He'll immediately step in as one of the top athletes and most explosive leapers in the NBA," wrote Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman. "Take away his offensive skills, and Wiggins could still score in double digits based on his ability to pick up easy buckets above the rim."
Wiggins wasn't quite the statistical monster Kansas thought it was getting, but he still paced a 25-win team in scoring (17.1) and finished third in rebounding (5.9). He cracked the 20-point barrier 11 different times, including three of his last five games.
He could defend at an elite level out of the gate, and his (likely) move from a championship-hopeful in Cleveland to a rebuilding team in Minnesota should allow him to learn at his own pace. Touches should come his way early and often, which might help unleash the offensive aggressiveness scouts wanted to see more of last season.
Both Wiggins and LaVine need plenty of seasoning, but their collective ceiling is almost as high as they can jump.
Getting them from their current raw state to a fully finished product won't be easy, but the Wolves might be up for the task.
With Wolves president Flip Saunders making significant investments in their upside, it won't be easy for Wolves coach Flip Saunders to overreact to their growing pains. Both need to get out in the open floor, but Saunders seems ready to sound the starting gun for this track meet.
"Saunders hopes to employ a more run-and-gun, transition-based attack like the ones he had used during his first stint as Minnesota's head mean," wrote Fox Sports' Phil Ervin. "Target Center rims, beware."
Between the lines, Wiggins and LaVine should also be assisted by their new teammates. Ricky Rubio has the creative vertical passing chops to take advantage of their gifts of flight. Slashing lanes could stay open like a 24-hour convenience store if Kevin Martin's perimeter shooting and Nikola Pekovic's low-post scoring demand defensive attention.
The Wolves won't immediately be better without Love, but they should be a pleasure to watch. As Grantland's Andrew Sharp observed, this group could be easier to root for, too:
This new team of alley-oop artists just made the Wolves exciting again. Every night is going to be a dunk contest. Every player wants to be there. And instead of the team facing the 'win or Love might leave' pressure that has haunted this whole franchise the last few years, there are zero expectations now. They would’ve won more if Love had stuck around, but without him, this is a team people can actually love. Isn’t that better?
At some point down the line, there could be an equal amount of function to complement all this flash.
For now, Wolves fans can simply enjoy what the NBA's newest high-flying duo has to offer. With boarding passes in hand, Wiggins and LaVine are ready for takeoff.
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