In the impending trade slated to send Kevin Love to join LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Anthony Bennett has become something of a superfluous pawn. No one knows who really wants him or who would just as soon dump him on the more willing taker.
Early on in the trade talks, Bennett was assumed to be one of several pieces, along with rookie sensation Andrew Wiggins, on his way to the Twin Cities in what looked to be a straightforward, two-team deal.
However, a recent report from the Philadelphia Daily News’ Mark Perner detailed how the Philadelphia 76ers, in an effort to shed cap space, were looking to send Thaddeus Young to Minnesota in exchange for the rights to Bennett.
Then Thursday, more speculation still:
Just a reminder: if you keep reading Bennett is headed to Philly for Young in forthcoming trade...don't believe it.— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) August 20, 2014
With the three parties all waiting on Wiggins’ trade eligibility to become official Saturday, expect a lot of movement on the Love front over the next 48 hours.
Lost in all the back-and-forth, though, is a question well worth asking: Which team is actually the better fit for Bennett himself?
The fact that Bennett is fresh off authoring one of the most disappointing statistical seasons of any lottery selection in NBA history (12.8 minutes per game, 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, .356 from the floor, .245 from three)—to say nothing of first overall picks—certainly doesn’t make it any easier to answer.
Bennett remains, in the purest sense of the term, an unknown quantity. Ship set aright, the burly forward has the potential to be a double-double machine for the next decade. Held to his current trajectory, he could be out of the league in half that time.
The good news is that after a nightmarish rookie campaign, the chips are starting to fall a bit more in the forward’s favor:
Anthony Bennett is most improved player of the offseason. He looks SOOO much better than at any point last season.— Bob Cooney (@BobCooney76) July 15, 2014
Anthony Bennett has been working out in Cleveland the last couple months, hired personal chef. Says he's lost 15-20 lbs since April— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) July 12, 2014
More encouraging still, Bennett turned high hopes into a solid summer league showing, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in a little under 30 minutes a game (albeit at a shaky 43 percent field-goal clip).
What Bennett needs more than anything else at this point is a franchise capable of nurturing his game minus the impossible pressures of a season ago.
Viewed from that perspective, the Sixers are quite clearly the better landing spot for Bennett. Under the leadership of general manager Sam Hinkie, Philly has spearheaded a rebuilding plan that, while still years in the making, remains philosophically coherent.
The name of Hinkie’s game: acquiring assets, be they draft picks (the Sixers had seven in this past draft alone) or, in Bennett’s case, young, high-upside players.
Writing at CSNPhilly.com, Andrew Unterberger teased out in tantalizing detail why rolling the dice on Bennett is, from Philly’s perspective, a no-brainer:
Even if Bennett never becomes as good as Young, he's still a hell of a return for Thad's expiring contract. With Bennett, the Sixers would have five of the top 24 combined picks from the last two drafts under team control, which makes for a hell of a nucleus to build around. He may or may not fit the team's long-term plans, but in the meantime, he's a prospect with great value around the league, one the Sixers could try to rehabilitate and sell in a year or two for twice as much as they paid for him. (And for what it's worth, the team has long been high on Bennett--reportedly, the 2013 draft-night deal for Nerlens Noel that cost the Sixers Jrue Holiday would still have gone down had AB been the player available for the Pelicans to take at #6, as well.)
And while the on-court product is sure to remain rickety in the short term, head coach Brett Brown—a disciple of Gregg Popovich—has already infused within his charges a palpably plucky energy. Even if the outcome is seldom in their favor, these Sixers come to play, and play hard.
Coupled with the frontcourt vacuum left in the wake of Young’s departure, Bennett steps into a situation imbued with both patience and perspective and conducive to growth.
Then there’s the Timberwolves.
Ever since nabbing Love in a 2008 draft-day trade, Minnesota has done a woeful job of building around its frontcourt cornerstone—Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic being the two notable exceptions, of course. After six seasons of ever-higher hopes disappointingly deferred, Love had enough.
Even with Wiggins absorbing the bulk of the spotlight, Bennett would face the unenviable prospect of being Love’s replacement—if in position more than pull or power—in a city going on 10 years of playoff deprivation.
Rather than learn from a first-time coach steeped in "the Spurs way," Bennett would instead be put under the yoke of Flip Saunders, a capable but conspicuously uncreative coach not exactly renowned for his ability to nurture young players.
In fact, from Bennett’s perspective—particularly considering Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer probably aren’t long for the Land of 10,000 Lakes, either—Minnesota's only real draws are Rubio (likely gone once his contract ends, if not before then), Wiggins and raw but enticing rookie point guard Zach LaVine. Should either or both of the latter two make good on their interstellar promise, Bennett’s star has the chance to rise in tantalizing tandem.
But on a team with no discernible plan in place, Bennett might wind up exactly where he was headed with the pre-LeBron Cavs: toward a purgatory partly of his own making, but one reinforced by other hands altogether.
Of course, if the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda’s prediction holds true, all of this will be moot. Why, after all, would the Wolves deign to gamble on Young sticking around past his 2015-16 player option when they could have a more flexible asset in Bennett?
Still, in the pantheon of strange NBA turns, Bennett going to Philadelphia in a three-team trade wouldn’t even crack the top 100. Whether the impetus is doubts over Bennett’s potential or some long-term guarantee on the part of Young to stay in Minnesota, there’s still a chance that the former’s future lies in the City of Brotherly Love.
At this point, given last year’s false start and the unfair flak he’s gotten ever since, Bennett could use that kind of luck to even out the ledger.