MINNEAPOLIS — Turns out the Timberwolves will get more back for Kevin Love than originally plotted.
According to FOX Sports 1 and Yahoo NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, Minnesota will deal the disgruntled three-time All-Star in a three-team trade that nets them 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and 2013 top draft selection Anthony Bennett from Cleveland as well as 76ers power forward Thaddeus Young. The Wolves also will send Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to Philadelphia, which receives Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that belongs to the Cavaliers.
Original reports included only a two-team trade dealing Love for former Canadian phenoms Wiggins and Bennett, with a separate trade sending Bennett to Philadelphia in exchange for Young’s services. But now, Minnesota president Flip Saunders has managed to land both power forwards to fill the sizeable gap left by Love while shedding Shved and Mbah a Moute’s unwanted contracts.
And, as early as Saturday, the Wiggins era can officially begin in Minnesota. That’s when, by NBA rules, the trade can be fully consummated.
Simultaneously, Love’s once-promising, ultimately tumultuous Twin Cities tenure will finally come to a close. In reality, it may have been over two years ago when the Timberwolves withheld from him a maximum deal, kick-starting a falling-out that officially came to a head this summer when Love informed the Wolves brass he’d opt out of his contract after the upcoming season.
Enter Wiggins, who, by virtue of his draft stock, supreme athleticism and stardom that dates back to his youth hoops days in Toronto projects as the next face of a mostly middling NBA organization.
For the second time in its 25-year history, Minnesota will send away a power forward named Kevin thought to be the entire core of the franchise’s on-court existence. Kevin Garnett didn’t necessarily want out when he was dealt in the summer of 2007.
Seven years later, Love did.
Until Love comes clean about his animosity toward the club that traded for him in the 2008 draft, the exact juncture of his decision to bolt will be unknown. The seeds were planted in 2012, when former president of basketball operations David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor didn’t deem him worth the five-year, "designated player" maximum. Then came a season lost to injury followed by an excruciatingly humdrum 2013-14 campaign.
Love enjoyed a bounce-back campaign last season, averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. His team finished two games below .500 and missed the playoffs for a 10th straight season — a stretch that spans Love’s entire six-year career.
He’ll almost surely reach the postseason playing alongside LeBron James, a main reason why Cleveland was willing to trade for a player who can become an unrestricted free agent after one season in town. The No. 5 pick in the 2008 draft, for all his talent, hasn’t proven he can be the No. 1 option on a postseason-caliber team.
Back in Minnesota, that charge now falls on Wiggins.
As in 19-year-old, hasn’t-played-an-NBA game Wiggins.
The physical tools are there, along with the frame (6-foot-8, 197 pounds, 7-foot wingspan), amateur accomplishment (top-scoring freshman in Kansas history, No. 1 prep Class of 2013 prospect, etc.) and pedigree (his father played in the NBA and his mother competed in track and field at two Olympic Games). During his one season in Lawrence, Wiggins notched 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.
Once Jayhawks teammate Joel Embiid’s draft stock slipped due to a foot injury, it became a near no-brainer for lottery-lucky Cleveland to choose Wiggins first overall. The Cavs did so with an eye on continuing to build young talent, not then aware that King James would be returning to his first court.
Then came the Decision II, James’ monumental homecoming that’s still having a trickle-down effect on the rest of the league’s personnel maneuvering. Love didn’t originally tab the Cavs as a desirable suitor, but teaming up with a luminary like LeBron of course changed things.
Cleveland general manager David Griffin didn’t initially offer Wiggins in his attempt to craft a new "Big 3" featuring Love, James and point guard Kyrie Irving, who re-signed with the Cavaliers this offseason. Only after a patient, waiting-out process that traversed the draft did Saunders agree to terms. He’d also mulled offers from Golden State and Chicago, among others.
But Saunders’ shrewdness paid dividends well beyond Wiggins.
Young is a seven-year NBA veteran but just 26 years old — a year older than Love. The No. 12 pick in the 2007 draft isn’t anything near a prolific stretch four, but with averages of 17.9 points and six boards per game last season he looks like a viable starting power forward Bennett can develop behind.
That’s imperative for the top pick that didn’t live up to the hype last year, averaging just 4.2 points and three rebounds in 52 contests as a rookie.
The deal rids Minnesota of the $3.2 million Shved is owed this season. Mbah a Moute is owed $4.4 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent. The pair ended up stuck at the end of the Wolves’ rotation last season, averaging 10.5 and 14.7 minutes per game, respectively.
The Cameroon native has long been a mentor for fellow countryman Embiid, with whom he’ll be reunited after the Sixers drafted him third overall.
The main catch is Young’s expiring contract. After making $9.2 million this upcoming season, he can opt out and become an unrestricted free agent if he so chooses — just like Love, which allowed him to force his way out of town.
But Saunders can cross that bridge when he reaches it.
Wiggins and Bennett are the first No. 1 overall picks to join a Minnesota team that’s never moved up in the draft lottery. The Wolves traded No. 3 overall pick O.J. Mayo for Love’s services in 2008, and Garnett was the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft.
Derrick Williams, who was traded for Mbah a Moute early last season after two-plus disappointing seasons, remains Minnesota’s top overall self-made pick. Kahn drafted him second overall in 2011.
It now falls upon Wiggins’ youthful shoulders — with help from Bennett, depending on his germination, and Young, depending on his longevity here — to boost the organization past a decade-long drought fraught with similarly questionable personnel moves, zero lottery fortune and injuries that haven’t helped the cause.