Wolves’ Wiggins a wanted man in Minnesota

Timberwolves rookie Andrew Wiggins seemed to enjoy his introduction to fans and media Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair.

Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — All summer, Andrew Wiggins just wanted to be wanted.

Since before high school, it’s all he’s known. Colleges coveted him. NBA teams jockeying for the 2014 draft’s top selection salivated over him.

Then LeBron James picked up the phone a few hours after signing on for a second run in Cleveland.

"He called me and I said, ‘You know what? I’m in,’" newly-minted Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said at his introductory press conference Tuesday in Cleveland.

There went the notion of Wiggins developing behind James for the franchise that drafted him first overall. A torrent of rumor, speculation and awkward conversations surrounding his future followed.

At first, Wiggins didn’t know where he’d begin his professional career. Weeks ago, he learned he’d become a Timberwolf, though he couldn’t officially join Minnesota for 30 days after signing his rookie contract, thanks to a rarely used NBA stipulation.

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So he tried to lie low. When he couldn’t, he dodged questions about his future.

"It’s been a crazy summer," Wiggins said. "Really up and down."

Now it’s finally behind him. No more hiding. No more wondering.

Just contentment, he said Tuesday at a press conference welcoming him and fellow trade chips Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to town.

"It was a big relief," Wiggins grinned. "Now it’s solidified. I’m situated in a spot where I know I’m gonna be for a very, very long time."

The run-up to the draft was nerve-wracking enough. When former Kansas teammate Joel Embiid’s foot injury caused him to drop off the top of many NBA teams’ draft boards, Wiggins became the favorite to go to Cleveland No. 1 overall, like Bennett had as a surprise pick the year before.

But until commissioner Adam Silver called his name before anyone else’s the evening of June 26, nothing was certain.

It seems like a long time ago now, the idea of the most highly regarded prep prospect since LeBron charged with bringing the Cavs back following the departure of their home-state Hercules. When James decided two weeks after the draft he’d rejoin Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent, everything changed.

Having previously informed Minnesota via agent Jeff Schwartz he’d opt out of his contract after 2014-15 if he wasn’t traded before then, Love made it clear to the Cavs he’d be interested in playing there long-term. Wolves president Flip Saunders and Cleveland general manager David Griffin ramped up their conversations. The Cavaliers could have Love, Saunders told Griffin, but not without giving up the youthful swingman they’d just drafted.

Soon, reports of a deal sending Wiggins to the Twin Cities surfaced.

"Kevin is a unique player and we felt that we needed to get a unique player back in return, or players (back)," said Saunders, who, along with most league general managers, had Wiggins ranked as the best player in the draft. "Usually in this situation a lot of times and the history of it, people have gotten good players back, but maybe not what you would not consider a guy that has an opportunity to be a superstar-type player."

(See the Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett trade in 2007 as a prime illustration of Saunders’ point.)

Meanwhile, Wiggins threw on a Cavs practice jersey and impressed at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 40.5 percent from the floor.

"I just want to play for a team that wants me," he told ESPN’s SportsCenter earlier this month.

Last week, the agreement to send him to Minnesota was firmed up. On Saturday, it became official, making him the first No. 1 overall pick to be traded before making a regular-season appearance since Chris Webber in 1993 (traded by Golden State to Orlando).

Now, the 6-foot-8, 200-pound 19-year-old with a 7-foot wingspan and a 44-inch vertical jump goes from superstar’s protege to beacon of hope for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years.

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"You are talking about a guy in Wiggins that since he was in high school, people thought that he was the best player to come out of high school since LeBron James," said Saunders, who also coached Garnett as a 19-year-old hoping to shift the Timberwolves’ fortunes. "He has phenomenal ability."

Said Wolves owner Glen Taylor: "This kid has a chance of being really outstanding someday. I guess we’re all gonna see together, aren’t we?"

Wiggins felt welcomed in Minnesota as soon as he arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, he said. And a warm reception from fans Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair, in addition to conversations with Saunders, Taylor and other organization higher-ups, let him know he’s more than just desired now.

"It’s not really hard to accept it," Wiggins said. "Me, I’m the type of guy, I just go to where I’m needed."

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