2017 Offseason

Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Working Through the Rumors

This is new territory for the Timberwolves.

On Friday, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland. While the initial shock of a key cog of the East’s pillar of success wanted out of a seemingly perfect situation, what came next was what surprised Wolves fans.

He’s interested in playing in Minnesota. A bonafide, legitimate, big-name NBA star has interest in playing for the Wolves. That alone is exciting, and warrants some recognition for what Flip Saunders, and subsequently Tom Thibodeau have built the past 4 years.

But, of course, with any trade involving a star, a big price is required for a player of Irving’s caliber to ever end up here, whether he’s interested or not. Jeff Teague, the team’s assumed starting point guard going into the 2017-18 season, could not be traded until Dec. 15, so that’s immediately off the table if the Cavs (and Irving) want to get this done before the summer ends.

The Wolves have 1 first rounder, OKC’s lottery-protected pick they received in the Ricky Rubio trade, that they could throw in a potential deal. But it isn’t expected to be a terribly high pick, as the Thunder have Russell Westbrook and Paul George going into this season and are expected to be a top 4 team in the West this year. .

In short, any realistic trade involving Kyrie Irving will include Andrew Wiggins. It’s as simple as that.

This could be tough for some to swallow. Wiggins (along with Zach LaVine) was the first piece of the new post-Kevin Love rebuild. He was often times the lone bright spot before Karl-Anthony Towns came alone. And on top of all that, the 21-year-old has the potential to be a superstar in his own right.

But with the word “redundancy” being floated, how he fits with Jimmy Butler is in question. The offense will be run through Karl-Anthony Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. In that trio, the best shooter may be the team’s starting center. Wiggins has improved substantially each of the three years he’s been in the league, but a lot of his best-case skillset mirrors what Butler already brings to the table.

In the event that Thibs is willing to deal Wiggins, Irving is a better fit offensively. While he’d likely play off the ball more right away, his arsenal fits the mold of shooting guard just as well as it does at the point. He was a 48 percent shooter off catch-and-shoot situations last year, both from the field and from deep. He’s excellent at using his quickness to work around screens and find open looks. He’s worked it brilliantly with LeBron James the past three years, and would find similar success with Butler and KAT.


Fit-wise, it should work. The first question remains simply whether a 21-year-old budding superstar with a high ceiling is worth the deal. The second question is a bigger one. Kyrie Irving has 2 years left on his (very reasonable) current deal. The Wolves have access to Wiggins’ services for another 6. If Irving is traded here, especially if he’s leaving in-part to not be a sidekick anymore, would he be happy in Minnesota? With the acquisition of Butler, and the rise of KAT, how much would Irving’s role change here? 

Wiggins would almost certainly go into this season knowing he’s the third option. If reports are true (fun fact: reports aren’t always true), Irving is looking to be the first option more often than he is right now. It’s hard to envision a scenario long-term in Minnesota where that becomes the case.

But ultimately, talent-wise, it’s also hard to envision a scenario where Wiggins becomes that much better than Irving. His ceiling is high, but Irving, who will be 25 when training camp starts, is reaching his prime right now, and it’s pretty damn good. He’s made the All-Star team each of the last four years, he’s won a championship, and he’s proven that he’s a multidimensional guard with gobs of talent. Wiggins could be that one day, but Irving has it right now.

And Tom Thibodeau knows that. And he likes Wiggins. He didn’t seem to entertain the idea of giving him up for Jimmy Butler, so what are the odds that he’ll give him up for Kyrie Irving? Wiggins led the league in minutes last year, got a good portion of clutch looks, and was clearly a big piece of Thibs’ system.

There are a lot of layers to this, and whatever happens, there is going to be some nervousness for the Wolves’ front office. If both sides like a Wiggins-Irving swap, there will be nervousness letting a 21-year-old prodigy go. If the Cavs offer up Irving, but Thibodeau and Layden don’t want to part with Wig, the pressure of his presumed ascension will, somehow, grow even more.

Past all the hypotheticals (which is the premise of this entire piece, really), there is a star player, likely on the move, with the Wolves on his shortlist of desirable destinations. Anything can happen over the next few months, but the overall dialogue of the Wolves has changed in the public stratosphere.

That is new territory, and a step in the right direction. No matter what happens.

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11 thoughts on “Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Working Through the Rumors

  1. The fact that he is willing to leave a three time finals participant, on which he took the most shots and the most clutch shots last season, for the stated reason that he wants more shots and to be the leader bothers me. He is much more like Melo, Marbury, AI, Harden, Westbrook, and Dominique in that he is a great player that is more about himself and his stats than he is about winning, team, and championships.

    To be honest, if we traded Wiggins for Kyrie, I think I will become a casual fan of the Wolves. We shit on KG, we traded the hardest worker on the team in Rubio, KAT and Butler sold out Wiggins on Twitter, and if we downgrade from Wiggins 2-way potential for Kyries ineffiecient 1-way game it will be too much. I will follow the Jazz in the west, Lebron or Love’s team in the east, and the Wolves will become my nothing else is on to watch team until we get new leadership or Kyrie gets sick of Minnesota and being the third best player on the team.

    I am sure I will get roasted for the above take, but I am only 60% happy with our offseason and I am holding on due to the hope for growth of Wigs and KAT. I think Jimmy Butler will ease Wiggins burden on both sides of the ball which will leave Wiggins more energy to fill out the box score and to become more efficient as a scorer. Butler will also hold Wiggins to a defensive accountability that only Rubio attempted to do last season. It was painful to watch Wiggins work his ass off guarding his man, but then to see him not be willing to stick his arm out or take one step into the path of a driver to provide help defense. We paid 5 million too much for Gibson, but I hope he will have a similar result by teaching KAT. Our incredible big man whines too much about calls, rarely boxes out on defense to improve our team defensive rebounding(the anit-Nene), is constantly late rotating to cover drivers, and rarely cares about passing out of doubleteams unless we are playing Denver and he is trying to prove he is as good of passer as Jokic. All of these things are annoying, but everyone is easily correctable with a solid big man leader to call him out. If we bring Irving in, I believe his selfishness will be a contagious cancer and we will see more me-first ball, and KAT will regress while Butler contemplates murdering Irving while planning his own exit.

    1. Yeah I agree with Scott Berke ^^^. Not 100% but I think that another major shift towards more superstardom is gonna mess with the gel of our team. I was bummed about Rubio as well, as I believe there is something to be said for creating a team chemistry and having some crossover between seasons. That being said I think Kyrie is an incredible player, and by far one of the deadliest scorers out there. But I don’t think the fit is great either based on the reasons put forward in the article–he wants to be the focal point of the offense and I think we already have 2 guys who can be a that in Butler and Towns. The Warriors became who they are through growing their talent from within and then adding KD to add that to extra killer threat. But they built a culture of teamwork and hard work, something I think it will be hard to do if we just rope in another star who’s already developed their philosophy. Thibs needs to make people feel valued, and so do towns and butler, and it definitely bums me out that they would sell out Wiggins in that way. Yeah he’s not the most efficient scorer yet, and he needs to improve his defense a ton, but watch a highlight reel and tell me he’s not trending towards being an unstoppable force. I think Wiggins and Butler could create an unreal duo if they can figure out how to mesh their talents, plus who’s to say Wiggins won’t end up being a high 30’s to 40% 3 point shooter this year?

    2. I surprisingly understood where you were coming from with a lot of that. I think the Rubio situation needs more explaining by Thibs before I understand. And I may not ever get it. But you lost me a bit when you said Wiggins 2 way game. He has been a liability on defense since day one. And he is at a position where he needs to guard big, athletic, impressive guys. He has consistently struggled in that regard. If we are able to sign one more player to play some D on 2s and 3s. This trade significantly improves our defense. It just does. Kyrie is more well rounded than Wiggins by a lot. Wiggins basically penetrates and scores. Kyrie is great at driving and finishing for a PG. He can shoot well. He has better vision. And he would ba able to play other 1s on defense. So even if you potentially think he isn’t a great defender. He will be able to stay in front of most of the PGs on the league and play effective D.

      I do kinda get what you’re saying with him disrespecting his old team that has done a lot for him. And I would be nervous the dynamic might get screwed up. Right now I believe it’s a tight know group. It would stink to see that get messed up.

      But I can’t agree with that 2 way thing. Just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    3. I think the reason that the Wolves are on Irvinfs list is because they are good friends from team USA. I would not be worried about Irving and Butlers chemistry.

      As an added bonus this means they would finally meet the stated objective of replacing Rubio with a PG with an accurate 3 point shot.

    4. FWIW, you won’t be roasted by me, Scott. If the rumors that KAT and Butler are lobbying Thibs to trade for Irving, I seriously wonder about the chemistry of this team. If it’s true, Wiggins has got to feel like a prom-night dumpster baby. If the trade doesn’t happen and the rumors are true, it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable at that first practice.
      And like you, I sincerely question the character of a player with a free pass to the finals again this year who wants to leave because he’s not “The Man”.

      Throw in Irving’s complete unwillingness to play defense, and I worry about the impact of his influence on Towns and other young players on this roster. There’s no shortage of people who are critical of Wiggins’ defensive faults, but those same people rarely recognize what a bus fire Towns defensive play and mindset are.

      Wiggins’ defensive issues is in part a function of his age and physical development. At only 21 last year, he still doesn’t have the lower body strength to guard many of the SF’s in this league. He’s a year older this year and he’ll be able to play at the 2 the majority of the time. His defense WILL improve. And he’s playing at a more valuable position than Irving. Throw in the potential for Irving to disrupt what appears to be very good chemistry on this team. and I’m against this trade.

      I understand the excitement. Hell, I’m excited too that a player of Irving’s caliber wants to join the Wolves. But this is not a good move for the long-term health and success of this franchise. Unfortunately, if I was a betting man, I’d lean toward this trade happening.

  2. @Tim I think the Wolves only have their own pick this year if it is in the lottery, otherwise it goes to Atlanta. And with the Stipian rule that means they can’t trade next year’s 1st either.

    I don’t think Irving to the Wolves is likely, would be nice though.

  3. Irving isn’t my kind of player, or even my kind of PG, but he’s a BALLER. I mean, when LeBron James, the greatest player of his generation couldn’t or wouldn’t hit a finals game winner, Irving did. You can overlook a lot of flaws for that type of player.

    All these tectonic shifts this offseason have annoyed me as well as excited me. But the straw that broke the camel’s for me on a crazy offseason likely won’t be Wiggins, who I’ve never held in the stratosphere of opinions that many seem to.

    On that topic, I’m still in a malaise about losing Rubio and will be following him closely in Utah. There is something annoying about casting him aside for a less exciting and only somewhat better scoring PG in Teague, who will cost us more. It devalues what Rubio did for us as much as trading him for a lousy pick (I get it, the trade was simply to clear space to replace him with a more ‘Thibs friendly’ player and we were lucky to get the pick in such a fire sale move–doesn’t mean I agree). If we somehow got Irving, that would make the whole Rubio thing feel better. ‘We got rid of Rubio, ultimately, to get a finals winning PG!’

    People have brought up the character concerns. Aside from being a ball hog malcontent, as Irving’s demands suggest, they are just confusing. Why would someone want to immediately vacate a finals team? And risk going to the Wolves?? It’s a little weird. I share their concerns. I didn’t think Irving was a giant bastion of character and maturity, but this is a little surprising and unsettling. Minnesota has traditionally not been a good place for malcontents to come. And I’m not sure Thibs is a great malcontent coach… That said, I believe Wiggins has character issues of a different sort. Do you think a guy with his lack of effort, intensity, leadership, responsibility, fire, pride (see defense) is worth saying no to an all star talent, a guy who has shown he can sink a winning finals bucket who is only 25? That’s a tough argument to make, and I’m not really an Irving fan. I’ve actually had enough of people over emphasizing Wiggins’ potential for a while now, as he continues to not prove himself. Like, he’s a really terrible defender as of now. He will get better, sure, but he was projected to be a good defender upon entering the league and instead has shown no real improvement 3 seasons. Yeah, he’s young. But that doesn’t really predict a guy who is going to be a bigger star and asset than Irving. And we’ve already blown up the whole Flip roadmap to rebuild anyway. My only untouchable now is KAT. That doesn’t mean I’m all in for Irving… He’s the better player, likely for their careers, but who is better for this team and situation? And maybe Wiggins will prove all the upsiders right…

    It’s also strange… You look at that picture of Irving and Wiggins. Who looks like the man? The 6’8″ SF? Nope, the 6’3″ PG (or SG). That guy is built for the NBA. Will Wiggins ever be?

    That said, this is very unlikely to happen, and while it makes MN seem cool, being on Irving’s list may have as much to do with his immaturity as it does our potential status as a contender.

  4. Before I comment on the prospect of a Wiggins/Irving trade, I just gotta say: HOW INSANE IS IT THAT A TOP 20 PLAYER WANTS TO COME TO THE WOLVES?!?! I mean seriously, how crazy is this?

    That being said, I don’t want Irving for many of the reasons already mentioned. Love Kyrie’s offensive game and experience. He’d be a fantastic fit on this offense. But there are myriad problems (imho):

    -Irving has a lethal allergy to playing defense. Thibs better stock up on epi-pens if they trade for him.
    -This is a somewhat unpopular opinion around here, but I expect Wiggins to one day be a top 15 player. For all his faults, he has measurably improved every single year and he was 21 years old for the bulk of last season. Try comparing Wiggins stats with Jimmy Butler year by year.
    -Irving is an oft-injured, fragile player versus a player in Wiggins with no significant injury history. Considering the lack of depth on this team, that is a significant contrast.
    -For all the talk of Wiggins/Butler duplicating one another’s efforts on the floor (an argument I do not buy, btw), the trade would leave us incredibly short handed at the wing. And aside from the 10 or so minutes a game that Irving and Teague would be on the floor together, you’d have an 18 million a year backup point guard.
    -Depth. Aside from Wiggins, any trade for Irving would likely involve Dieng.
    -But my biggest concern is Irving’s alleged reasoning for wanting the trade. Boston is a nice little, well-coached team. But the Cavs are still the best team in the East. Irving is giving up a sure spot in the finals because he wants to be “The Man”. With this town’s love affair with Towns, there’s no way in hell that Irving would be The Man. What kind of a player walks away from championships and the best player in the league? Answer: A selfish one whose primary focus is not winning.

  5. All good points Finchy. But they bring a few counterpoints on this interesting possibility to mind…

    -Irving doesn’t play a lot of defense. In my opinion, he doesn’t seem real interested in it, likely because he’s so focused on his offense. What’s Wiggins’ excuse? Because Wiggins is bad at defense at this point. We’ve heard it’s because he’s young, but he’s played 3 full NBA seasons. Is he disinterested in D? Is he more focused on O, like Irving? Or his he just massively confused out there? Or some combo? Either way, it’s more damning for a super athletic 6’8″ guy to be this bad at defense than a point guard. It’s also worth noting that Irving is currently the better O player between the two, and may be for his career. So if both their excuse for being bad on D is, ‘I’m so focused on O’ then Irving comes out ahead. Frankly, I wish they were both better at D and I have a natural aversion to players who don’t play D (rough few years as a Wolves fan…).

    -Butler is a weird player. Part of this was probably playing for Thibs, who distrusts young players historically, but Butler starter his career slow. It wasn’t until his 4th season that he averaged 20 ppg (13 the year before that). You don’t expect all star level talent to bloom that slowly. And usually, if a player is in his third year and scoring 13 ppg game in almost 39 minutes a game… Well, you’d expect them to plateau below all star level. Not Jimmy. He’s an exceptional player and person. He breaks the odds in many ways. Wiggins has taken a more normal star trajectory–he started with 17 ppg, then went to 20 and then 23 in his first years. He didn’t take years to grow into an offensive threat. But nothing much about his game has developed in those 3 years. His right away good scoring means he needs to make less developmental ground there, but still 17-20-23 isn’t exactly impressive improvement for a young guy. His career average for rebounds is 4, with no sign of improvement; for an athletic 6’8″ player…(that’s bad). His defense is bad. While young Butler was developing into a true 2 way player in his early years, Wiggins has shown no ability to be a good defender and little if any improvement. You could say Butler was not a guy people expected much from coming in (picked 30th). But he earned more and more playing time and developed as a player at a steep grade. Wiggins entered the league with much more fanfare and expectations and was given the keys to the O right away. But he’s basically the same player 3 years in without a lot of signs of physical, mental or basketball growth. He’s been nearly a developmental flat line (who has a lot of flaws in his game). Just like Jimmy, Wiggins could make a giant leap in his 4th season. I hope so. But, it’s worth pointing out that Jimmy improved at many aspects of his game yearly leading up to his 4th season breakout, something Wiggins has not been doing.

    -I’m not sure this is even worth worrying about, but if Cleveland demands more than our ‘Rubio pick’ and Wiggins for Irving… well, I just don’t know how we cobble together enough depth. If we pull off the trade, Irving could play as a SG with Teague for a while, but it would be best to trade Teague once it is legal for an actual SG. But depth is indeed a huge worry. It’s worth noting that most teams probably think Gorgui’s deal kind of sucks and he might actually be hard to trade due to his contract.

    -Irving’s injury history is a concern. Although over valuing Wiggins because he’s been healthy is unwise. That health could break at any time, and you can’t go with a mediocre high usage player just because you think he might be durable. Hopefully Wiggins will improve and stay healthy, but neither is at all guaranteed.

    -I have no idea what is going on in Irving’s head. It’s a little like Westbrook (although he never put his feelings into words). Westbrook didn’t like being second fiddle with Durrant and didn’t play that well with him considering their combined talent quotient. Then he got his wish and was the only focal point of the O. This allowed him to do his thing unfettered and average a triple double. But the team was still a marginal playoff team with no place to go. So it’s back to pairing him with another star. Not all these decisions are Westbrook’s, but clearly the type of player he is creates problems in making his teammates better. Irving appears unhappy on a team with enough talent to go to the finals because he’s not a big enough part of it, a big enough star. But any playoff team is with any chance of competing in the post season will need multi focus. I think it might come down to this–Irving is sick of playing with LeBron. He can be a handful and is a ball dominant (though great passing) point forward and considered the best player in the league. I don’t think Irving likes that. He wants to be at least the best player on his team. But if he comes here he might not be considered as good as KAT or even Butler. In other words, he’s going to run into different forms of the Cleveland ‘problem’ everywhere (assuming the team isn’t simply awful).

    -Don’t think we’re getting him, anyhow, but it’s fun to speculate about.

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