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.
ESPN Sources: On Kyrie Irving front, Cavs were given four preferred landing spots: New York, Miami, San Antonio, Minnesota.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 21, 2017
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.