When you're the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in late June, the summer months should be a time of celebration.
For that player, years of youth basketball, high school basketball, the AAU circuit and a hard-fought few months in the college ranks have all culminated in the realization of millions of dollars, adulation of a new hometown and maybe even a shoe contract!
This should be a time where the top pick begins bonding with new teammates and laying the groundwork for the upcoming season.
For Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers (for a few more weeks, at least), it hasn't been anything close to that. For Wiggins, the summer has been a six-week limbo of rumors and speculation with all signs pointing to his exile to basketball Siberia (which is Minnesota, just to be clear).
Consider Wiggins's journey:
June 26: Drafted by Cleveland with the No. 1 overall pick Acceptable Wiggins reaction: "Well, crap, Cleveland has sucked since LeBron left, and...well, it's also Cleveland. How many years until I'm a free agent?"
July 11: LeBron James announces he's returning to Cleveland Acceptable Wiggins reaction: A celebration with lots of cigars, expensive scotch, strippers and cardboard cutouts of LeBron James!
July 25: Andrew Wiggins signs his contract with the Cavaliers Acceptable Wiggins reaction: More cigars, scotch and strippers!
July 31: Reports from ESPN that a WIggins-(and other stuff)-for-Kevin Love deal to Minnesota is a "when"-not-"if" situation Acceptable Wiggins reaction: Dumping a gallon of kerosene over his head and asking people around him for a match.
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit (but just a little bit).
There are worse things than being paid millions of dollars to play professional basketball in Minnesota, but in the specific realm of paying, playing jobs in professional basketball, Minnesota might be the last stop domestically ahead of the D League. The Timberwolves have sucked the will to live out of many a would-be star player, so much so that Kevin Love now actually sees Cleveland as some sort of basketball oasis. (The Power of LeBron!)
For Wiggins, the news this weekend that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor sees a trade of Love to the Cavaliers in late August as "likely" is significant, given that Taylor's been adamant that the team would not be moving Love before the start of the 2014-15 season. (Because of NBA contractual rules on rookies, late August is the earliest a trade of Wiggins could happen.)
For Wiggins, he's not necessarily staring at his basketball mortality. Many players have made lots of money over the years losing hundreds of games in the Twin Cities (most notably Love). Wiggins may be miserable in Minnesota, but he should still have a long career, and there's always free agency eventually.
However, Wiggins probably is staring at his basketball immortality, if that makes sense.
There's nothing easy about becoming a Hall of Famer, but the path is presumably easier playing alongside LeBron James than it is toiling as the best player in the seventh circle of basketball hell. For Wiggins, the next four weeks will determine if this fork in the road sends him toward "next Scottie Pippen" or "next "Shareef Abdur-Rahim."
Tellingly, Wiggins had all the energy and enthusiasm of a hostage in a propaganda video Sunday morning on this SportsCenter appearance (live from the rookie photoshoot for some trading card company), in which anchor Bram Weinstein peppers him with so many questions about the possibility of Cleveland trading him that it almost feels like Weinstein had a bet with his producers that he could make Wiggins cry. Here's the footage:
The highlights for me:
0:15 -- Weinstein makes a crack about pictures of Wiggins in his Cavaliers #21 jersey being a "collector's item someday," presumably meaning that these pictures would depict Wiggins in a jersey he never actually dons in an NBA game. (A tad oblivious, Wiggins took it as some sort of compliment about how awesome he is.)
1:15 -- If you need any further proof that this thing's going down with Minnesota, Wiggins reveals that he hasn't spoken with LeBron yet, citing "how hard it is to get in touch with people on the phone," or something like that. When LeBron made his statement about coming back to Cleveland, Wiggins's name was conspicuous by its absence in James's statement. But honestly, if I'm Wiggins, I'd be cold-calling LeBron like Bud Fox-on-Gordon Gekko style every hour on the hour. The fact that he's not, frankly, is a bit of a red flag.
1:40 -- Bram Weinstein basically asks Wiggins to beg LeBron not to rubber-stamp his ticket out of Cleveland, without actually using the word "beg."
2:00 -- One aside: Wiggins is having an awful time trying to keep the IFB earpiece inserted in his ear. I can empathize. Whenever I used to appear on Sports Talk Live on Comcast Sports Net, I'd spend 80 percent of the air time trying to keep my IFB in. It looked like I was trying to scratch my brain through my ear.
2:35 -- Weinstein asks, "Do you think Cleveland wants you?" Wiggins answers, "Yeah.....(pause)....I hope so." And we have a new leader in the clubhouse for Awkward Interview Moment of 2014.
Unfortunately, the video streaming above cut off before Weinstein began showing Wiggins a chart of the daily high temperatures in Minneapolis during the months of November through March.
At least, I'm assuming that's what happened next.
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