There is a point in the sci-fi classic novel Ender’s Game where the adults in charge of training the Earth’s prepubescent fighting force take an already promising young commander and conspire to rig the training system, making the challenges the young man has to face more difficult than for any cadet who has come before. The more impossible the challenges, the adults reason, the more exceptional the commander who bests them. That young man’s name is Andrew “Ender” Wiggin and if the last roughly two months in the life of the NBA’s 2014 top pick in the draft—who, but for one missing letter, shares Ender’s given name—are any indication, the Minnesota Timberwolves can expect him to turn into a truly exceptional player.
Andrew Wiggins isn’t the first top pick in pro sports to get traded before playing a game for the team that drafted him. Chris Webber, the NBA’s only other instance of this, faced nothing like the protracted limbo that Wiggins has drifted in this summer. The 6’8” swingman from Kansas got barely two weeks to bask in the glow of being the league’s top draft pick. Then, LeBron James returned to Northeast Ohio and conspicuously left Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the team’s 2013 top pick, out of his SI “I’m coming home!” essay. As conspiratorial as it sounds, that exclusion was the beginning of the end for Wiggins in the wine and gold.
By the time the Las Vegas Summer League rolled around, the accepted scuttlebutt was that a Kevin Love-to-Cleveland deal was going to happen, but Cleveland hadn’t yet agreed to include Wiggins as part of that trade. It wasn’t until a week later that reports surfaced that the Cavs had made Wiggins available.
He still wasn’t signed, but he had to play out the summer league on a team everyone said he wasn’t long for and when he finally signed his rookie-scale contract on July 24, it was done behind closed doors, with none of the fanfare that usually sticks to a number one pick like humid August air.
But, of course, until the trade became official this past weekend, Wiggins was still a member of the Cavs, if only nominally so. He still had to make public appearances as a Cavalier, though he was Traded Player Walking. That led to awkwardness and frustration… for those you can click through the slideshow up top.
It will be interesting to hear what Wiggins says when he’s officially introduced as a member of the Timberwolves on Tuesday. My bet is that it will be some version of how the experience has given him a chip on his shoulder, how he felt disrespected by the Cavs and James, how it will make him play harder and circle every game against the Cavs on his calendar. But if that’s the narrative going forward, it’s going to feel pretty empty because any disrespect was a result of the NBA’s own rules more than the Cavs not properly valuing Wiggins’s ability and potential stardom.
What started as one of the most buzz-worthy off-seasons in NBA history ended, unfortunately, in this awkward near-hazing of Wiggins and the league needs to figure out how to keep that from happening again. One solution would be for the NBA to waive the waiting period for a newly signed player to be traded if the league determines that the trade isn’t being used to circumvent the salary cap (the reason any of these waiting periods exist). A more intriguing option, though, could be to prevent teams from trading newly signed rookies for one year from the date they sign.
The league can use this as an example of the way in which their own rules contributed to souring of an otherwise great story. And, as for Wiggins, this summer’s been rough, sure, but the real challenge begins now.
Trade rumors made for incredibly awkward interviews like this1 of 6
New head coach David Blatt said Wiggins wouldn't be traded2 of 6
These became a collector's item3 of 6
Wiggins balled out in Summer League with sorta teammates4 of 6
Minny fans were too nice to burn K Love jerseys5 of 6
Hot in Cleveland
He had to find a way to kill time, right?6 of 6