Basketball was my favorite sport to play growing up. I spent long days at an empty neighborhood park shooting hoops with a worn-out, crappy ball and a good friend. But watching the game itself? Like most people in the world, football was what caught my interest. Basketball was secondary when it came to what was on television, and even when football season reached its end, I spent more time running defensive slides than paying visual attention to professional pick-and-roll coverage.
One person changed all that. LeBron James as a titular athlete, genius creator of offense, and an agent of basketball purity explains everything I could have ever, or will have, learned about the game. It was his first couple seasons as a Cleveland Cavalier, carrying his merry band of mediocre ballers, that sparked the love I share with the sport now. He changed everything I thought I had understood about hoops. I knew Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Delonte West, Joe Smith (the list literally goes on until forever, into the black Cleveland abyss) solely because of LeBron. The amount of talent ascribed to his legacy was that of nothing I’d ever remember if it weren’t for my instant attachment to singular excellence.
With the news that Andrew Wiggins (and filler) is headlining a package headed to Minnesota, there’s some sort of developmental shivering to be had. Wiggins’ potential skillset – that of a wing defender, spot-up shooter, and backside cutter – works in conjunction to James’ style while also doubling as a perfect growth system. Wiggins wouldn’t lose confidence and gain bad habits because of a moribund franchise. Remember when Michael Carter-Williams was everyone’s favorite next superstar? Then the incessantly obnoxious hoisting began. (MCW is still a good prospect and we have little idea where that team is headed but a full season of muscle memory as a product awful gameplay is less than salivating). Learning the intricacies of the game from one of the game’s best defenders is a best-case scenario for both parties.
There’s an argument that the pressure would considerably lessen as a member of the Timberwolves, or any LeBron-less team. Flip Saunders isn’t an awful coach by any means – by that, he isn’t a Ty Corbin or something. The sudden nucleus of Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett is intriguing on some backwards level if you want to really argue that. Wiggins is hidden from the roaring masses of insecure basketball fandom, able to harness his game with a point guard willing to get him easy buckets, a center that can attract double teams, and fellow wing players to join in the fun. But the product of talent and expectations overwhelms what could be an odd situation for the number one overall selection, if only because it isn’t around the best player in the game.
Perhaps the simple monetary fact that a (or two) number one pick should become a superstar – however likely – is clouding my judgement on these things. Not all are created equal, as evidenced by the contrast in expectations between the two players in the Cleveland package. Bennett became a Summer League sensation not only because of his slimmed-down body, but the simple projection that James would allow him to jack up open threes and find lanes to the rim at will. All that, and not much else, led many to believe a turnaround would be in effect. The excitement garnered by the Wiggins chasedown blocks and Bennett crossovers and jumpers are quickly subdued by the change to Minnesota; functioning in a revamped system working without the game’s best power forward.
Young, cheap, transcendent talent, is hard to acquire especially in a hypothetical sense. Cleveland has to make this trade because Kevin Love is that good, and mostly because LeBron James wants it to happen. It’s a win-win flip of assets for both teams, except for what appears to be the present version of Wiggins and Bennett. Both players might live up to their number one draft pick billing one day. It’s just hard to see all of the excitement stemming from the Summer League, a place where many a dream has grown and gotten crushed, come to fruition anytime soon.