Timberwolves win many championships, just not for Minnesota

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins
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Since the Minneapolis Lakers won half of the league’s first 10 NBA titles and then moved to Los Angeles, where they won 13 more, Minnesota has been a breeding ground for NBA championship parades — in other cities. After the Lakers moved to LA, the NBA didn’t return to Minnesota until 1989. The Timberwolves established a new tradition – as an exporter of champions. Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins all wore T-Wolves uniforms and went on to become apex predators on Finals teams elsewhere. With another win against Boston, Wiggins could be the latest NBA champion forged in the Minnesota winters to become a cog in the pursuit of a more stable franchise.

Butler stopped the shot that would have knocked down Miami in his second final in three years, and was a Kawhi Leonard buzzer beater who possibly did the same in Philadelphia. Still, his glass ceiling in Minnesota was round one.

Garnett who immediately won a title in Boston after breaking up just to make ends meet in the West should have been the canary in the colliery. Joe McHale’s final outlet for Danny Ainge resulted in the Celtics’ first title of the 21st century and the beginning of a new golden era. Minnesota failed to capitalize on the post-Garnett rebuilding phase, while Boston threw Garnett into the assets that eventually made up their current nucleus.

Love was an instant oatmeal All-Star, but Minnesota screwed the dog by drafting the wrong point guard twice in the first seven picks of the 2009 NBA draft, leaving Steph Curry in Golden State’s lap.

In 2014, LeBron staged a Cavs-Timberwolves trade for Love, but not before clumsily signaling that Wiggins was on the run via his “Coming Home” Sports Illustrated announcement. Lost amid the essay that inspired a million memes was Wiggins’ exclusion from the teammates he looked forward to playing with.

We’ll come back to Wiggins in a moment, though. In Minnesota, Love watched the playoffs from home every season. Love sacrificed his numbers to play the part of Chris Bosh. Until the Cavaliers made their first 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals, Love’s acclimation to Cleveland was rocky. But without his contributions, the first title of the Cavaliers organization would not have happened.

Andrew Wiggins’ shine since Minnesota is a testament to Golden State’s ecosystem and leadership, serving as the perfect petri dish for him to grow in. When the Warriors took over Wiggins two years ago, his contract was considered the worst in the NBA. The former No. 1 overall pick was such a disappointment that the T-Wolves gave up an extra first-round pick for D’Angelo Russell. Immediately after the trade, ESPN’s Paul Pierce and Brian Windhorst panned the two skills he needs to showcase in Golden State: the ability to defend and spot-up shooting. In 2022, he lost nearly 40 percent of his attempts and earned a (single) All-Defensive Team vote. The 2021 first-round pick paired with Wiggins will likely be an asset to future Warriors contenders once Jonathan Kumingas’ burgeoning basketball IQ catches up with his raw skills.

He will never grow into the T-Mac 2.0/Paul George the facsimile scouts envisioned when he was drafted first overall in 2014. He is far too stiff as a creator of the dribble to be a transcendent scorer. In Golden State, however, he has found his place in the hybrid role of Iggy-Barnes and has reached his final form.

For most of his career, Wiggins has hobbled as if he were in the witness protection program. He had the tools, but it was wasted on a rudderless talent. The brighter the spotlight, the more he shrank under pressure. Wiggins collected four points and four turnovers in his NCAA Tournament final.

In Game 5 against Boston, Wiggins broke the cycle that marked his career. Boston closed their drop cover to neutralize Steph Curry 10 feet from the basket on a night where his run of 233 straight games was cut short with a made three-pointer. Wiggins filled the scoring vacuum, scoring a team-high 26 points and completing his metamorphosis into an indispensable talent. It’s a scenario that two years ago would have been considered a far-fetched development.

The Warriors’ coaching staff and egalitarian movement offense deserve some credit for Wiggins’ growth. Their offensive distances allowed Wiggins to exploit lanes and use his explosive finishing ability. Being relegated to fourth option on the offensive side allowed him to come in on the defensive side as well. After surviving a dogfight with the beefier Luka Doncic, he’s back in the right weight class and gives Jayson Tatum a fit. Defensively, his athleticism and height left Tatum in a cage in the fourth quarter. Wiggins made life miserable for Tatum during the regular season, so this is no fluke. At 42:18 of matchup According to NBA.com, Wiggins has kept Tatum at 37.5 percent of the field.

The Timberwolves finally seem to be turning the corner, but we’ve seen this happen before, right before they crash and burn. If things stagnate again, Karl Anthony-Towns may want to keep an eye on the exit and see how his predecessors have prospered beyond the land of 10,000 lakes.