Let’s start here: I think there’s a better chance than not that Andrew Wiggins is on the Timberwolves’ roster next season. He’s a talented 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year about to enter into five very highly paid years. The former makes it hard for the Wolves to give him up, and the latter makes it hard for them to find a willing taker.
I’m also not convinced trading Wiggins would be a good idea. I’m over 50 percent on the “yes” side, but not by much. There’s a lot to consider, even after his disappointing fourth NBA season and imperfect fit on a roster with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.
But Wiggins is the Wolves’ most enticing asset. And particularly if the Wolves are able to retain Butler and Towns this offseason with expensive extensions, the possibility of a Wiggins trade after the new league year begins in July is at least worth considering. Even after the Wolves improved by 16 victories and reached the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons, there wasn’t the sense that they could just run it back with the same roster next year and improve. Advancing into the next tier might necessitate more shaking things up, and Wiggins is a candidate.
So consider this an exercise in assessing Wiggins’ potential value and what he might fetch in return if — a big if — the Wolves decided to go that route. As I see it, there are four realistic types of deals given where the Wolves are in their development:
1) Go big or go home: I think the single biggest thing missing on the Wolves’ roster right now is a shot-blocking, defensive-minded big man. If you want an eraser that fixes a lot of defensive deficiencies, go get yourself one of those. Tom Thibodeau had one in Chicago with Joakim Noah when he had all those highly ranked defenses. He lacks a player like that in Minnesota, and the defense has suffered accordingly.
Names to consider: Two guys come to mind. One is the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside and the other is Detroit’s Andre Drummond. Both are defensive beasts who can also score. Both have big salaries that would match up with Wiggins’ max deal. Whiteside is being mentioned in rumors as a trade bait because of a lackluster performance in this year’s playoffs. Drummond has been mentioned in trade rumors in the past, too — most prominently to Boston.
So what’s the problem: Whiteside is under contract for just two more seasons, and one of those is a player option. The Wolves would be trading their relative problem for the Heat’s relative problem, and if you deal for him and it doesn’t work out, you could be left with nothing. And in both cases, the Wolves would also probably need to move Gorgui Dieng — lest they have a TON of salary tied up in big men, along with Towns and Taj Gibson.
2) Cut and run: The Wolves could flat-out decide the Wiggins extension was a mistake and take on useful players on shorter-term contracts to get out from the deal while still charting a course for a repeat trip to the playoffs.
Names to consider: A team like Brooklyn — bereft of elite young talent because of damaging deals involving draft picks — could view Wiggins as a key piece around which to build. The Nets could send back DeMarre Carroll or Allen Crabbe (shooters who would help next year) and enough spare parts to make the money work.
So what’s the problem: Brooklyn would be getting the best player in the deal, and the Wolves would be giving up on Wiggins at a relatively young age — with the potential to look foolish down the road.
3) The unlikely home run: Tom Thibodeau swung a franchise-changing deal for Jimmy Butler last offseason. Could he do it again this offseason?
Name to consider: Kawhi Leonard. He’s one of the best players in the NBA, and his situation in San Antonio is strained to say the least. He would give the Wolves a devastating Big Three along with Butler and Towns, and mayyyybe Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would look at Wiggins and think he can maximize his potential.
So what’s the problem: Leonard is due for a massive contract, and his health is in question. Also, if the Spurs trade Leonard, can’t they do better than this? (Yes).
4) Opportunity knocks: Sometimes a playoff flameout creates momentum for change via a trade. I could see two potential teams in this sphere: The Raptors and the Blazers.
Names to consider: Toronto has some intriguing matches. DeMar DeRozan had a rough postseason and is neither a great three-point shooter nor lockdown defender, but he’s become a very good scorer and all-around offensive threat. He’s basically an older (almost 29) version of Wiggins and is essentially the kind of player Wolves fans now hope Wiggins will become. The Raptors were the East’s No. 1 seed but were swept by the Cavs, with DeRozan shrinking along the way. Wiggins is a Canada native who could be a megastar in Toronto. Point guard Kyle Lowry is another name to consider in a deal (along with other parts) that would presumably include both Wiggins and Jeff Teague in return.
Portland, meanwhile, was swept by New Orleans in the first round — leading to some thoughts that the Blazers might need to deal either C.J. McCollum or Damian Lillard in order to try something new. McCollum is a great shooter who would change the Wolves’ offense, while Lillard is a fearless point guard. Both names are intriguing.
So what’s the problem: Wiggins for DeRozan seems to make the most sense on multiple levels of any deal mentioned here, but is that really a game-changer for the Wolves? It might make them a couple wins better, but you don’t look at it and think they could suddenly compete against Golden State or Houston. The other deals make you think, “Would the other team really do that?”
Indeed, the best trade the Wolves could probably make would be dealing 2017-18 Wiggins for a consistent, truly dynamic version of Wiggins in 2018-19. I’m just not sure that trade is any more likely than the ones mentioned above.