Timberwolves win a lot of championships, just not for Minnesota

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins
Photo: Getty Images

Since the Minneapolis Lakers won half of the league’s first 10 NBA titles and then shuffled off to Los Angeles where they won13 more, Minnesota has been an incubator for NBA championship parades–in other cities. After the Lakers’ relocated to L.A., 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 donned T-Wolves uniforms, then became apex predators on Finals teams elsewhere. With one more win against Boston, Wiggins could be the latest NBA champion forged in the winters of Minnesota to become a cog in a more stable franchise’s championship pursuit.

Butler bricked the shot that would have put Miami in its second Finals in three years, and was a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater from potentially doing the same in Philadelphia. Yet, his glass ceiling in Minnesota was the first round.

Garnett immediately winning a title in Boston after scrapping just to get by in the West should have been the canary in the coal mine. Joe McHale’s final outlet to Danny Ainge resulted in the Celtics’ first title of the 21st century and the dawn of a new golden era. Minnesota failed to capitalize on its post-Garnett rebuilding stage, while Boston flipped Garnett into the assets that eventually formed their current core.

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

In 2014, LeBron orchestrated a Cavs-Timberwolves swap for Love, but not before awkwardly signaling that Wiggins was on the outs through 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 get back to Wiggins in a moment, though. In Minnesota, Love watched the playoffs from home every season. Love sacrificed his numbers to play the Chris Bosh role. Until the Cavaliers pulled off the first 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals, Love’s acclimation to Cleveland was rocky. Yet, without his contributions, the Cavaliers organization’s first title would not have happened.

Andrew Wiggins’ glow-up 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 acquired Wiggins two years ago, his contract was considered the NBA’s worst. The former No. 1 overall pick was such a disappointment that the T-Wolves surrendered 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’d need to showcase in Golden State: the ability to defend and spot-up shooting. In 2022, he drained 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’ nascent basketball IQ catches up to his raw skills.

He’ll never develop into the T-Mac 2.0/Paul George facsimile scouts envisioned him being when he was drafted first overall in 2014. He’s far too stiff as a creator off the dribble to be a transcendent scorer. However, in Golden State, he’s found his niche in the Iggy-Barnes hybrid role and hasachieved his final form.

For most of his career, Wiggins has hooped like he was 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 mustered four points and four turnovers in his NCAA Tournament finale.

In Game 5 against Boston, Wiggins broke the cycle that’s defined his career. Boston ditched their drop coverage to neutralize Steph Curry 30 feet from the basket on a night where his streak of 233-consecutive games with a made 3-pointer was snapped. Wiggins filled the scoring vacuum, notching a team-high 26 points and completing his metamorphosis into an indispensable talent. It is a scenario that would have been perceived as a farfetched development two years ago.

The Warriors’ coaching staff and egalitarian motion offense deserve some credit for Wiggins’ growth. Their offensive spacing has allowed Wiggins to exploit driving lanes and utilize his explosive finishing ability. Being relegated to fourth-option on the offensive end also allowed him to lock in on the defensive end. After surviving a dogfight with the stockier Luka Doncic, he’s back in the proper weight class and giving Jayson Tatum fits. Defensively, his athleticism and length put Tatum in a cage during the fourth quarter. Wiggins has made life miserable for Tatum throughout the regular season, so this isn’t a fluke. In 42:18 of matchup time, Wiggins has held Tatum to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, according to NBA.com.

The Timberwolves finally appear 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 might want to keep an eye on the exit and peep how his predecessors have thrived outside of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

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