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Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) is pressured by Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) is pressured by Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
Three additions from Love trade give Wolves new identity
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Superior Wisconsin 1226 Ogden Ave. Ste. 1 54880

By Andy Greder

St. Paul Pioneer Press

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MINNEAPOLIS -- In the four-month buildup until Kevin Love was traded from the Timberwolves on Saturday, president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said the franchise sought a cornerstone player who could transform their identity.

In Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves received the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft, a high-flying, defensively stout 19-year-old who was compared to former NBA great Dominique Wilkins.

They also received two forwards in 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, seven-year veteran Thaddeus Young and a trade exception worth about $6.3 million. In exchange, they gave up Love, a perennial all-star who missed the playoffs in all six seasons in Minnesota, as well as Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.

“We’ve all of a sudden become athletic, exciting and fast instead of being maybe a little bit slower and more plodding,” Saunders said in a news conference after the trade became official Saturday.

In the three-team trade, Cleveland gave up Wiggins and Bennett to get Love and put him alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, while Philadelphia gave up Young to get Shved, Mbah a Moute and Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that came from Cleveland.

When it became evident at some undisclosed point in 2014 that Love would opt out of the final year of his contract (2015-16) and sign elsewhere, Saunders and general manager Milt Newton began entertaining and extracting offers.

“It became very evident to anyone that contacted us that in order to do something, we were going to demand something in return that was going to benefit us either now or in the future,” Saunders said.

With the three new players – as well as Zach LaVine, the No. 13 pick in June’s draft – Saunders said the Timberwolves have an identity that includes more athletic, two-way players they lacked when he was hired as president last year.

With Wiggins and LaVine making plays at the rim, Saunders called it “a point guard’s delight” for Ricky Rubio, who can become more of a de facto leader in the absence of Love.

Before they take the court, Wiggins, Bennett and Young will be introduced at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair. LaVine, who is close with Wiggins, will join them.

The Wiggins-Wilkins comparison came from Stu Jackson, an NBA TV analyst as well as former Vancouver Grizzlies and NBA executive.

Like Wiggins, Wilkins never played a game for the team that drafted him. Before the 1982-83 season, Wilkins was traded from Utah to Atlanta, where he became a scoring champion, slam-dunk champion and nine-time all-star.

“He has the huge, athletic wow-factor that Dominique always had,” Jackson said. “He has the ability to create shots that most other players can only dream of creating: The step-back, the spins, the one-foot takeoff, the two-foot takeoff.”

Wiggins’ “limitless” athleticism is primarily the speed and how the game comes easy to him, Jackson said.

“In other words, his skills are innate, while not polished,” Jackson said. “His ability to slash to the basket, put the ball on the floor, his intuitive sense and habit of creating space on his jump shot.”

While Wiggins will likely be able to get to the rim, finishing there will take time because Jackson doesn’t believe he is strong enough right now.

Saunders said Wiggins, who is 6-8 and has a 7-foot wingspan, can guard four positions – from point guards to power forward.

“It’s much easier to develop that young talent, if you can put him on the floor where he isn’t a defensive liability in real games,” Jackson said.

In Young, the Wolves will get a veteran presence to go with Wiggins, Bennett and LaVine, who are all 20 years old or younger. Young, 26, will be in the older half of players on the current Wolves roster.

“We felt, with the young players that we have, that if we could get a solid veteran guy that has (been) basically a borderline All-Star statistically, that would help us,” Saunders said.

Young has two years and more than $19 million remaining on his current contract, but can exercise an early-termination option after next season.  

When asked about how Young aids the prospects of winning now, Saunders said, “I don’t want to sell the six, seven, eight (more veteran) guys we got coming back short.”

In Bennett, the Wolves will attempt a reclamation project from the top overall draft pick in 2013, who had a dismal rookie season.

Saunders said former Cavs coach Mike Brown told him that Bennett was a better pick-and-roll defender. In Las Vegas, Bennett looked to be in better shape than his injury-impacted rookie season, Saunders added.  

The Wolves currently have about 6,500 season-ticket holders and have seen significant sales in the last month, which is usually a quiet period for ticket sales and interest in the team.

There is optimism that a sharp increase of fan interest and ticket sales will continue through training camp in October and beyond.

“We’re not trying to get a team that’s going to become a playoff team whether it be one, two, three or four (years),” Saunders said. “We’re trying to get a team put together that has the ability to try to compete in the upper echelon in the Western Conference and in the league. We feel with the talent that we brought that those guys have that type of ability. Now it’s a matter of us to work with them and to get them to reach that potential.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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