|What Could Have Been?|
Last year, Andrew Wiggins was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick. It was the second year in a row and third-time-in-four years that the Cavs held that pretty astounding distinction.
There were few who had any issue with Wiggins going number one. The raw athletic ability at the wing position, coupled with a tenacious defense-first mentality, had plenty of NBA executives salivating, regardless of of whether or not he lived up to a ridiculous level of expectations in his one year at Kansas.
While Wiggins was in fact picked by the Cavaliers, and even did a rookie photo shoot in the wine-and-gold (pictured above), there was much in the works at the time.
LeBron James was a free-agent who after four years in sunny South Beach was reportedly looking at coming back home to Cleveland, to live in his unbelievable Bath Township mansion and bring his local team back to championship contention, after spurning them four years earlier.
By putting the return in motion, he could have his cake and eat it too. Going to Miami made him a villain, particularly to the folks back home. There has never been a bonfire so big created by one player's jersey. To Cleveland Cavaliers fans, he cheated on them with the prettier, more hip woman and lived well doing it. Four finals appearances, two championship, and a chance to play the rest of his career without any real "he's not a winner" criticism. He came back to Cleveland, brought all the lessons he learned in his "college" experience in Miami, and wiped the slate clean with the last group who truly hated him. The Brondigal Son Returned.
As you would expect from someone who has become a global monolith, LeBron has the utmost belief in all of his talents. One place where he has been deficient, however, is as a general manager. He's not a general manager, you say. Well, yes and no. When you carry as much weight as he does to a team on the court and an organization off of it, your word can basically be the final one. He's too important to your fortunes to not let him tell you where to direct the spoils.
It was in the maelstrom of his return announcement that it became evidently clear GM LeBron wanted Minnesota Timberwolve Kevin Love. James crafted his "Coming Home" letter with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins mentioning almost everyone on the team except Andrew Wiggins. The reason no trade happened immediately had to do with NBA rules on how quickly you can trade a just-drafted player. The three-team blockbuster ultimately happened, with the principals of Love coming to Cleveland for Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Bennett was the Cavalier's first-round pick from 2013. (Brutal first round pick, but look at the 2013 NBA Draft class and convince me that it doesn't look like one of the biggest duds in history...)
I was totally on-board with the Cavaliers getting Love. With the hyper-talented combo guard Kyrie Irving already in the fold and re-signed longterm, LeBron had put together his Big Three Part Deux. In his six season with the T-Wolves, Love - YES I KNOW HE DIDN'T MAKE IT TO THE PLAYOFFS ONCE, EVEN JUST ONE MEASLY-SNEAK-INTO-THE-8TH-SEED TIME - put up huge numbers, and displayed a preternatural talent for rebounding and outlet passing. He could score in a plethora of ways, and had become a proficient three-point shooter, something that would match up well with LeBron's propensity to slash-and-kick to open shooters. And, he was still only 25 years old.
There was a group of people who said that Cleveland didn't need to make this trade. Bill Simmons was prominently one of them. Simmons noted that you could still trade for Love before the trade deadline. The same deal would probably still be there.
If you waited and started your season with Wiggins, you could see the way he meshed with and learned under LeBron, and what glimpses of greatness that he could yet grow into, LeBron would already carry you very far on his own, so why not see what kind of upside you had.
It is my contention that LeBron's best Robin is a player not unlike himself. A Pippen to his Jordan. From what we saw in the Finals, an Andre Iguodala type. A player who can provide a worthy facsimile of your offensive output when you're on the bench, and can be your perfect complement when you're on the court together. An athletic wing, willing to run and defend. A super "3-D"!
Flash forward a year. Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year and showed more than a glimpse of how great he can be. Love, meanwhile, struggled to assimilate, said in an interview that a player on another team should be the MVP, missed the final three rounds of the Playoffs with a separated shoulder, opted out of next year's contract, and has apparently come across so badly in his year with the Cavs that LeBron does not even plan to recruit him back.
Of course, who knows if everything happens as it did if Wiggins breaks camp with the Cavs. A large part of their success came after big trades that netted them three-fifths of their eventual starting five. Also, did Love's injury rob him of the opportunity to have Playoff moments that would bring him closer to the team and make him feel good about his place on it. We will never know.
It would have been great to see Wiggins with an engaged LeBron. With how much LeBron seemed to ultimately relish the role as Papa Bron, can you imagine what he could have done with the raw talent of Wiggins.
Back to Iguodala.
It hit me that Iggy is perhaps the worst-case (and frankly, not a bad best-case) scenario of Wiggins' potential. Wiggins is 6'8", 199 lbs; Iguodala is 6'6", 215 pounds. They are both great defenders and capable of hitting a three. They are uber-athletes who can slash and score, especially in transition.
In his rookie year, Wiggins:
- Played all 82 games, averaging 36.2 minutes per game
- Had per games of 16.9 Points, 4.6 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists, 1.0 Steals, 0.6 Blocks, 2.2 Turnovers, shot 44% from the field, 76% from the line, and 31% from three,
In his first six seasons as a main starting player for the 76ers, Iguodala:
- Played 81 games per season, averaging 38.2 minutes per game
- Had per games of 15.9 Points, 5.8 Rebounds, 4.6 Assists, 1.8 Steals, 0.5 Blocks, 2.5 Turnovers, shot 46% from the field, 75% from the line, and 32% from three,