While watching Team USA's scrimmage the other night and witnessing Paul George's unfortunate injury -- best wishes to PG, one of my favorites -- I had five immediate thoughts:
1. Paul George is gonna be out at least all of next season. That compound fracture goes right into the pantheon alongside Shaun Livingston and Kevin Ware for "Most Disgusting Basketball Injuries Ever."
2. The Pacers are gonna be a lottery team. And, as sick as it sounds, that might be the best thing for them. They desperately needed a talent infusion, especially after losing Lance Stephenson for nothing.
3. There but for the grace of The Flying Spaghetti Monster goes Kawhi Leonard. (As Buck Harvey from the Express-News pointed out over the weekend, Leonard has to be careful since he hasn't signed that life-securing contract yet.)
4. International basketball will never be the same after this. At least until the next time Team USA loses in the Olympics that is, then they'll go for broke in the name of winning the same as before.
5. Poor Andrew Wiggins.
Poor Andrew Wiggins? What?
Admittedly I don't have as much exposure to Wiggins as most. I've only seen a couple of his college games and a couple more of his Summer League outings for the Cavs, but isn't his best case scenario somewhere between a George or a Leonard, a dude who's first and foremost a defensive shutdown guy and one whose athleticism will allow him to score easy points in transition and off broken plays while the rest of his game develops?
The thing that both George and Leonard had going for them, besides their talent and work ethic, was that neither was drafted to be a savior or even expected to be good right away. Leonard's situation you know about, so we don't need to expound on that.
Look at George's case though. Remember, he was drafted by a Pacers team where Danny Granger was already the established star and Roy Hibbert was the nascent second-banana. A steady Mike Dunleavy started ahead of George, who wasn't even old enough to buy beer yet. That was a fun squad -- and a deep one compared to the Indy teams of recent seasons -- but ultimately they finished 37-45 because of their youth and the Darren Collison/T.J. Ford platoon at point guard and a power forward rotation of Josh McRoberts, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Foster a.k.a. "Three white guys who are just going to beat you up for 48 minutes but have few other discernible skills."
Still, George managed to start 19 games and averaged 7.8 points in 20.7 minutes. The Pacers' brass had seen enough to realize that they didn't blow the pick and they had something special in him.
The next season, the Pacers built around Granger, Hibbert and George. They signed David West and jettisoned Josh McBob. They got rid of Dunleavy and gave George the full-time starting job. They traded the 15th pick of the draft (which became Leonard) for George Hill, to help out at the point since Collison wasn't cutting it. They didn't feel they needed Leonard though, not only because they already had Granger and a potential young star in George, but also because they also had another raw, talented athlete on the squad in Lance Stephenson, General Manager Larry Bird's long term project.
Dealing Leonard looks terrible in retrospect because, in order A) Granger suffered a bad knee injury and is a shell of himself now, two teams removed, B) Hill hasn't gotten better like the Pacers hoped he would, C) Stephenson's game developed but his maturity didn't and he left in free agency when Indy didn't hand him a star-type offer, D) Leonard learned how to like, play offense, and E) George just broke his leg in the type of way we'd usually see in a summer blockbuster.
At the time the trade was made it didn't seem like a bad idea at all, no matter what anyone tells you now.
Anyway, by year three, aided somewhat by Granger's unexpected injury, George's development shot into hyperdrive to the point where he became a better player than Granger ever was. Also, along with Hibbert and West, George helped the Pacers get to within one game of the NBA Finals in 2013. He was even better this past season, but some of the pieces around him crumpled for various reasons that aren't worth getting into. The point is that both George and Leonard have realized their potential, and one of the biggest reasons why they did is because neither were unfortunate enough to land on awful teams surrounded by selfish veterans, in-over-their-head coaches, and clueless management.
Naturally, this brings us to the Minnesota Timberwolves, forever grateful that the Sacramento Kings exist, lest they be acknowledged as the biggest joke in the Western Conference. It seems more and more apparent that poor Wiggins -- just 19 years of age -- is Minnesota bound, with even T-Wolves owner Glen Taylor finally relenting to what's been apparent for awhile now and admitting to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that his team will deal free agent-to-be Kevin Love in the near future, presumably upon the expiration of Wiggins' 30-day roster freeze, on the 23rd of August.
It seems as if the Cavs are letting Wiggins dangle in the wind these 30 days, not really appraising him of their plans for him one way or the other. After all, he did give a "SportsCenter" interview where he said "I just want to play for a team that wants me. So whichever team wants me I'll play for," but while that quote sounds like he's befuddled about his future, I don't read it that way at all.
My guess is the Cavs have been upfront with him on some level. No matter what he or they've said publicly, both sides probably know what's really going on. If they really haven't told Wiggins anything, then it just looks really bush-league to treat a kid that way, especially the first pick of the draft.
To me, when Wiggins said he just wants to go where he's wanted, he's all but referring to the Wolves specifically and has just been coached by his agent and parties on from both teams to not give away what is at this point an open secret. I think it's his way of saying, "Hey, if it was up to me I'd end this charade and fly over there tomorrow instead of having to wait 20 days before I can meet my new coach and teammates and get my bearings and start my professional career." I don't see him as being dangled or languishing or any of that. I just see a rookie waiting for the inevitable.
And I still think the Cavs are making a mistake, unless LeBron James' camp made it crystal-clear-non-negotiable that a trade for Love was mandatory for him to leave Miami. That may well be true, as ESPN's Bill Simmons and others have pointed out, James conspicuously left out both Wiggins' and Anthony Bennett's names out of his infamous "I'm Coming Home," letter in SI.com.
Regardless of whether the decision to deal for Love was made before or after James signed, it's clear that they wouldn't go through with it without his approval. Apparently I had it wrong (I'm as shocked as you are) about Wiggins' potential to develop into a George or a Leonard being a part of the lure for LeBron. Nope, he wants the easy fix, playing with two other stars, the same as four years ago when he ran away to Miami in the first place. Right now, it looks like the cynics had it right: when the going gets tough for James, roster-wise, he gets going.
James had say in roster decisions his first time around in Cleveland, even though the revisionist history in his brain was that ex-GM Danny Ferry messed it all up in failing to build around him. Maybe he's just not a very good big-picture talent evaluator. We're talking about the same guy here who campaigned for James Jones to play in the Finals (both Jones, and LBJ-pal Mike Miller, just signed with Cleveland).
It's true that Love is a much better player than Wiggins now, but he has a ceiling. He's already as good as he's ever gonna be, and I think of him as an A'mare Stoudemire type, someone who be plenty productive but whose defensive inefficiencies are always going to limit what he can accomplish. Add him to a defensive-challenged backcourt with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters and where are the stops going to come from? Sideshow Bob?
Wiggins would give James a chance to rest some on defense and could develop into the perfect sidekick, similar to what Dwyane Wade was for a couple of years before his body betrayed him. The reason the Heat experiment worked so well right away wasn't just because they had three stars but because they were three of the most athletic two-way players in the league. Even when the Heat were struggling with their roles offensively -- trading your-turn, my-turn ISO possessions like the Thunder -- they had Erik Spoelstra's manic trapping defensive system down pat almost from the beginning. Their length and freakish athleticism helped them win a lot of games. The Cavs could be a better version of that, unstoppable in a year or two, if only James exercises a little patience.
Instead they appear to be going for the short-term fix, content with being the favorites in the East. But without any plus defenders on the floor except James they'll be underdogs in the Finals since you can't win a title without getting stops. I don't get it. It's a fantasy basketball team for sure, but it's not the recipe for a champion.
The real victim though, is Wiggins, who's going to be left in Minnesota and may forever be looked upon as by their fans as THE GUY WE TRADED KEVIN LOVE FOR. He's going to be under tremendous scrutiny for someone barely half Tim Duncan's age and will be pressured to be a savior instead of getting to develop at his own pace.
Maybe you're saying that's how it should've been all along. Number one overall picks are supposed to go to terrible teams and guys like Duncan are the outliers in that regard. Philadelphia or Milwaukee were supposed to win the lottery in the first place, not the Cavs. I see the argument that if Wiggins never turns into a star for Minnesota then it just wasn't in him to be one.
I still think it's a shame for a kid who seemingly fell into a perfect situation, a fourth-banana on a stacked team with the perfect mentor for his talents, could have that opportunity snatched away from him before he takes one meaningful dribble for the Cavs.
How ironic would it be if Wiggins really does go to the Wolves? It's more like being fed to them.