Ever since the Minneapolis Lakers won half of the league’s first 10 NBA titles and then moved to Los Angeles, where they won 13 more, Minnesota has been an incubator for NBA championship parades in other cities. After the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, the NBA didn’t return to Minnesota until 1989. The Timberwolves established a new tradition: as exporters of champions. Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins donned T-Wolves uniforms and then became top predators on Finals teams elsewhere. With one more win against Boston, Wiggins could be the latest NBA champion forged in Minnesota winters to become a cog in a more stable franchise’s championship quest.
Butler blocked the shot that would have put Miami in his second finals in three years, and Kawhi Leonard couldn’t help but do the same in Philadelphia. However, the glass ceiling for him in Minnesota was the first round.
Garnett immediately won a title in Boston after scrapping only to survive in the West, he should have been the canary in the coal mine. Joe McHale’s final exit to Danny Ainge resulted in the Celtics’ first title of the 21st century and the beginning of a new golden era. Minnesota failed to capitalize on its post-Garnett rebuilding stage, while Boston invested Garnett in the assets that eventually formed its current core.
Love was an instant All-Star, but Minnesota ruined the dog by selecting 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 trade for Love, but not before clumsily pointing out that Wiggins was out of the picture via his Sports Illustrated “Coming Home” ad. Lost in the middle of the rehearsal that inspired a million memes was Wiggins’ exclusion from teammates he hoped to play with.
We’ll get back to Wiggins in a bit, though. In Minnesota, Love watched the playoffs from home every season. Love sacrificed his numbers to play the role of Chris Bosh. Until the Cavaliers pulled off the first 3-1 comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals, Love’s acclimatization to Cleveland was shaky. However, without his contributions, the Cavaliers’ organization’s first title would not have happened.
Andrew Wiggins’ brilliance from Minnesota is a testament to Golden State’s ecosystem and leadership, serving as the perfect petri dish for it to grow. When the Warriors acquired Wiggins two years ago, his contract was considered the worst in the NBA. The former No. 1 overall pick was such a disappointment that the T-Wolves gave up an additional first-round pick for D’Angelo Russell. Immediately after the trade, ESPN’s Paul Pierce and Brian Windhorst discussed the two skills he would need to display in Golden State: the ability to defend and shoot from the right spot. In 2022, he drained nearly 40 percent of his attempts and earned a (only) All-Defensive Team vote. The 2021 first-round pick along with Wiggins will likely be an asset to future Warriors contenders once Jonathan Kumingas’ budding basketball IQ catches up with his raw abilities.
He’ll never become the T-Mac 2.0/Paul George facsimile scouts envisioned him to be when he was drafted first overall in 2014. He’s too rigid as a dribbler to be a transcendent scorer. However, in Golden State, he found his place in the Iggy-Barnes hybrid role and achieved his final form.
For most of his career, Wiggins has worked as if he were in the Witness Protection Program. He had the tools, but he wasted them on rudderless talent. The brighter the spotlight, the more he cringed under the pressure. Wiggins had four points and four turnovers in his NCAA Tournament final.
In Game 5 against Boston, Wiggins broke the cycle that defined his career. Boston abandoned its shooting coverage to neutralize Steph Curry 30 feet from the basket on a night in which he snapped his streak of 233 straight games with a made 3-pointer. Wiggins filled the scoring void, scoring a team-high 26 points and completing his metamorphosis into an indispensable talent. It’s a scenario that would have been perceived as a far-fetched development two years ago.
The Warriors’ coaching staff and equal-motion offense deserve some credit for Wiggins’ growth. His offensive space has allowed Wiggins to exploit the driving lanes and utilize his explosive finishing ability. Being relegated to fourth option on the offensive end also allowed him to lock himself in on the defensive end. After surviving a dogfight with the burly Luka Doncic, he’s back in the proper weight class throwing Jayson Tatum tantrums. Defensively, his athleticism and length put Tatum in a cage in the fourth quarter. wigs has made life impossible for Tatum throughout the regular season, so this is not a fluke. In 42:18 of confrontation time, Wiggins has held Tatum to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, according to NBA.com.
The Timberwolves finally seem to be turning the corner, but we’ve seen this happen before, right before they crash and burn. If things get bogged down again, Karl Anthony-Towns might want to keep an eye on the exit and see how his predecessors thrived outside of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.