Zulgad: Give Flip Saunders credit for making the most of a tough spot
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A Timberwolves official tweeted the following on Saturday afternoon: "Welcome to the dawn of a new day! #eyesontherise"
The initial takeaway upon seeing this bit of extraordinary optimism was that only the Wolves could be forced to trade away their best player and attempt to find a bright side.
This is a franchise that hasn't made a postseason appearance in 10 years, has now traded its best player twice in the past seven years, and has set the reset button so many times in 25 seasons that, on the surface, even the biggest optimist would seem to be a fool for believing that having to trade Kevin Love to Cleveland was a good thing.
Nonetheless, the temptation is to cut the Wolves some slack and wonder if maybe, just maybe, Flip Saunders has worked a three-team trade that should provide reason to believe this organization might have finally done the right thing.
The long-awaited trade that the NBA finally allowed the Wolves to announce on Saturday, landed 2014 first-overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013 first-overall pick Anthony Bennett and power forward Thaddeus Young in Minnesota. Young came from the 76ers as part of a deal in which Philadelphia got the expiring contracts of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved from the Wolves, along with Miami's 2015 first-round pick from Cleveland.
"We've all of a sudden become athletic, exciting and fast instead of being maybe a little bit slower and more plodding," said Saunders, who added the Wolves' head coaching duties this offseason to his title of president of basketball operations.
A word Saunders did not use to describe his team during his Saturday press conference at Target Center was "interesting." That, however, would have been appropriate given that he managed to keep the Wolves relevant while having to deal Love.
When the Wolves traded Kevin Garnett to Boston in the summer of 2007, the key return was Al Jefferson. Jefferson was a good player but the feeling was that the Wolves had just lost their best player and there was little hope that things would improve or that there was any type of plan in place.
This time around there does seem to be a plan and it will revolve around Wiggins and point guard Ricky Rubio.
Rubio needs to improve his overall game but he remains an elite passer and there's no reason why he can't, or won't, strive to become a better player in 2014-15. For the time being, this is Rubio's team.
The Wolves did not draft Wiggins, but his presence on the roster marks the first time in franchise history the Wolves will have the top-overall selection from that year on their team. Wiggins averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in 32.8 minutes last season during his one-year stay at Kansas.
There was a feeling that he might have deferred too much, but Saunders saw far more positives than negatives and said the Wolves had Wiggins at the top of their draft board in June.
"Offensively, the way this game is played, he was by far the best finisher in college basketball," Saunders said. "His ability when he got the ball on the break, he finished at the rim as well or better than anybody. Those are things that transcend into the NBA with the open-floor games that we play."
While the Wolves got a couple of youngsters in Wiggins and Bennett, Thaddeus Young will bring a veteran presence to the power forward spot that will be opened by Love's absence. Young spent seven seasons with the 76ers and, given Philadelphia's interest in trying to lose as many games as possible these days, he might be one of the few players who views moving to Minnesota as a grand opportunity.
Bennett, who was a bust as a rookie with the Cavs, reportedly has dropped 20 pounds this offseason and will be penciled in as Young's backup.
"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."
It remains to be seen if Saunders and his coaching staff are able to achieve this and there are no guarantees that this version of the Wolves will be able to match the 40 wins that last season's team got under then-coach Rick Adelman.
But give Flip credit for this much. He traded his best player on Saturday and managed to get a return that should make his team worth watching this season. That alone has to be considered a victory for a franchise that more often than not has been easy to ignore.