The Toronto Raptors didn’t draft Andrew Wiggins. They were too good. They made the playoffs in a season everyone—even the team itself at one point—figured they’d tank.
It was fun and all, but as attention shifted from the giddiness of a first-round playoff appearance to the realities of the NBA draft, it looked like they’d fumbled the kind of chance—drafting a neighbourhood superstar—that might never come around again.
But these are your new Toronto Raptors, the ones that turn obstacles to opportunities. They are luckier than a colony of ants finding an open bottle of maple syrup.
Far from an opportunity missed, suddenly things couldn’t be lining up more perfectly for their dreams of landing Canadian basketball’s first prodigy.
All it will take is time.
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No one from the organization can or will talk about the potential impact of Wiggins and fellow Toronto-born No.1-overall pick Anthony Bennett being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal that will send Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even Drake wouldn’t want to pay those fines.
But there is no doubt that everyone from MLSE president Tim Leiweke to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to Drake himself heard the news that the deal will be completed later this month—first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski—and gathered for some communal chest bumping.
Who knows what getting Wiggins out of Cleveland would have been like after he’d been to the NBA mountaintop alongside LeBron James?
Getting Wiggins out of Minnesota first chance? Easy as pie.
If Leiweke, Ujiri and Drake can’t pull that off, then they aren’t nearly the salesmen they have made themselves out to be. This is a superstar-in-waiting placed on a tee. It will be up to MLSE’s three wise men to drive it home.
Nothing can happen for the moment. The deal itself can’t be confirmed until August 23rd, 30 days after Wiggins signed his rookie deal with the Cavaliers.
Moreover, the soonest that Wiggins could begin to make noises about leaving Minneapolis would be in the summer of 2017, which is the earliest he can be offered an extension on his rookie scale contract. If he begins to balk then, it would likely kick-off a lengthy auction for what will hopefully be an emerging NBA star at that point. If he takes the safe route and signs an extension he’s likely in Minnesota until 2021.
But for all the restrictions on player movement in the NBA, history has shown that when a player really wants out of one place and has a preferred destination in mind, things tend to get done.
In all, it’s an incredible stroke of luck for Toronto—and Canadian basketball—this entire James homecoming.
That LeBron wants to win immediately in Cleveland compelled him to recruit Kevin Love, the ideal floor-spacing big man whose prime (Love is 25) perfectly meshes with LeBron’s own.
And that Love was entering the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves?
There are NBA markets that are plagued with self-doubt; that look at all the sunny, happy, glamourous places and question their place in the basketball universe.
There is Utah and Memphis and Milwaukee and, yes, there is Toronto, even though everyone here knows that it’s just good old fashioned ‘Merican ignorance that keeps our condominium construction site with pretty girls from being more widely known as an NBA ‘it’ spot. Fixing that is Drake’s job.
And then there is Minnesota.
When NBA free agents come up with their list of things they’re looking for as a potential destination, the Timberwolves have none of them.
Weather? Minneapolis is the coldest major city in the United States. Its average December-to-February temperature is 18 F, or -8 C. That’s average. Even last winter, during the Polar Vortex, Toronto’s average temperature was -3.3 C. Typically, Toronto winters come in at a balmy 0 C.
As one NBA source put it: “Compared to Minnesota, Toronto is tropical.”
Winning tradition? The Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years, the longest drought in the NBA. They had Kevin Garnett on their roster, in his prime, for 12 years and made it past the first round of the playoffs only one time.
It’s got one of the highest state income tax rates, and as for culture? Well, Fargo was filmed and set in Minnesota. So was Grumpy Old Men. And The Mighty Ducks. You get the picture.
Even if Wiggins wasn’t from Toronto, hanging with Drake at OVO Fest and having Caribana parties at the most happening club venues would make Toronto seem like Rio compared to Minneapolis.
But this is his hometown. He is at the forefront of an emerging culture shift that has made basketball part of the fabric of his city.
Wiggins knows all this. Two years ago on the red carpet at the ESPYs he was asked where he wanted to play in the NBA, if he could choose and he said Toronto. Privately he’s echoed the same sentiments.
Moreover, James has made being a hometown saviour the next big thing for those wanting proper superstar recognition. If and when Wiggins decides he wants out of Minnesota, forcing his way to Los Angeles or Miami would be deemed an insult. He would come across as a selfish glamour seeker.
Forcing his way out of Minnesota to come to Toronto?
That’s just a kid wanting to come home and inspire another generation of Canadian basketball talent. Leaving Minnesota to come to Toronto wouldn’t make him selfish, it would make him a pioneer.
And for the Raptors the trade comes with something even more important: Wiggins gets to learn on the job on someone else’s dime, while shouldering the load of a franchise.
“With LeBron, Wiggins would defer too much,” said one source who has known Wiggins well. “When he’s the main man, he’s a completely different player. He can show that in Minnesota.”
There were always some concerns about Wiggins—or any of the other elite young Canadian talent—being the first to be drafted by the Raptors and growing up as a professional here.
Adjusting to the NBA is tough enough, doing it in your hometown as the first Canadian superstar to suit up for the Raptors would add another layer of complexity.
Now the Raptors get the best of all worlds. Ujiri/Drake/Leiweke can go about the business of building a winning basketball team while Wiggins goes through his growing pains in a cold place far from home before finally making a triumphant return—not as a saviour, but as the final ingredient in a championship contending maple syrup-flavoured pie.
For this, LeBron, Canada thanks you.