At just past 2 p.m. on Sunday, Andrew Wiggins was hunched over a small table in the corner of a grocery store in south Overland Park. He was here to sign autographs, and the line stretched out the door, snaking onto a concrete sidewalk, where a pack of Kansas fans had congregated.
The line moved quickly, even as Wiggins kept pausing to pose for photos. But if you looked closely at the stack of shiny promotional cards in front of Wiggins, you could see a small sliver of irony in this pre-packaged public appearance.
On every card was the same photo of Andrew Wiggins, wearing a yellow Cleveland Cavaliers jersey.
By now, you probably know that Wiggins, the former Kansas star and No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, will never wear that Cavaliers jersey in an official NBA game. He won’t be suiting up alongside LeBron James. He won’t be chasing NBA rings in the Rust Belt. If all goes as planned, Wiggins is headed to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a blockbuster deal that will send All-Star forward Kevin Love to Cleveland.
But after a month of waiting and wondering about his future home, Wiggins is starting to welcome the challenge that awaits. In the past few weeks, Wiggins went as far as telling Self that he wanted the trade to happen.
“He’s looking forward to going to Minnesota,” Kansas coach Bill Self said on Sunday, while hosting a youth camp with Wiggins at Shawnee Mission West. “Everyone would love the opportunity to play with LeBron, which guarantees winning—but the whole thing is, with the longevity of his career, he needs to develop a mindset to be ‘the guy’ for him to be great. And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”
The Cavaliers selected Wiggins with the No. 1 pick on June 26, and when LeBron James unveiled his Decision 2.0 to return to Cleveland on July 11, it felt almost perfect. Wiggins, once declared the best high school prospect since LeBron, could learn under James’ wing and develop at his own pace.
“Initially, I thought, ‘Well, how good could this be?’” Self said. “ … He’ll learn from the best. And everybody needs a mentor.”
But in the days after LeBron’s announcement, the trade rumors and reports were already circulating. The Cavaliers were interested in acquiring Love, a free agent after next season, and Wiggins was a prime trade chip. As Wiggins arrived in Las Vegas for the NBA’s Summer League, he began to confide in those close to him. He was probably headed to Minnesota.
“When all the trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew,” Self said. “And Andrew told me, he said: ‘I hope I get traded.’
“I’m like going: ‘No you don’t.’ and he said: ‘No, coach, I do. This is better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do. I need to go somewhere I’m kind of forced into being something, as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I could be a piece.’”
In other words, Wiggins seeks an environment where he can spread his wings and grow. In Cleveland, Wiggins would have played in the comfort of James’ shadow. In Minnesota, he’ll be forced to be The Man.
“And he is right,” Self said.
Self, of course, would know better than most. During one season at Kansas, Wiggins had the propensity to leave his coach wanting more. He dominated at times, but disappeared at others, floating in and out of games. His jumpshot was inconsistent, and his ballhandling could be too loose, and at times, it looked like he was still working on harnessing his raw gifts.
Self likes to say that Wiggins’ skill set didn’t match his athleticism. When it does, Self says, well look out. For now, though, Self still believes Wiggins could average 15 or 16 points per game as a rookie.
“It won’t be long before he’s averaging 20 a game in the league,” Self said.
Later on Sunday, Wiggins spoke to campers at Shawnee Mission West, extolling the virtues of hard work and school. He politely declined to speak with reporters, and for now, his future isn’t quite official.
Wiggins signed his rookie deal with Cleveland in late July, and in accordance with the NBA collective bargaining agreement, he can’t be officially traded for 30 days. That means the proposed deal, which will also send forward Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick to the Timberwolves, can’t be officially announced until Aug. 23.
But for now, it appears that Wiggins is poised to begin his NBA career in Minnesota. The Timberwolves are rebuilding, and with Love gone, they’ll be searching for a new leading man. Wiggins can be that — even if he’s still signing shiny cards with the Cavaliers logo.
“This will help develop that personality,” Self said. “He’s just young. I think he’ll continue to grow in that way, and he’ll do all right.”