NBA PM: The Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes
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The Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes
Every so often, a once-in-a-generation talent comes along who has the potential to completely turn around an NBA franchise. Players like LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose were hyped up for years, lived up to the lofty expectations and transformed organizations from lottery fodder to perennial contenders. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a player like that enter the league, but that should change next summer.
Andrew Wiggins is expected to enter the 2014 NBA Draft and, barring something catastrophic, he’ll almost certainly be the top overall pick. NBA executives have been drooling over Wiggins for several years. The kid is an athletic freak, who dominates his peers just like James did at St. Vincent St. Mary back in the day, and he has the potential to become one of the league’s best players.
A highlight reel of Wiggins’ mediocre plays looks better than most prospects’ best film. The one criticism of Wiggins is that he tends to coast at times, mostly when he gets bored of completely destroying the opponent. This is common for young superstars; the same was said about James when he was starring for The Fighting Irish and former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson wrote that a high school Kobe Bryant would let struggling teams back into games just to give them hope and rip it away. Just about everyone believes that Wiggins is special – executives, coaches, fellow players, etc. – and that he’ll be as great as he wants to be.
When rebuilding teams look at Wiggins, they see a face-of-the-franchise player who can make them relevant and very good in the near future. Teams are already positioning themselves for the Wiggins sweepstakes, hoping to accumulate the most ping pong balls at season’s end and then get lucky in the lottery. These teams aren’t necessarily tanking – it’s not like they’re resting players or telling their roster to lose games. They’re just making an organization-wide decision to rebuild and putting themselves in position to potentially land a great player. That means parting ways with veterans, playing the young talent on the roster and being patient. Sometimes it means experimenting with Kevin Durant at shooting guard or putting Victor Oladipo at point guard, which ESPN’s Henry Abbott refers to as “sneaky tanking,” but that’s another article for another day.
Even if those teams miss on Wiggins, there are several nice consolation prizes in the 2014 draft class. Players like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon may not have Wiggins’ hype or upside, but they each have star potential in their own right. Landing one of those players should help ease the sting of missing on Wiggins, just as players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did for teams that missed on James in the 2003 NBA Draft.
Here are several teams that have positioned themselves for Wiggins and friends next summer. It’s possible that other teams, such as the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors, could join this list if they make some moves, but they don’t project to be bad enough as currently constructed.
Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers are clearly rebuilding around their young core, which features under-25 lottery talents Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. Philadelphia went 34-48 last season, but this team will look very different in the 2013-14 season after trading Jrue Holiday this offseason and letting veterans like Nick Young, Andrew Bynum and Dorell Wright walk as free agents. New general manager Sam Hinkie is putting all of his chips on the team’s youth, and they’ll be able to add at least one more top prospect next year (maybe two if they get the New Orleans Pelicans’ top-five protected pick). Adding Wiggins alongside Noel, Carter-Williams and the rest of their young players would likely make Philly one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league.
Orlando Magic – Orlando’s approach is that they’re going to play their young guys and see what happens. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is following the Oklahoma City Thunder model, playing young players and stockpiling draft picks. Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and others will see the floor a lot next season. The young team went 20-62 last year, and they’re sending their veterans packing left and right. J.J. Redick was traded last year and they parted ways with Al Harrington and Beno Udrih this summer (and Hedo Turkoglu may be next since only $6 million of his $12 million of his contract is guaranteed). If Orlando’s young players make significant improvements, they may win a few too many games to land Wiggins. However, they’re definitely in the mix for the top overall pick and the thought of Wiggins joining the Magic’s young core is pretty scary. Orlando will also receive a second 2014 first-round pick from either the Denver Nuggets or New York Knicks (whichever is less favorable) thanks to last summer’s four-team Dwight Howard trade.
Phoenix Suns – The Suns won just 25 games last season, and they may finish with even fewer wins in 2013-14. While they added great long-term pieces like Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin as well as a number of future draft picks, they parted ways with veterans like Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal among others. They’ll also be playing for first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek, who is the first to admit that there will be an adjustment period as he gets used to being the lead man on the sideline. All eyes will be on Bledsoe this season – if he’s able to have a breakout campaign and his individual success translates into wins, Phoenix may be better than expected. However, it’s not hard to imagine this team losing a lot of games and focusing on the development of their young talent, much like the Orlando Magic. New general manager Ryan McDonough is clearly building through the draft and it’s possible that some of the veterans he inherited from the previous regime like Marcin Gortat or Goran Dragic could be moved for more draft picks or young players. As of now, the Suns could have as many as three first-round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft and five picks in the next two drafts.
Sacramento Kings – Unlike some of the teams on this list, the Kings are trying to take a step forward this season and compete in the Western Conference. The priority is to field a competitive team, which is why they acquired veterans such as Greivis Vasquez and Carl Landry this summer to play alongside their young core of DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and Isaiah Thomas. With that said, they would obviously love to luck into Wiggins, leapfrogging teams with worse records on lottery night. Last season, the Kings went 28-54 but this year’s team will be very different. Not only will they have new faces in the locker room with Vasquez, Landry, McLemore and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute among others, they have a new general manager in Pete D’Alessandro and head coach in Mike Malone as well. It’s hard to tell how this team will fare – they may show significant improvement or they may land a top-seven draft pick for the sixth consecutive season.
Charlotte Bobcats – After two straight years of accumulating a ton of ping pong balls and then moving back in the lottery, the Bobcats are tired of stockpiling draft picks and crossing their fingers. If they manage to win the lottery and land Wiggins, they’ll celebrate, of course. But in the meantime, they want to compete and try to win some games. That’s why they signed Al Jefferson and drafted an NBA-ready big in Cody Zeller. They’re hoping that Jefferson and Zeller can thrive alongside Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson as they take the next step in their development. Zach Lowe of Grantland recently broke down the Bobcats’ summer and why they made the moves that they did. This franchise has endured a lot of losses in the last few years. Twenty-eight wins in two years is about as bad as it gets. Now, they want to at least be slightly better than that. It may seem like a strange time to splurge on a marquee free agent and try to win some games considering the 2014 draft class is so talented. But again, when a team loses 120 of 148 games in two years, it isn’t fun for anyone and things must change.
Utah Jazz – The Jazz are coming off of the best season of any team on this list, a 43-39 year in which they finished just two games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. However, the 2013-14 Jazz team will be unrecognizable to the casual fan. Gone are Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson among others. In other words, just about every veteran from last year’s team. The Jazz are finally handing over the reins of the team to their young core of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and, now, Trey Burke. The team is thinking about the future rather than the present, and while it’s the right move for the direction of the franchise, it’ll likely mean a lot of losses during the upcoming season. Burke will have to transition to the NBA, which can be a tough thing for a point guard since there are so many talented floor generals in today’s league. It’ll also be the first time that Favors and Kanter are full-time starters, which is an adjustment as well. Utah may be just good enough to miss out on Wiggins, but you never know with the lottery. The thought of Wiggins joining this young core in Utah is scary for other teams around the league.
Which team will get Andrew Wiggins next summer? Leave a comment below.
Minnesota Timberwolves Re-sign Nikola Pekovic
The final notable free agent has finally agreed to terms on a new contract. Nikola Pekovic, the only player remaining on the market who will receive a lucrative contract, has re-signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Flip Saunders, who is the president basketball operations for the Wolves, broke the news on Twitter earlier this afternoon.
#wolvesnation. We have agreed to terms with Pek.
— Flip Saunders (@Flip_Saunders) August 14, 2013
Pekovic will earn $60 million over five years, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. The deal will also include $8 million in incentive-related bonuses. There won’t be a team option or player option in the deal.
The big man has shown that he’s one of the most underrated centers in the league. Last season, he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds for the Timberwolves.
Had he not been a restricted free agent, he would’ve been signed much sooner. However, because he was restricted, he was waiting on an offer sheet that didn’t come (because teams knew Minnesota would match) and the Wolves were waiting for the market to set the price so that they didn’t bid against themselves.
At the end of the day, they agreed to terms on a deal straight up. Pekovic’s other options included continuing to wait for an offer sheet or signing for the one-year qualifying offer worth $6,046,500 and becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Now, Pekovic doesn’t have to worry about that. He has his long-term deal and the Timberwolves locked up their center, meaning that their core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Pekovic are under contract for at least the next three seasons.