Wiggins Returning to Toronto? Slow Down
Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri recently made headlines when he alluded to bringing phenom Andrew Wiggins back home to Toronto at some point in the future. Ujiri said it without actually saying it, as he would’ve been punished by the NBA for tampering had he mentioned Wiggins by name.
Ujiri, who was the keynote speaker at the Canadian Basketball Speakers Forum, was asked if he could land any player in the NBA aside from LeBron James, who would he take? He hinted it would be Wiggins, who was born in Toronto and grew up a Raptors fan.
“We all know who he is, I’m not even going to say his name,” Ujiri said, according to Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press, drawing cheers from the crowd. “He might be Canadian.”
Later, the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year made it clear that he wants to add Canadian players to Toronto’s roster in the coming years.
“There is no doubt in my mind during my time, even if my time is short, there will be a [Canadian] playing for the Toronto Raptors, 100 percent,” Uriji said, according to Ewing. “I have no doubt in my mind. It’s something we think about every day, it’s something we study – the guys in the NBA, the ones outside the NBA, the younger kids, the kids in college, the kids playing overseas. We’re just waiting for that one to come. … Basketball in Canada really, really intrigues me and, I’ll tell you what, there’s a bright future, I know that. I’ll just put it this way: hopefully Canadian basketball players aspire to play for the Raptors.”
Those comments obviously excited Toronto fans, who would love to welcome Wiggins home. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has been excellent with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and seems like a lock to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. He has emerged as a two-way contributor for Minnesota, averaging 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Tonight, Wiggins will play in Toronto for the first time in his NBA career. Prior to the game, local reporters asked him about his future and whether he’d be interested in playing for the Raptors at some point. Wiggins didn’t reveal anything, giving the perfect response to any question about his future.
“I love Minnesota,” Wiggins told reporters, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. “They treat me nice up there. I plan to be there a very, very, very long time.”
It’s worth noting that in July of 2013, before Wiggins was trained to change the topic and always give a politically correct response to questions like this, he told a reporter that he wanted to play in Toronto. When asked what team he felt would be the best fit for him at that point in time, Wiggins responded with a smile: “I would like to say the Raptors because I want to play for them.”
That was obviously a long time ago, before he played for Kansas or joined Minnesota, but it’s easy to see why Raptors fans are excited about the possibility of a Wiggins homecoming.
However, those fans will have to be very patient. As Wiggins said, he’ll almost certainly be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future. The absolute earliest that he could become an unrestricted free agent would be after the 2018-19 season. But even that is unlikely. That would entail Wiggins turning down a (likely max) contract extension from the Timberwolves, signing for the one-year qualifying offer worth $9,846,619 to get out of being a restricted free agent and then playing out that final season in Minnesota. That’s very risky, as Wiggins would be delaying his big payday by one year and crossing his fingers he doesn’t get injured or play poorly as he approaches free agency.
Some analysts wondered if Kyrie Irving would sign for the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent, since he was rumored to be unhappy with the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to the addition of LeBron James and Kevin Love. However, he obviously inked a five-year, maximum extension with the franchise last summer and silenced any speculation that he was disgruntled or looking to leave.
Star players just don’t turn down max extensions in favor of the qualifying offer. It hasn’t happened. Greg Monroe signing for the Detroit Pistons’ qualifying offer this past summer was an example of a player deciding to delay a big payday to become an unrestricted free agent, but he wasn’t being offered a max deal (as Wiggins should receive if he lives up to expectations). It’s possible that a player could sign an extension and then try to force a trade to another team, but they wouldn’t really have any leverage since they can’t leave.
The point is this: Unless Wiggins does something that no max-level player has done before, all other suitors will have to wait for him to hit unrestricted free agency after his second contract expires or hope he tries to force a trade at some point. While it’s understandable that fans in Toronto are hoping for a homecoming and Photoshopping Wiggins into a Raptors jersey, it’s just not something seems realistic in the near future.
Sure, Wiggins may decide to pull a ‘LeBron’ someday down the road, at which point feel free to put together the obligatory mixtape featuring “I’m Coming Home” by Diddy and Skylar Grey. But even the absolute earliest he could do that is still “a very, very, very long time” from now.
Mourning Believes Love Will Join Lakers
Speaking of homecomings, Kevin Love to the Los Angeles Lakers has obviously been rumored for years. Love was born in California and played his college ball at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers from 1973 to 1975. There have been plenty of reports linking Love to the Lakers, even though he has said he’s committed to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Love being benched in the fourth quarter of some recent games and seeming unhappy with his role at times in Cleveland, the talk has surfaced again recently.
This time, it was former NBA player Alonzo Mourning (who now works in the Miami HEAT organization as the Vice President of Player Programs and Development) who got people buzzing about Love-to-L.A.
“Then you’ve got Kevin Love, who’s not happy at all; he’s outta there,” Mourning told SLAM in a Q&A. “I think he’s probably going to go to L.A. I could see that.”
It should be noted that Mourning was questioning LeBron James’ decision to leave Miami just before making the comments about Love, so this could be a case of sour grapes.
However, it’s odd that he offered this without any prompting and it lines up with what some other people around the NBA have speculated too. The fact that Mourning works in a front office role with an NBA team does lend some credence to these rumors, but only time will tell what Love decides to do.
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