Timberwolves Wise to Double Down on Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett Pairing

It was a good move, from acquiring an elite prospect like Andrew Wiggins to securing Anthony Bennett as a buy-low throw-in. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t winning with Kevin Love, anyway. 

Of course, the typical skeptic will argue against dealing established talent for guys whose appeal is strictly tied to long-term potential, given the uncertainty that comes with it and the time it takes to reach. 

Then again, if Wiggins does hit his stride and Bennett eventually figures it out, the Wolves will likely look back on the trade as a huge success, considering the ugly position the organization was put in. 

And based on the current setting in Minnesota, you have to really like their chances.

Offensive freedom, no expectations, built-in camaraderie—Wiggins and Bennett, whose relationship dates back to their days playing AAU ball for the Canadian-driven CIA Bounce, are looking at a no-pressure environment with unlimited opportunity. 

The Timberwolves will get to develop these guys under fairly ideal conditions—as long as management and fans can sit tight while each prospect works out the kinks in their respective games.

Arguably the biggest knock on Wiggins as a college freshman was his tendency to drift or disappear. Playing amongst fellow star prospects and veterans at Kansas, he’d often go long stretches without taking a shot. The only real question that scouts continuously asked was whether or not they were looking at an eventual No. 1 scorer or a complementary weapon. 

Wiggins won’t find a better stage to develop his go-to scoring repertoire on than the one he’s got lined up in Minnesota. What better way to ignite a prospect’s confidence than to consistently give him the rock under nothing-to-lose circumstances?

As a rookie, he’ll be getting the green light he’ll hope to have as a top option for a playoff team three to four years down the road. Consider this upcoming season valuable on-the-job training. 

The Timberwolves offer Wiggins a chance to fine-tune his offensive arsenal (step-backs, pull-ups, fall-aways, drives, floaters) on an every-game basis alongside guys like Bennett, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad—other rookies and sophomores also at early stages in their development.

The fact that Wiggins will be going to a team where he’ll see familiar faces, each looking at similar hurdles, should help raise his comfort level as a 19-year-old newcomer breaking into the league.

“It’s been a crazy summer, really up and down. Kind of lost, not really knowing where I’m going,” Wiggins told the Associated Press, via ESPN. “But I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got off the plane at the airport, so it’s all good now. I’m excited for this season.”

The move was good for Bennett as well, as it gives him a chance to start fresh and shake off the bricks he threw up and the boos that followed.

Last season, we’d see Bennett alternate 20-minute games with four minutes cameos and the occasional DNP. And when he actually did get time, he was never really able to get his footing or gain any stability—like a fatigued water polo player struggling to make plays in a deep pool.

But the water is shallow in Minnesota, where Bennett will have a more defined role and a better shot to nail it. 

Like it should be for Wiggins, the young roster and unestablished chemistry should be good for Bennett, who won’t have to try too hard to fit in or think about living up to the hype. 

“I’ve been hearing all the talks for a while now,” said Bennett. “So me being here in Minnesota, it’s a great (state). It’s a great fan base, great team coming up where everybody’s young. We have some vets, too. I’m just here to learn from everybody.”

With Love essentially forcing his way out, the Timberwolves turned a bad hand into one that could pay off big time later on. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post actually rated this the best superstar trade (in Minnesota’s favor) of this era.

You’re never going to get direct equal value in return for a superstar on the trade market. But in Wiggins, the Wolves managed to reel in a rare talent with a ceiling that technically exceeds the height of the hot shot they just dealt. If it clicks for Wiggins, Minnesota could be looking at one of the game’s top two-way wings as a dynamite scorer and lockdown defender.

In Bennett, Minnesota gets a project. And he’ll need work. But at 21 years old, he’s not broken. There’s still some untapped offensive game bottled up inside him somewhere.

Hopefully, pairing the two together on a team with other guys their age will help create a more favorable environment for each to really flourish.

I’m viewing this trade and move as a positive for both Wiggins and Bennett individually, and in turn, a surprise win for the Timberwolves as a franchise.

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Who Will Step Up as Anthony Davis’ Wingman Next Year for New Orleans Pelicans?

Burgeoning New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is ready for everything.

Ready to be the NBA‘s “next in line,” as he was christened by reigning MVP Kevin Durant in the media. Ready to be Team USA’s “main guy” like coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters he would.

Most importantly, Davis is ready to put the Pelicans on his back and flyif he can find a co-pilot on this roster.

The front office has tried to deliver one. Several of them, actually.

Last summer, the Pellies parted with a pair of first-round picks to swipe All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday away from the Philadelphia 76ers. A three-team trade brought over former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans shortly thereafter.

With potential sidekicks Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon already in place, New Orleans appeared to have built something that had a chance to be special. How strong that chance is remains a mystery, as a brutal rash of injuries prevented the Pelicans from getting a clear look at their roster.

All five players lost at least 10 games to injury, and combined they racked up 151 absences. That number was higher than the minutes this quintet logged together (90).

Lessons weren’t learned last season—other than the fact that Davis’ hype is real, warranted and still not as high as it should beand the only problems discovered were physical. Holiday (right tibia), Anderson (spine), Gordon (left knee) and Evans (right knee) have all gone under the knife since last hitting the hardwood.

Before the Pelicans can worry about Davis’ wingman, they need to field a healthy roster around him. It sounds like that hurdle has either been cleared or is in the clearing process now:

That shifts the focus over to finding Davis’ Robin, a steady supporter who consistently makes life easier as the league’s next superstar.

Forget what the Pellies‘ 34-48 record suggests. There are a number of intriguing options to consider.

Outside of Davis, Gordon might have as much talent as anyone on the roster. He has a pair of 20-plus-points-per-game scoring averages on his resume and has averaged at least 3.3 assists in each of the past four seasons.

There’s a reason he’ll be collecting the highest salary on the team next season ($14.8 million).

Then again, there’s also a reason Grantland’s Bill Simmons ranked Gordon’s contract as the seventh-worst in the league last season.

After missing four games his rookie year, he’s missed an average of 32 games since. His old explosiveness has left his legs, and his formerly top-shelf (or somewhere near it) talent may be gone as well.

“The Eric Gordon of old is likely no more,” wrote Joe Gerrity of Bourbon Street Shots, “and the Eric Gordon of new is hardly worth a fifth of his currently salary.”

There’s a chance the new Gordon is no longer even worthy of a starting spot. The buzz about the topic is loud enough that it’s been brought to his attention, but he (predictably) said he wants nothing to do with the idea.

“I won’t get into that because I thought they brought me here to lead and set the tone for the team,” he told John Reid of The Times-Picayune. ”I’ve got a lot to prove in my career and I’m still young (25). So the more durable I am will really show what I’m capable of.”

If Gordon comes out of Monty Williams’ starting lineup, Evans could find his way in.

The 24-year-old had a hard time finding his niche early on, but he broke out in a big way when injuries forced him into the opening lineup. For the first time in what felt like forever, he looked like the transcendent talent who once put up historically significant averages as a rookie.

Those numbers won’t be easy for Williams to look past and might be enough for Evans to get in with the starters.

They aren’t, however, convincing enough to declare him ready for the wingman role. He has had extreme difficulty with repeating success—his scoring average has dropped in each of his last four seasons—and his lack of a reliable three-point shot (career 26.8 percent) can plague his production on any given night.

Davis’ wingman won’t come from the frontcourt, either. It’s not that the players around him (Anderson and newcomer Omer Asik) are poor fits, but the two might work so well in tandem that it could be hard for either to stand out.

New Orleans’ three-headed monster in the middle could be as ferocious as any in the business.

Asik is 7’0″ and 255 pounds of physical interior defense and bone-rattling screen-setting. He’ll wage some of the wars down low that Davis had been fighting on his own, providing some relentless rebounding (career 13.3 average per 36 minutes) in the process.

Anderson brings something entirely different, namely his reliable three-point cannon (38.6 percent for his career). With the 6’10″ sniper spreading defenses thin, the floor is then open for the wildly productive pick-and-roll game that Davis already seems to have mastered.

Of course, someone will need to work that two-man game with the single-browed baller. And that someone just so happens to be the best bet for a two-way sidekick, Holiday.

“I think he’s an elite point guard with size and strength,” Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said of Holiday, via Reid. “I think he’s going to be good for us for a long time.”

Holiday is built perfectly for a Robin-type role. He can blend his game however the team needs on a nightly basis, and his talent extends to nearly every point on the stat sheet.

Only he and Washington Wizards All-Star John Wall have averaged at least 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in both of the last two seasons. Holiday can run an offense, and his career 37.6 three-point percentage allows him to threaten a defense away from the ball.

For all of his offensive talent, though, his best work might come at the opposite end of the floor:

Holiday could be the key to the Pelicans bringing everything together.

As long as this roster stays healthy, the offense should take care of it itself. But this defense needs to make significant strides after finishing tied for 25th in efficiency last season.

That ranking should really improve with Holiday back in the fold. New Orleans allowed just 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him and Davis on the floor last season, which would have pushed the Pellies up from the bottom tier and into the upper half (would have ranked 13th).

Now that Asik has joined Holiday and Davis, New Orleans should climb even higher:

Davis is New Orleans’ ticket to wherever it can go, so his supporting cast will be graded on well it can complement him.

No one will receive higher marks than Holiday. As Bourbon Street Shots’ Michael Pellissier observed, Holiday’s well-rounded game should help him check off nearly as many boxes as Davis:

Anthony Davis is often referred to as a unique superstar because he is able to make an impact on the game without scoring a point. Jrue is similar, though clearly to a much lesser extent. Jrue’s versatility allows him to make an impact as a scorer, facilitator, rebounder, or defender. Very few NBA players are immune to poor scoring nights, and it is of paramount importance to be able to make an impact elsewhere. Jrue can.

The Pelicans didn’t have the chance to find an identity last season.

They were explosive offensively some nights and razor-sharp at the opposite end on others. More often than not, they fell somewhere in between, neither an unstoppable force nor an immovable object.

They were fortunate enough to employ one of the game’s premier rising stars, but circumstances denied this club the opportunity to follow his lead.

If this team can stay healthy, good things should come in its future. But with a talent as tantalizing as defense, good isn’t good enough.

Davis needs help for this franchise to find greatness. He needs Holiday to fill the critical wingman role.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

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Can Anthony Bennett Shed Premature Bust Label with Minnesota Timberwolves?

After a disastrous rookie season, there’s little that can be more beneficial than some re-calibrated expectations and a fresh start somewhere new.

By being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a part of the Kevin Love deal, Anthony Bennett will get just that.

The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world when they took Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Then he put forth one of the very worst rookie campaigns we’ve seen out of a top overall pick in quite some time.

Sean Highkin of Sports on Earth explained why things went wrong:

Bennett’s rookie year was a nightmare on every level. Coming off shoulder surgery that ended his UNLV career, he showed up out of shape, averaged just 12 minutes per game while missing 30 games, and was generally awful when he did play for the Cavs. He averaged just 4.2 points and three rebounds per game and became the first No. 1 pick to not make either the first or second All-Rookie team due to non-injury reasons since Kwame Brown in 2002. His college nickname, “Big Daddy Canada,” became less about his impact and more about his weight. Even in a draft as weak as 2013, the pressure of being a top pick weighed on him and destroyed his confidence. At one point, he temporarily deleted his Twitter account because the hateful messages became too overwhelming.

“I just put a lot of pressure on myself,” Bennett said on Sunday. “Things weren’t going right for me. Everything just collapsed and built up. I got down on myself.”

It’s not hard to see the path that led Bennett to failure in his rookie season. His injury led to poor conditioning, his conditioning led to missed jump shots and his missed jump shots led to a crippling lack of confidence.

Without any success to remind yourself of at the pro level, things can spiralboth physically and mentallypretty quickly for a young player.

Bennett was prematurely labeled a bust for his tough rookie season, but he’s already setting out to turn things around and get his career on track.

At the Las Vegas Summer League, playing in front of his old UNLV fans, Bennett looked notably trimmer and more assertive with the ball. Although he wasn’t dominant, he looked like a top pick should.

“I’m really happy with the way Anthony has come to our camp,” Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt told Zach Lowe of Grantland in a Q&A earlier this offseason. “He’s worked extremely hard, has improved his body, has improved his approach. He’s maturing. He’s on the right track. We’re gonna see what we can do with him.”

While it’s hard to blame the Cavs for shipping out Bennett, this year’s top pick (Andrew Wiggins) and a future first-round choice to land an established star like Kevin Love, it obviously wasn’t ideal to move Bennett with his trade value as low as it will ever be.

In Minnesota, however, the focus will change.

Instead of having to be a piece capable of sharing floor time with LeBron James, Bennett won’t face much pressure in Minnesota at all. The majority of it will instead be with Wiggins, as Thaddeus Young will almost certainly replace Love as the starting power forward.

Here’s Josh Haar of Bleacher Report:

Bennett can now start anew with the Wolves. He will likely play bench minutes throughout 2014-15, but the forward will carve himself a larger role moving forward—if he reaches his full potential, that is. Let’s not forget his lone season at UNLV, in which he generated 23.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 53.3 percent shooting per 40 minutes (via Sports-Reference.com).

If Bennett can revert to the versatile scoring machine he was in college, he will certainly establish himself as a more significant threat. Losing that extra weight is a step in the right direction. On a developing Minnesota squad, he holds the opportunity to revitalize his career and aid the Wolves’ future advancement.

In a bench role, Bennett can take his time and develop out of the spotlight a bit.

Moreover, while Kyrie Irving is undoubtedly a very talented point guard, his focus was often to score instead of distribute. In Ricky Rubio, Bennett can rest easy knowing that if he’s open, he’ll get the ball.

The reduced minutes of a bench role should help Bennett’s overall effectiveness. Although you hope conditioning is no longer an issue, playing in short spurts should allow Bennett to be more active crashing the offensive glass, where his size and athleticism can really cause problems for defenses.

It’s easy to fall in love with the potential of what Bennett can become, even if he doesn’t project as a strong defender.

Bennett is comfortable as a pick-and-pop big man around the top of the arc, but he can also face up and take slower power forwards off the bounce. Stick a small guy on him at the 4, and he can post up and move his weight around.

There’s a lot to like here, even if we saw only brief glimpses of it in his rookie season. By having some of the pressure removed in Minnesota, though, Bennett almost gets a mulligan on his rookie year and gets to try again in a completely new situation.

Zach Harper of CBSSports.com has more on Bennett:

He may never live up to his No. 1 selection, even in a weak draft. But there is a difference between ending up like every other player on that list of historically failing rookies and being the first player on that list to show it was an outlier to their career. There is a difference between being a bust and being able to consistently fill a role in the rotation for your team.

Bennett surprised us on draft night by being selected with the first pick. Let’s see if he can surprise us again.

As Harper explains, it’s far too early to shut the book on Bennett and assume he’ll be the bust he was in his first season.

Bennett won’t need to do a whole lot to improve upon that campaign, and with positive momentum so easily achievable and the expectations relatively low, Bennett should change a few minds with his play for the Timberwolves this season.

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Anthony Bennett to Timberwolves: Latest Trade Details, Analysis and Reaction

One year after the Cleveland Cavaliers used the first overall pick to select Anthony Bennett, they have traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a blockbuster deal for Kevin Love.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN confirmed the deal is now official after being expected for the past couple weeks. Here are the complete details of the agreement:

The Timberwolves confirm the deal and provide reaction from head coach Flip Saunders:

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports JJ Barea was not involved:

Bennett endured a rookie season that fell well short of expectations. He appeared in 52 games, starting none, while averaging just four points and three rebounds per contest. Poor shooting was a major factor in those struggles as he shot less than 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three.

While one season isn’t enough to make any final judgments, the lack of production definitely raised concerns about his long-term outlook. He certainly didn’t look ready to make an impact for a championship contender, which the Cavs became following the return of LeBron James.

NBA.com passed along the ugly shot chart from his first NBA campaign:

Normally a team wouldn’t be in a position to move on from a top pick that quickly. Obviously Cleveland found itself in a unique position once James announced his comeback. The Cavs received an opportunity to acquire Love, and they couldn’t pass it up.

The move is a golden chance for Bennett to press the reset button. It’s a fresh start with a new team, and the pressure of being drafted first overall is alleviated, at least to an extent. He’s now just part of the package for a player the Wolves likely weren’t going to keep anyway.

Furthermore, there have been signs of progress.

He was far more involved during NBA Summer League action. He averaged 13 points and eight rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field. Those numbers are still not what most would expect from a No. 1 pick, but it was a solid overall effort.

James Herbert of CBSSports.com passed along comments from Bennett as he worked to get back on track, and he was confident better days were ahead.

“I told them pretty much it was a disappointing season for me, but I’m not going to stop there,” he said. “I’m not going to get down on myself. I’m going to continue to work hard throughout the whole summer and do my thing in summer league.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from Bennett in his second season following a change of scenery. Though it’s unlikely he will transform into a major factor right away, Minnesota will hope he can at least become a more reliable contributor.

Plenty of untapped potential remains, but there’s a lot of work to do. If he can make steady progress over the next couple years, perhaps three or four years down the road he will become the star Cleveland thought it was getting when it drafted him.

As for now, the Cavaliers will start chasing championships with James and Love while the Timberwolves will begin focusing on growing and building around their young core.

 

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What Should New York Knicks Expect from Carmelo Anthony After Offseason Changes?

Through the tumult of the New York Knicks’ disappointing 2013-14 season, it was easy to see past the sequoia-thick silver lining of Carmelo Anthony authoring arguably the best season of his 12-year NBA career.

That was hardly consolation for Anthony himself, who very nearly wound up bolting for the more championship-ready Chicago Bulls, before finally agreeing to terms on a fresh, five-year, $124 million deal to stay in New York.

Despite a slew of mostly lateral moves, the Knicks are by no means seen as a conference powerhouse heading into the 2014-15 slate. Still, Phil Jackson has managed to improve his team on the fringes, while the addition of Jose Calderon alone gives Anthony the pure point-guard playmaker he’s never had.

So should Knicks fans expect an encore performance from their franchise cornerstone?

One thing we can count on is a drastic change in offensive philosophy, from the isolation-heavy sets that defined the Mike Woodson era to Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher’s triangle-inspired system.

Indeed, Jackson spoke to precisely this point during a July press conference, relayed here by ESPN New York’s Fred Katz:

If we’re still going to sit and rely on Carmelo to do everything and put that load on him, that’s not going to happen. Sometimes it means buying into the system and giving yourself into a process.

One of the things about the offensive system is you can’t try to score every time you catch the ball. You have to participate and you also have to have guys who are strong enough to know that there’s a whole offense to run.

Yet, while Anthony’s reputation as a shameless gunner has become something of a basketball gospel, his career assist mark—3.1 per game, to go along with a wholly respectable 15.8 percent assist rate—imparts some hope that a change of schematic scenery could do wonders for the All-Star forward’s all-around game.

Assuming, of course, that Anthony sees vessels worthy of his trust around him. That, in the end, might be Jackson and Fisher’s biggest test.

The good news: Even Anthony admitted, during an interview with Raul Alzaga of PrimeraHora.com, that this season could be another somewhat painful prelude to bigger and better things. He said it would take time to be a championship team, and that’s not a realistic expectation for this season, although he’s very much invested in the process (translation h/t to Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk).

For Jackson, that process involves outfitting the Knicks with more triangle-conducive pieces. Calderon, whom New York acquired in a predraft trade that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks, being the opening salvo to that strategic symphony.

In Calderon, Anthony will have the ideal triangle complement: a player who, for all his defensive shortcomings, possesses both the poise and playmaking ability to keep the offense humming harmoniously along. And the 41 percent career three-point rate doesn’t hurt, either. Pablo Prigioni, meanwhile, gives the Knicks an equally triangle-friendly backup.

As for the rest of the roster, question marks abound. For all their offensive skills, Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire don’t exactly fit the mold of the playmaking triangle center. Ditto Samuel Dalembert and Cole Aldrich, two centers likely to round out the team’s post depth.

And while New York’s wings could prove a strength—J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. all being capable shooters, albeit with varying degrees of pass-aversion—how Fisher manages those minutes looms large in terms of the team’s on-court chemistry.

Still, taken as a whole and considering the offensive makeover afoot, Anthony has to feel far better about his team’s prospects now than he did even a few short months ago.

Conceptually, the triangle—by virtue of its built-in dynamism—will allow Melo to both operate as a playmaker from the elbow, while affording him ample open looks from the wings (although he was considerably more efficient from the left than the right last season, per Vorped).

All the while, baseline cutters (Shumpert and Hardaway could be dangerous in this regard) and spot-up shooters (the aforementioned wings, as well as Calderon, Prigioni and perhaps even rookie Cleanthony Early) should spare Anthony the burden of relying too heavily on his role as basketball bully.

Writing at Bleacher Report, Sean Hojnacki emphasized that, for Anthony, thriving in the triangle is less about reinventing himself than it is about readjusting his approach:

There will be an adjustment period, to be sure. A whole host of new players have joined the team, chief among them the new starters in center Samuel Dalembert (who has not averaged more than 22.2 minutes per game in any of the last three seasons) and point guard Jose Calderon, both of whom will be 33 years old when the season begins.

The triangle will benefit greatly from Calderon’s three-point shooting (44.9 percent, 191 threes made) in addition to Pablo Prigioni’s marksmanship (46.4 percent from downtown last season), which placed both of them in the top five among all three-point shooters for 2013-14.

However, the jewel in the crown will be Melo’s play in the pinch post. It will be up to Anthony to become the prototypical scorer from that floor position, where he is uniquely capable of thriving.

Even if Anthony’s scoring goes down, his efficiency and assist rate could be poised for career clips. On the flip side, reducing Melo’s raw shot attempts mean fans should expect his rebounding (he registered a career high 8.1 per game a season ago, 1.9 of them on the offensive glass) to take a bit of a hit.

Defensively, it’s likely Anthony will remain what he’s always been: mostly passable, with dashes of lock-down aggressiveness and flagrant nonchalance sprinkled in.

Being the all-world talent Melo is, the statistics will take care of themselves. More important from Jackson and Fisher’s perspective is whether their hardwood warhorse can become the leader New York needs, not only for this team this season, but through the rebuild to come as well.

Judging by his well-publicized recent weight loss—part of the goal of which, a source told the New York Post‘s Marc Berman, was to “be a facilitator in the triangle”—Anthony seems committed to assuring that’s not a faith placed in vain.

With the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers looking like the lone sure things in a still-inferior Eastern Conference, the Knicks are one of many teams whose fortunes could veer in wildly different directions.

For New York, much hinges on Fisher’s ability to make his team’s triangle transition as seamlessly as possible, along with the players’ willingness to both buy into the system and pay out something resembling their potential worth.

With so many X-factors in play, next season guarantees to be a complicated calculus for the Knicks. Good thing, then, that they can still count on one of the game’s steadiest and most spectacular constants.

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Anthony Bennett or Thad Young: Who Is Timberwolves’ Power Forward of the Future?

With a 30-day moratorium on trading rookie Andrew Wiggins set to expire, Minnesota Timberwolves are on the brink of officially hitting the reset button.

After Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported the contours of a deal that would send disaffected forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, we’re now learning new details about what the trade looks like.

Citing “a person with knowledge of the trade,” the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda reports that, “The Wolves will receive Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, 76ers forward Thaddeus Young and a trade exception believed to be worth at least $4 million.”

In return for Young’s addition to the deal, Zgoda adds that, “Philadelphia will receive Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that the Cavaliers own, as well as the expiring contracts of Wolves players Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved.”

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is also reporting the deal, adding that, “The Wolves, sources said, have been operating under the premise for days that they will land Young from the Sixers as Love’s replacement.”

So when the dust settles, Minnesota will have a couple of new power forwards to at least partially ease the blow of Love’s loss.

The big question is whether both of them fit into the Timberwolves’ long-term plans.

Young is by far the more NBA-ready option. The 26-year-old is entering his eighth season after averaging a career-high 17.9 points per game to go along with six rebounds and 2.1 steals per contest.

The surge in productivity was partly a function of Philadelphia’s ugly rebuild.

Young actually shot a career-low 45.4 percent from the field en route to all those points, carrying the Sixers’ load alongside rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams. With more competitive iterations of the 76ers, Young instead averaged roughly between 13 and 15 points—still solid but also more representative of the contributions he’ll make on a good team.

There’s little doubt that the Georgia Tech product will immediately become Minnesota’s most logical candidate to replace Love in the starting lineup.

Young certainly doesn’t rebound or shoot like Love, but he’s an athletic and well-rounded forward who was built to run the floor with a charitable point guard like Ricky Rubio.

He can also defend, which should prove instrumental for a team that gave up 104.3 points per game last season.

Sports Illustrated‘s Rob Mahoney breaks down his defensive pedigree:

Some of his finest work comes on defense. Young’s transition to the power forward spot has given him a more consistent presence in guarding the pick-and-roll, where his feel for maneuvering in space makes him a bother to opponents at every turn. Seven years in the league (including three under Doug Collins) have given Young an education in team defense, though he also instinctively understands how to snuff out and complicate plays.

The Timberwolves will still find themselves amidst a rebuilding process, but someone like Young may ensure that process initially avoids a precipitous fall in the standings.

In any event, he’s a reasonably priced acquisition. The Timberwolves are getting a starting-caliber player in exchange for two reserves and a draft pick that could fall in the 20s.

If there’s a downside to Young, it’s that he might not be around for much longer. After this season, he has a player option worth $9,721,740 to return in 2015-16. That’s a lot of money to turn down, but the summer of 2015 could also be a prime opportunity for Young to cash in with another lucrative, long-term deal.

Should he have another productive season, it could be wise to gauge his worth on the open market. 

Similarly, Young could just decide that Minnesota isn’t for him, that he’s tired of rebuilding efforts and looking to get on board with a playoff team. 

Any number of variables could ultimately translate into a short-lived relationship between Young and the Timberwolves.

That’s where Anthony Bennett comes in.

Though far less proven than Young, the 21-year-old demonstrated enough upside at UNLV for the Cavaliers to select him with the first-overall pick in 2013. 

Like Young, he registers as a hybrid of the two forward positions—albeit without the athleticism and quickness to spend the majority of his time on the wing. In theory, however, Bennett could develop into a versatile front-court asset capable of scoring from all over the floor.

In theory.

At the moment, Bennett is coming off a disappointing rookie season in which he averaged just 4.2 points and three rebounds per contest through 52 games.

“AB’s biggest trouble last year was he never really had the opportunity to play enough because he was either hurt or not in good physical shape,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt told reporters during the Las Vegas Summer League. “As you can see, he worked very hard at that. That’s a good first step. He did some good things.”

Indeed, Bennett has shed some weight and given at least some indications he’s prepared for a more robust role this season.

As CBS Sports‘ Zach Harper observed, “His play in summer league was also much different than we saw at any point last year.”

Despite the encouraging signals coming out of summer league play, Minnesota will have to proceed patiently with Bennett. He may well emerge as the organization’s power forward of the future, but it will take him some time to get there.

In the interim, Young alleviates pressure. Bennett reasons to see plenty of opportunities as the Timberwolves turn their attention to the future, but he needn’t make dramatic progress right away. 

There, of course, remains some chance Minnesota can keep Young beyond the end of his current contract, perhaps providing some insurance in the event Bennett never pans out as hoped. But don’t be surprised if Young merely serves as a placeholder for the next season or two.

The future lies with Bennett. It just might take him a while to prove it.

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Anthony Davis Will Be Team USA’s Backbone at 2014 FIBA World Cup

Many 21-year-olds are figuring out how to pass one of their final college courses, working to escape their parents’ basement or starting to make a living while striking out on their own. 

Not Anthony Davis. 

Even though the New Orleans Pelicans big man only recently became able to enjoy the full extent of Bourbon Street—and, let’s be honest, the rest of NOLA’s nightlife scene—he’s already an NBA All-Star now functioning as the backbone of Team USA at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. 

When he and the rest of the Americans travel to Spain at the end of August, it’s Davis who will be vitally important to the cause. He’s fully capable of functioning as the No. 1 stud on the roster, though Stephen Curry and James Harden, among others, will surely have something to say about that.

However, there are a pair of major factors that go beyond that. 

 

Positional Scarcity

Davis may not end up being the best player on the Team USA roster, but he doesn’t have to be in order to function as the squad’s backbone. 

If you’re looking for an NBA comparison, think about David West serving as the heart and soul for the Indiana Pacers during the 2013-14 season. His two-way play, constant passion and tough, physical work ensured they maintained their identity even when Paul George and Lance Stephenson were the ones drawing all the positive headlines. 

Functioning as a backbone is not inherently dependent on a player’s skills on the court. They certainly help, but elements like passion also come into play. And on Team USA, so too does positional scarcity. 

At first, the Americans were set to build things around Kevin Durant and the bevy of point guards, but that’s obviously changed in the wake of the MVP’s withdrawal from consideration for the final roster. As head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters in Chicago, per NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, everything is different without Durant, and his leaving in the middle of camp threw a major wrench in the plans: 

We had a whole camp building what we’re doing around him. So that’s the very first thing: You had one of the great scorers at the [power forward position]. So how does that change your offense? That changes your offense immensely.

You have to do more to get your guards shots. I mean, these guards are really good, but they were complementing one another—Kevin with those guards….Now we have to look at developing our inside and getting the guards more involved.

Durant was poised to serve as Team USA’s best player and backbone, but now that baton has been passed to Davis. 

Why him? Well, partially because of the position he plays and the importance of that role within the schemings of Coach K. 

As the roster stands right now, in advance of the final cuts that will eventually be made, likely after exhibition season draws to a close, here’s the positional breakdown of Team USA: 

  • Point guard: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard
  • Shooting guard: James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan
  • Small forward: Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gay, Kyle Korver
  • Power forward: Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried
  • Center: Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee

From that group, four players will be axed before the competition begins in Spain. 

But unless Coach K takes crazy pills and cuts all four point guards, the overall composition isn’t going to change that much. The strength will still lie in the backcourt and on the wings, while the undersized and shallow frontcourt will always pose problems. 

And that, in a nutshell, is the first reason Davis is so important. 

If Curry, Rose, Irving or Lillard struggle, there’s another All-Star point guard to pick up the slack. The importance of the point guards—even on a squad that is stylistically dominated by floor generals—is lessened just by the sheer wealth of talent at the position. 

The position as a whole matters. The individuals? Not as much. 

The same can be said about shooting guard, especially because the Americans haven’t exactly been hesitant to run with two 1-guards on the court at the same time when they feel the need to do so. Should Harden, Thompson and DeRozan underwhelm, extra minutes can just be handed to one of the floor generals at the 2. Rose and Curry—slashing and shooting, essentially—can complement each other rather nicely, for example. 

Small forward? Not only are there a number of impressive talents competing for the spots, but the 2-guards can all shift over and play at the 3 in a pinch. 

But power forward and center is where things get tricky. 

Gay is capable of lining up at the 4 in a smaller lineup, but the team would be giving up an awful lot of size if it attempted to do the same thing with Parsons or Hayward. And with Faried basically serving as a specialist—Krzyzewski admitted as much in a Denver Post report by Nicki Jhablava—that puts the onus on Davis. 

Not only is the New Orleans Pelicans big man the only player truly capable of making an immense two-way impact among the crop of American power forwards and centers, but he’s also the only one who can consistently suit up at both those positions. You won’t find any lineups that feature both Cousins and Plumlee, nor should Faried be the biggest man on the court at any point. 

However, Davis can capably function as a center with Faried at power forward, and he can do the same if Team USA is playing small-ball with Gay or another natural 3 playing out of position. Additionally, he’s comfortable spacing out the court from the 4 while a paint-bound big man like Drummond plays the center role. 

Either way, he’s going to be a matchup nightmare for the opposition, devastating those who attempt to match up against him with a constant barrage of floor-spacing mid-range jumpers, athletic plays around the basket and versatile defense.

There isn’t a more unique commodity on the roster at this point. 

 

Leadership Skills

Experience matters. 

Team USA might have the most talented roster—by far—at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but talent alone doesn’t guarantee victory.

Other countries have played together for much longer, boast plenty more international experience and have years of established chemistry on their side. Especially against an opponent like Spain, experience is sure to play a part, though the size of that part is still up in the air. 

Well, try as they might, the Americans can’t artificially boost their experience. Instead, they can lean heavily on the players who have been through the ringer before. 

Even though Davis is just 21 years old and has only two seasons of NBA play under his belt, he’s already one of two players on the Team USA roster than has played in a major international competition. He and James Harden—along with Durant, who obviously doesn’t count anymore—are the only involved players who suited up at the 2012 Olympics in London. 

So far, he’s been able to parlay that into leadership skills. 

“It feels like it was yesterday,” the Pelicans big man told reporters in Las Vegas, via USA Basketball’s official website. He was referring to that Olympic experience, of course. “I remember everything about that trip and about that experience.”

The website explains further: 

Fast forward two years and Davis is now one of the veterans at training camp for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next month. As the team continues practices on UNLV’s campus, Davis joins Kevin Durant and James Harden as the only players on the roster with an Olympic gold. In a very short time Davis has gone from a player just enjoying the ride to one of the organization’s leaders.

That was early in the proceedings, but not much has changed outside of Durant’s departure. At least when referring to this part of the Team USA experience, as the devastating injury suffered by Paul George obviously created a massive shift as well. 

Harden has drawn great reviews for his leadership skills, but Davis demands attention there as well. Especially because of his on-court actions during the exhibition games, where he’s playing the part of the seasoned veteran and not the 21-year-old kid. 

During Team USA’s first exhibition, which resulted in a big win over Brazil, Davis finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks on 9-of-15 shooting from a field. But even against the backdrop of thunderous slams and mid-range shots that found the bottom of the net, it was his leadership that stood out, at least to some extent. 

“Early in the game, Davis missed a few jump shots and said Kyrie Irving jokingly asked him if he was going to stop shooting,” John Juettner reported for TeamUSA.org. ”Davis responded with a ‘no’—something you look for a star to do.”

A star?

How about a star, a leader and, above all else, the team’s backbone?

 

Is Davis the most important player to the Team USA cause? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook.

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Carmelo Anthony on leaving Knicks: ‘It was close’

Jason Whitney New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was coaching a celebrity game at the Barclays Center when he dished out some details about his free agency this past July. Melo said that he was close to leaving New York, but ultimately decided to stay with the Knicks, agreeing to a five-year, $124 million contract. In fact, Anthony was […] Sports-Kings – The Kings of Sports Lists – Sports bloggers that cover the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, fantasy sports, college sports and much more. From funny videos to pictures we have it all

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76ers or Timberwolves: Which Team Is a Better Fit for Anthony Bennett’s Future?

In the impending trade slated to send Kevin Love to join LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Anthony Bennett has become something of a superfluous pawn—no one knows who really wants him or who would just as soon dump him on the more willing taker. 

Early on in the trade talks, Bennett was assumed to be be one of several pieces, along with rookie sensation Andrew Wiggins, on his way to the Twin Cities in what looked to be a straightforward, two-team deal.

However, a recent report from the Philadelphia Daily News’ Bob Cooney detailed how the Philadelphia 76ers, in an effort to shed cap space, were looking to send Thaddeus Young to Minnesota in exchange for the rights to Bennett.

Then on Thursday, more speculation still:

With the three parties still waiting on Wiggins’ trade eligibility to become official on Saturday, expect a lot of movement on the Love front over the next 48 hours.

Lost in all the back-and-forth, though, is a question well worth asking: Which team is actually the better fit for Bennett himself?

The fact that Bennett is fresh off authoring one of the most disappointing statistical seasons of any lottery selection in NBA history—to say nothing of first-overall picks—certainly doesn’t make it any easier to answer.

Bennett remains, in the purest sense of the term, an unknown quantity. Ship set aright, the burly forward has the potential to be a double-double machine for the next decade. Held to his current trajectory, he could be out of the league in half that time.

The good news is that after a nightmarish rookie campaign, the chips are starting to fall a bit more in the forward’s favor:

More encouraging still, Bennett turned high hopes into a solid summer league showing, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in a little under 30 minutes a game (albeit at a shaky 43 percent field-goal clip).

What Bennett needs more than anything else at this point is a franchise capable of nurturing his game minus the impossible pressures of a season ago.

Viewed from that perspective, the Sixers are quite clearly the better landing spot for Bennett. Under the leadership of general manager Sam Hinkie, Philly has spearheaded a rebuilding plan that while still years in the making remains philosophically coherent.

The name of Hinkie’s game: acquiring assets, be they draft picks (the Sixers had seven in this past draft alone) or, in Bennett’s case, young, high-upside players.

Writing at CSNPhilly.com, Andrew Unterberger teased out in tantalizing detail why rolling the dice on Bennett is, from Philly’s perspective, a no-brainer:

Even if Bennett never becomes as good as Young, he’s still a hell of a return for Thad’s expiring contract. With Bennett, the Sixers would have five of the top 24 combined picks from the last two drafts under team control, which makes for a hell of a nucleus to build around. He may or may not fit the team’s long-term plans, but in the meantime, he’s a prospect with great value around the league, one the Sixers could try to rehabilitate and sell in a year or two for twice as much as they paid for him. (And for what it’s worth, the team has long been high on Bennett–reportedly, the 2013 draft-night deal for Nerlens Noel that cost the Sixers Jrue Holiday would still have gone down had AB been the player available for the Pelicans to take at #6, as well.)

And while the on-court product is sure to remain rickety in the short term, head coach Brett Brown—a disciple of Gregg Popovich—has already infused within his charges a palpably plucky energy. Even if the outcome is seldom in their favor, these Sixers come to play, and play hard.

Coupled with the frontcourt vacuum left in the wake of Young’s departure, Bennett steps into a situation imbued with both patience and perspective and conducive to growth.

Then there’s the Timberwolves.

Ever since nabbing Love in a 2008 draft-day trade, Minnesota has done a woeful job of building around its frontcourt cornerstone—Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic being the two notable exceptions, of course. After six seasons of ever-higher hopes disappointingly deferred, Love had had enough.

Even with Wiggins absorbing the bulk of the spotlight, Bennett would face the unenviable prospect of being Love’s replacement—if in position more than pull or power—in a city going on 10 years of playoff deprivation.

Rather than learn from a first-time coach steeped in “the Spurs way,” Bennett would instead be put under the yoke of Flip Saunders, a capable but conspicuously uncreative coach not exactly renowned for his ability to nurture young players.

In fact, from Bennett’s perspective—particularly considering Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer probably aren’t long for the Land of 10,000 Lakes, either—Minnesota’s only real draws are Rubio (likely gone once his contract ends, if not before then), Wiggins and the raw but enticing rookie point guard Zach LaVine. Should either or both of the latter two make good on their interstellar promise, Bennett’s star has the chance to rise in tantalizing tandem.

But on a team with no discernable plan in place, Bennett might wind up exactly where he was headed with the pre-LeBron Cavs: toward a purgatory partly of his own making, but one reinforced by other hands altogether.

Of course, if Jerry Zgoda’s prediction holds true, all of this will be moot. Why, after all, would the Wolves deign to gamble on Young sticking around past his 2015-16 player option when they could have a more flexible asset in Bennett?

Still, in the pantheon of strange NBA turns, Bennett going to Philadelphia in a three-team trade wouldn’t even crack the top 100. Whether the impetus is doubts over Bennett’s potential or some long-term guarantee on the part of Young to stay in Minnesota, there’s still a chance that the former’s future lies in the City of Brotherly Love.

At this point, given last year’s false start and the unfair flak he’s gotten ever since, Bennett could use that kind of luck to even out the ledger.

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Nene compares Anthony Davis to Dhalsim from Street Fighter

Washington Wizards forward Nene plays against New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis twice a year. So you would think that Nene would know how to play against Davis right? Well Davis and his US teammates faced Brazil’s National Team last Saturday and Nene watched Davis show why he is one of the premier young players in the league. After the game, Nene spoke to the media and he was asked “what is like to play against Anthony Davis”? Nene proceeded to compare Davis to Dhalsim from the video game Street Fighter. What, Nene was asked, did he think of Anthony Davis, the young New Orleans center who dominated (20 points, eight boards five rebounds) at both ends? “He looked like Dhalsim,” Nene said. Who? “Dhalsim. The street fighter. Like a cartoon. With both hands. He was catching everything. Yeah.” At first I laughed. But then I thought about it, I can see why Nene would say that. Davis arms are probably the longest in the NBA. That’s a very clever response by Nene. Related posts: An…

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