Before the story grew legs of its own, Masai Ujiri was only asked which current NBA player he'd love to have on the Raptors. Besides LeBron, Ujiri said, "We all know who he is, I'm not even going to say his name. He might be Canadian." Given that the question was posed to him during the Canadian Basketball Speakers Forum, it's fair to assume he was referring to prized Minnesota Timberwolves rookie and Torontonian, Andrew Wiggins.
Given what has been written about the Wiggins-Toronto saga, it's understandable that Minnesota fans would bristle at Wiggins' name being thrown around by the Raptors' GM. There was this Michael Grange piece written the day after the Kevin Love trade, titled "Love deal sets stage for Wiggins' homecoming." There was this Cathal Kelly piece about the Raptors' long-term plan with regards to Wiggins.
To be clear, this isn't Drake openly recruiting Kevin Durant. This is just Masai answering a question about who he'd love to have on his team, at a Canadian Basketball Speakers Forum, but it still caused enough of a stir around the Timberwolves' community. Here's the main piece in question. It devolves from an analysis of Masai's comments to throwing potshots at Canadians and Canadian culture pretty quickly.
On Canadian Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic PF:
... logging just 277 minutes in 26 games with more healthy scratches than a sweatin’ scalp covered by a woolly toque. Maybe he just needs to start over a little closer to home, eh?
"Eh" jokes? Hilarious! Look, I don't know the author, so I'll just acknowledge that while he did have valid complaints, he entirely fails to explain any of the reasons behind the Wiggins flirtation that Toronto media is obsessed with. Let's try and do that here.
After winning the Gatorade Player of the Year as the best high school basketball player in the US, Andrew Wiggins was asked what team he hoped to be drafted by (end of the video below). Note the surprise in the interviewer's voice when Wiggins mentions his hometown Raptors.
At the time, the Raptors were heading into the 2013-14 season mired in the no-man's land that is the NBA's middle class. With no real hope on the horizon, Raptors' fans had talked themselves into a future with their next great homegrown basketball hope, much like the marriage between Derrick Rose and Chicago or LeBron James and Cleveland. In fact, even deep into last season's remarkable turn-around, there were still quite a few fans among the vocal minority who preferred a 25 percent chance at Andrew Wiggins over a playoff appearance with home-court.
We wanted a chance at Wiggins so badly. This was a fan-base that had become disillusioned with "borrowing" stars from south of the border. Tracy McGrady left because he wanted to be out of his cousin's shadow. That cousin, Vince Carter, infamously quit on the team after he decided he didn't want to dunk anymore. Chris Bosh walked away during unrestricted free agency, not before one last shot at Canadian cable. Obviously, none of those players' departures were strictly their fault, and Kyle Lowry eventually re-upping with the Raptors righted many of those wrongs in fans' eyes. But the reality is, before the summer of 2014, many Raptors supporters were convinced Andrew Wiggins was the one guy who could quell our inferiority complex.
Andrew Wiggins has never been shy about his love for Canada and Toronto. Every award show, every All-Star showcase, one of the few times he expresses any emotion is when he talks about proving that Canadians can play basketball. That feeling is shared by many of his compatriots in the American high school circuit or at the NCAA level. Instances like these create that chip-on-shoulder effect:
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, FSU's star freshman and Wiggins' teammate at Huntington Prep, said the following to Vice Sports:
The Americans always think they're the best players in the World...so I always try to let them know who we are and that we're from Canada, and that we're here to essentially kick their asses.
It's debatable whether Toronto feels about Andrew Wiggins and vice versa the same way Baltimore does about Aquille Carr, or New York does about Sebastian Telfair. It can be argued that these players having to leave Canada to go play basketball in a foreign country at ages 14-15-16 only strengthens their relationship to their hometowns -- doubly so when you hear igloo, hockey, and poutine jokes time and time again.
The point of this write-up isn't to say Wiggins will, or even SHOULD, come to Toronto. I'm just trying to illustrate to any basketball fans that may come across this WHY there's seemingly an obsession with Wiggins north of the border. Here's what we know:
- Andrew Wiggins won't be a free agent most likely until 2023.
- In those eight seasons, how he develops is up in the air.
- The Raptors' cap situation is impossible to predict that far into the future.
- Masai already has a playoff team on his hands, and it'd be more prudent for him to focus on building for the present.
- Minnesota could well develop into a quality team that he'd be better off staying with for the sake of his own career.
- Minnesota will always be able to offer him more money, and that should be Wiggins' #1 priority.