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USA TODAY Sports The newest Minnesota Timberwolves display their new jerseys, from left, guard Andrew Wiggins, forward Anthony Bennett, forward Thaddeus Young and guard Zach LaVine on Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul.

New Timberwolves feeling the love at State Fair

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By Andy Greder

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A spectacularly sunny Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair proved to be a prime stage for introducing the Timberwolves’ newest members.

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Ushering in a new era after a three-team trade, the Wolves introduced Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett from Cleveland and Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia, the haul from the deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers and other pieces to the 76ers.

The promise of a brighter future, or just the relief of a months-long saga finally ending, had fans standing seven or eight deep at the KMSP-TV booth.

When the players came out at 1 p.m., fans greeted them warmly. Some gave shout-outs to Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, who orchestrated the deal.

“Nice work, Flip,” one fan yelled.

“Thanks, Flip,” another echoed.

With the Wolves giving up a perennial all-star in Love, they needed to have a cornerstone player in return, Saunders demanded as the trade process dragged on for about four months. That potentially pivotal player is Wiggins.

As a top high school player at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, he drew comparisons to Cleveland’s LeBron James. At Kansas University, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds and displayed extraordinary athleticism that made him the top overall pick in last year’s draft.

Then James signed with Cleveland, and Wiggins looked forward to playing with whom he calls “the best player in the NBA.”

“That was all joyful and happy,” Wiggins said.

Soon after, the tone changed as the prospect of Cleveland trading Wiggins for Love became a plan. Wiggins signed a rookie contract that triggered a 30-day, league-mandated blackout period in which no trade could take place.

Wiggins said he felt “kind of lost.”

Once the moratorium was over, the trade took place Saturday, and Wiggins had a new home in Minnesota.

“It was a big relief,” Wiggins said. “Now, it’s solidified. I’m situated in a spot where I know I’m going to be at for a very, very long time. It’s comforting.”

The warm welcome at the Great Minnesota Get-Together certainly helped.

“It shows a level of love and loyalty,” Wiggins said. “As soon as I stepped foot in Minnesota, I have been shown nothing but love.”

Bennett, who has played with Wiggins on the Canadian national team and AAU circuit, shared his experience of a tough rookie season as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.

“I’ve been preaching to him to work hard through the ups and downs,” Bennett said of Wiggins. “I’ve been through it, and I’m only going into my second year. I just told him to stay focused and don’t listen to the talk people say. Just keep on the grind.”

Zach LaVine, the Wolves’ first-round pick in last year’s draft, sat near Wiggins during Tuesday’s introduction. LaVine met Wiggins at pre-draft workouts and was by Wiggins’ side in the form of supportive text messages.

Tuesday, the newest Wolves celebrated. Wiggins and LaVine took a trip down a giant slide. Bennett gobbled down some alligator. With Young, all four made their way to numerous Twin Cities media outlets for interviews.

They repeatedly talked about their promise and ending the Wolves playoff drought, which stands at a decade.

“It’s been way, way, way, way too long,” Young said.

It all starts in earnest for the newest Timberwolves with a series of group workouts later this week.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service

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