On paper, the trade makes a lot of sense for the Wolves. Cunningham is arguably the better player, but beyond that, the move also balances the roster. With the loss of Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and (potentially) Anthony Tolliver, the Wolves needed another big man in the lineup.
With that being said, I'm sad about today's trade. As most people know, I've been a huge Wayne Ellington fan for a long time, as a player, but also as a person.
Back before the 2010-11 NBA season, I attended my first Minnesota Timberwolves media day. Along with several other season ticket holders, we went down to the Wolves' practice facility to watch the team take photos, do media spots for local newspapers and TV/radio channels, and take part in team promotional activities. The team had set up a special section for us where we could interview players and coaches. Of course, everybody wanted to talk to Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, and there was a sizable crowd for newcomers like Wesley Johnson and Luke Ridnour.
One player who was not getting a lot of attention was Wayne Ellington. Entering into his second season off of a disappointing rookie campaign, I noticed Ellington sitting by himself in the weight lifting area off to the side of the gym. I decided to take a chance and go talk to him.
At this point, I wasn't a "media member" by any stretch of the imagination. I didn't have a credential, I didn't go into the locker rooms and I certainly didn't do player interviews. I was just a season ticket holder who was crazy about the Timberwolves. A lot of players might have not been so receptive.
Ellington could not have been more pleasant. We chatted for a good fifteen minutes about his time at North Carolina, his rookie season with the Wolves, the new additions to the team and his hopes for the next year. He wasn't patronizing, which he easily could have been. He wasn't annoyed, or at least he didn't show it if he was. It was like we were two guys at a sports bar having a conversation. When I told him that I attended every home game, Ellington said that he'd look for me on the sidelines and say hello, which he did at the Wolves' first home preseason game that year. As I started to write more on the Wolves and get more access, Ellington was always a friendly face and someone I enjoyed talking with about the Wolves or about whatever.
In the locker room and off of the basketball court, you'd be hard pressed to find another person (let alone another basketball player) with as much class as Wayne Ellington. He's great with fans and with the media. He volunteers for things like the Wolves Summer Caravan when other players refuse to go. He stays after games, both wins and losses, to answer as many questions as people have for him. He takes responsibility for his own actions and was the first to admit when he had messed up on the basketball court.
I'll be the first to admit that Ellington has not performed great through his first three seasons. His shooting, which was supposed to be his best attribute, was suspect. He turned the ball over far too much. He played well in stretches, but would soon fall back down to his below-average watermark. This is all true.
If Ellington was as good on-the-court as he was off of it, however, he would've been a multi-time All-Star. I feel very fortunate that I got to know him and I thank him for helping a naive, want-to-be journalist to pursue his dreams and find inspiration. I'll always be in his debt for that.
I wish him the best of luck in Memphis and it will be hard to root against him when the Grizzlies and Wolves face off this season.