Minnesota wing Andrew Wiggins is negotiating a potential extension worth $148 million over five years, Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said in a news conference Wednesday. Starting in 2018–19, the deal would pay out $25.5 million in the first year; these Timberpups grow up so fast! Of the many offseason moves that Thibs has made, this deal is in the running for most significant.
Of course, adding Jimmy Butler changes the Wolves’ on-court identity so much that "potential playoff team" can now be used as a Minnesota descriptor, plus the Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford pickups provide a veteran presence that was missing last season. But potentially signing Wiggins to an expensive extension is the first indication that Minnesota is committed to locking in its young core.
Whether Wiggins should be given that kind of money off of his rookie contract is up for debate. Utah losing out on this summer’s Gordon Hayward sweepstakes showed the value in small-market teams paying players with potential early, and, at 22 years old, Wiggins projects to be a much more valuable player than Hayward. But potential is in the eye of the beholder; to some, this past season was half-baked compared with expectations. The former Rookie of the Year averaged a career-high 23.6 points, shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 35.6 from deep, but was undeniably passive at times on both ends of the floor. His defense — once warranting two-way comparisons such as Kawhi Leonard — regressed to such a degree that the Wolves had their third-worst season-long defensive rating with him on the floor.
But context matters, especially with that indictment. Wiggins was on the court more often than any of this teammates last season, averaging 37.2 minutes per game. He led the NBA in total minutes played, topping all the "no-rest" guys (James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook), who all played on teams with postseason goals. Call it the Thibodeau play-you-into-the-ground effect, or call it a pattern: In three seasons, Wiggins has missed just one game — in Year 2, against Charlotte, due to a sore knee after back-to-back 30-point games.
His offense has been at the command of three coaches in three years, but it’s improved steadily under each. Butler this season will be the first star veteran in Wiggins’s position. Their scoring styles are similar, and Butler excels on the other end of the court; he could be the perfect mentor. Wiggins’s defense last season was disappointing, and surely even more so under a coach with a defense-first reputation like Thibs’s. But most of Wiggins’s defensive shortfalls can be blamed on a lack of effort, which may be an unfortunate byproduct of being inexperienced and on a losing team. But the Wolves are paying for potential, which he’s shown — across stretches of a season, full games, and sometimes just in a single possession.