The expression “worth the wait” is often overused, but not when we’re talking about $148 million. That’s the value of a maximum extension for Andrew Wiggins’s rookie contract, a figure that the 22-year-old bargained for during negotiations with the Timberwolves. Two weeks ago Wiggins told Sports Illustrated that he’s worth “nothing less” than a max deal. Now, two months before the season begins, it looks like the wing will get his wish — if he makes some promises to Glen Taylor, the owner.
“I'm already extending to [Wiggins] that I'm willing to meet the max,” Taylor told the Associated Press on Monday. “But there are some things that I need out of him, and that is the commitment to be a better player than you are today."
Taylor wants an understanding that can’t be inked in a contract, made face to face: Get better. He’s checking Wiggins, making it clear that the agreed-upon number was appropriate based on potential, but also that potential isn’t enough. "To me, by making this offer, I'm speculating that his contribution to the team will be more in the future. … He can't be paid just for what he's doing today. He's got to be better.”
“He can't be paid just for what he's doing today” and “he’s got to be better” are not typically what an owner says before throwing the most possible money at an NBA player, though, to be fair, teams write checks all the time with the hopes that there will be improvement. Taylor sang Wiggins’s praises, too, noting his “exceptional skills,” which a front office “better take advantage of” while it can. Still, it’s unusual speak, even for an owner bearing the weight of a 13-year playoff drought. But conversations about the upside Wiggins possesses often come with an asterisk that is a perceived lack of effort.
Defense doesn’t always translate to the NBA, but the Kansas star seemed to have the plain ability and versatility to be an elite stopper in the league. He showed flashes of a lockdown defender, with a celebrated example against James Harden—
—but finished his third year in the league giving Minnesota its second-worst defensive rating while on the floor among those who played at least 15 games. Even on offense, where Wiggins has improved each season and put up an average 23.6 points on volume shooting (a team-high 19.1 shots per game), he can leave you wanting. Because of his quick, explosive athleticism and skill, Wiggins’s undiscovered potential seems to lie in improving his game-in and game-out effort (or lack thereof).
Which brings us back to the unconventional quotes Taylor was dishing out:
“He seems to have the ability,” the owner said, “and so the only thing it would be is for some reason he didn't work hard enough to obtain the skill sets. That's what you're asking him to commit to."
There’s a line between looking a player in the eye asking for commitment and offending him; my guess is Wiggins is tired of the “give it your all speech” from Tom Thibodeau and, now, Taylor. But Wiggins also has their respect — the two publicly thwarted any reports that Wiggins could be involved in a trade for Kyrie Irving. Taylor is telling Wiggins that he’s his guy, while also banking five years on the improvement he needs to show.
Often deemed quiet and Kawhi-like, Wiggins has been associated with passivity since his time in college. Though his NBA experience — rotating through three coaches in three losing seasons — has not yet provided quite the stability that knocks those habits out of a young player, either. This season Thibs will return, and an elite defender at the wing spot, Jimmy Butler, will join him. There’s no better teacher than a competitive veteran, and the hope is that Butler will blast any lack of effort out of his position mate early and often. After all, we’ve seen that Wiggins is capable of dominance—
—Taylor would bet a handshake on it.