MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A five-year contract extension worth nearly $150 million sat in front of Andrew Wiggins for more than two months.
Not only did the 22-year-old Wiggins not jump at the first chance to sign it, he decided to revamp the team of advisers around him and essentially lead the process himself. The Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping that self-assurance and unflappable nature helps a franchise long in the basement finally break through.
Wiggins signed his contract Wednesday, a straight five-year deal with no player option that puts a big piece of business to rest a week before the Wolves open the season. From his rookie of the year press conference in 2015 when he professed "I hope I'm here forever " to the eve of his fourth season in the league, the Canadian has never wavered in his admiration for his home away from home.
"I like everyone from the trainers to the coaches to the front office, my teammates," Wiggins said. "I love everybody. They've treated me with nothing but nice since I got here. And they were the first people who gave me the opportunity to play in the NBA after I got traded from Cleveland and they welcomed me with open arms so this is where I wanted to be at."
Wiggins averaged 23.6 points in his third season in the league and has cemented himself as one of the building blocks of an up-and-coming franchise. Along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, Wiggins is expected to help the Timberwolves end a 13-season playoff drought.
He will not turn 23 until February and has yet to make an All-Star team. But had he made it to restricted free agency next summer, there was a very good chance another team would have sent a max offer sheet his way. The Timberwolves beat them to the punch.
"He's never satisfied. He wants to get better," coach and president Tom Thibodeau said. "I think he's already demonstrated that to make the progress that he's already shown is impressive, but as I mentioned, it's scratching the surface. And now we hope that it'll continue to grow and it'll translate into wins."
Owner Glen Taylor made it clear to Wiggins early in the summer that he was comfortable with paying the huge price to keep the athletic wing in the fold. It is extremely rare for a player coming off of a rookie contract to turn down a max-level extension, but Wiggins did inject a little drama into what is normally a straight forward process.
The sides were on the verge of reaching a deal in August when Wiggins decided to part ways with agent Bill Duffy, who had represented him ever since he was drafted by Cleveland and traded to Minnesota in 2014.
Taylor told The Associated Press in August that he wanted to meet face-to-face with Wiggins before the deal was signed to have a frank conversation about the expectations that come with such a big contract.
"He seems like a very good person," Taylor said then. "He seems to have the ability 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."
The meeting was held in September and Wiggins completed the process without an agent while leaning on a close circle of advisers, including his parents, and an attorney to review the paperwork. Duffy is still expected to challenge to get a commission from the deal as well.
"I did it by myself and it was my first time doing it, obviously," Wiggins said. "So I just wanted to make sure I was doing everything correctly."
Wiggins made great strides as a scorer in his first three years, improving as a 3-point shooter, developing a low-post game and using his athleticism and strength to get to the free throw line. But he still has a long way to go as a defender and rebounder, and will need to be even better than the .356 shooter he was from 3-point range last season if the Wolves are going to snap that skid.
Wiggins has also been a durable fixture in the lineup ever since he arrived in town. He has missed just one game in his first three seasons while averaging 36.2 minutes per game.
"He deserves every dime," Towns said. "He's one heck of a player. We're blessed to have him."
Despite all of that, the contract is sure to be a polarizing one. As good as Wiggins has been as a scorer, certain metrics paint him as a very poor defender and an offensive player ill-equipped to play in this era of pace and space.
"It's motivation to get better and show everybody what I can do, the other stuff I can do," Wiggins said. "The stuff they think I can do, add more, just keep on adding to my game."
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