Taylor on Wiggins: Intervention, or just Talk?

Last year, Glen Taylor was able to lure free-agent coaching superstar Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota. After accepting Taylor’s (lucrative) offer to coach the team, Thibs explained that there were three general reasons that made the Wolves his best option: their young talent, their strong ownership, and their salary cap flexibility. What he failed to mention (and downplayed when asked specifically about) was his dual job title that included President of Basketball Operations. Thibs would control not only the tactics and game preparation, but also the roster construction itself. The battles with the front office that eventually caused his demise in Chicago would not happen in Minnesota. Now, he was the front office. Thibs came to the Twin Cities with a hand-picked sidekick of a general manager, Scott Layden, to carry out the day-to-day front office duties. While they emphasized their “alignment” of philosophies and vision when first introduced to the local press, it was all but understood that Thibs was the boss whose approval would be necessary for any roster decisions.

Around the NBA today there are few men tasked with as much responsibility as Thibs has in the president/coach double title. Recently, the already-small number has been shrinking. In May, Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer reliquished his “president” title while remaining head coach. Last week, Doc Rivers of the Clippers experienced the same fate. Doc will keep coaching, but Lawrence Frank will be the team’s POBO. This leaves only Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, and Thibs as President-Coach’s in the NBA today. Van Gundy, long considered one of the league’s best coaches, has not succeeded in his POBO duties in Detroit. It is possible he will also be demoted to being just coach.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Commissioner Adam Silver “has privately expressed concerns to owners and senior franchise officials in several instances, case by case, about the dynamic of the coach-in-charge model.” Woj did not specify whether Taylor was one of those owners, but considering Glen has recently put two men in the dual seat (recall that before his untimely passing, Flip Saunders held both positions, and Taylor admitted multiple times that the situation was not ideal) it seems more likely than not that he was.

Right now, in the middle of August, the Timberwolves offseason is mostly complete. After overhauling the roster — trading away Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine, acquiring Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson — Thibs has the framework in place for a starting five that should score about like last year’s team, but with significantly more defensive stops and better crunchtime execution. While they still need to round out the edges of the roster by raiding the veteran-minimum bargain bin, the heavy lifting is over and most reasonable minds believe they “won” their offseason. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently predicted 50 wins for next year’s Timberwolves.

But while Thibodeau’s offseason work is largely finished and the team is positioned to improve greatly from last year’s 31 wins, there is still one major piece of housekeeping out there. And Thibs’s deep voice is conspicuously absent from the recent commentary on the subject. The Wolves are going to offer a five-year maximum contract to fourth-year wing, Andrew Wiggins.

And owner Glen Taylor is publicly taking control of the negotiations.

According to a Monday report from the Associated Press, Taylor said that he plans to offer the five-year max to Wiggins only after he has a chance to sit down with him and ask him about his commitment to improving as a player. Among other quotes to the AP about this planned conversation, Taylor said, “I think it’s important. I don’t know what else you can do but look at the person face-to-face and trust that he will follow through…He seems like a very good person. 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.”

Taylor’s remarks are noteworthy for a couple of different reasons.

First, and In Case You Missed It, Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers. Oh, and he listed the Timberwolves as one of his four preferred destinations. Oh, and this was reportedly happening after Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns were “recruiting” him and asking the front office (Thibs, presumably) to trade for Kyrie. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this as a thinly veiled request from the team’s two best players to trade away Andrew Wiggins instead of signing him to a massive long-term contract. That Taylor is announcing his plans to not do that, but instead extend Wiggins here for the long term, is a noteworthy development. I don’t know what return Kyrie will ultimately bring the Cavs in a trade, but if it’s something worse than Wiggins, nobody will be surprised. Put more directly, I think the Wolves could probably get Kyrie if Glen were willing to part ways with Wig, and he is now saying that that ain’t happening.

Second, this discussion of a Wiggins max contract is the first public assertion of control made by Taylor since he hired Thibs over a year ago. Note that in his statements made to the AP, Taylor is deferring nothing to Thibs or Layden; he said, “To me, by making this offer, I’m speculating that his contribution to the team will be more in the future.” Taylor did not speak this way about any other transactions of the past 15 months. When LaVine was traded for Butler, that was Thibs. Ditto when Rubio was out and Teague was in. For reasons that are not clear, Taylor is assuming control over this Wiggins (and implicitly, Irving) situation in a public way.

When thinking about this, the three basic variable possibilities are: (1) Who is ultimately making this decision: Glen or Thibs? (2) Why is Glen talking openly about it to the press? and (3) What actually is the decision? Have they truly given up on the Kyrie possibility?

Just because Glen is talking this way does not necessarily mean that he is the one making the decision. In fact, despite whatever language he used when speaking to the press, I still think it’s more likely that Thibs made the Wiggins call and delivered it to Glen for the $150 Million rubber stamp. Thibs made a limited “We’re working on it right now” statement on the subject a few weeks ago. Perhaps he viewed that as a sufficient show of endorsement of Wiggins amid all of the Kyrie-induced uncertainty. It would be a major departure from everything we understood about Thibs’s authority for Glen to intervene in such an important roster decision.

If Taylor is meddling in major front office affairs, that’s a huge twist. Why would he do that now, after the massive offseason success that saw Thibs bring in a legitimate star player? Is Taylor simply getting restless, watching all of this happen so silently? The Timberwolves organization is his hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars toy, after all. When it’s your team you can pretty much say and do whatever you want. Maybe Taylor just felt like talking. Or maybe after saying goodbye to budding star Zach LaVine, Taylor slammed the brakes on any further demolition of the core built by Saunders. The AP report said that “he envisions Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns forming the kind of dynamic, youthful tandem — with Butler as the veteran leader — that the franchise needs to compete in the powerful Western Conference.” But again, any intervention by Taylor would be a huge development in and of itself, regardless of his reasoning. Linking this new Taylor activity to the league-wide trend and commissioner preference against powerful coaches is pretty tenuous, but who knows?

If it was Thibs who privately made the decision to keep Wiggins, maybe he asked Glen to speak out publicly as a way to manage the KAT & Butler awkwardness. If you trust Windhorst’s report, it’s fair to assume that those two asked Thibs to pull the trigger on a Kyrie trade. It doesn’t sound like that is going to happen. That might not sit well with Jimmy and Karl. If Glen took ownership (no pun intended) for the decision, maybe that helps Thibs in the locker room.

Or, maybe the Kyrie talk is actually far from over, and Glen has been sent on a covert operation by Thibs to bluff their (mostly) unequivocal intention to max out Wiggins. “Clearly this guy is a max player — SEE HOW GOOD HE IS, CAVS? — so of course we’re going to extend that max offer sheet and of course we would never trade him.” If the Cavs come back with a more reasonable offer, maybe Wiggins is gone and this was all talk. But if this was the plan, Taylor executed it pretty sloppily, what with the references to Wig “seeming” like a “good person.” What was that about, anyway?

All that we know right now is that Irving is out on the trade block, Wiggins is up for an extension, and Glen Taylor is talking a certain way about it. The Wolves organization has a history of making things more complicated than they need to be. If this is as simple as Thibs telling Glen to max out Wiggins because the Kyrie stuff is off the table, then it would behoove Taylor to limit the stream-of-consciousness commentary to the press and just get the deal done. But if the truth is any more complicated than that, the story immediately becomes a lot more interesting. Budenholzer and Rivers formally lost their “presidential” titles. If Thibs remains the POBO but has to defer to ownership on something as momentous as the decision to keep Wiggins or add Kyrie, does the job title even matter?

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11 thoughts on “Taylor on Wiggins: Intervention, or just Talk?

  1. The only certainty in understanding all of this is knowing Taylor’s tendencies. First, he’s not shy about doing interviews or answering questions in those interviews, sometimes to his franchise’s detriment. He always seems to do an interview in the summer that includes a few things you wish you hadn’t heard. Second, he seems to see himself as a 2nd grandfather to his players. There’s an element to that paternalism that’s a bit weird to me, but I can see how a personal touch could help as much as harm. I’d never call Taylor’s actions harmless, because the road to Wolves hell has been littered with his “good intentions.”

    Every indication from Thibs, though, has been that he values Wiggins highly. Maxing Wiggins is the safest choice, even if it doesn’t carry the highest potential. If Taylor was bringing this up within a week of the Kyrie news, then I could see the concern about whether they’re in agreement. It doesn’t take a huge leap to conclude that Thibs wants to max him. In that sense, it’s possible that he could grumble about Taylor being so candid while still being on the same philosophical page. Minor conflicts exist in every organization, even the good ones, and there’s just too many hypotheticals in this situation to be overly concerned about deeper meanings.

    1. Ya, my read on this echoes these sentiments.

      Papa Glen has earned that name by developing a semi-familial relationship with his players, most notably (at one time) with KG. Or perhaps Glen always liked Flip’s relationships with players, and learned how to get along with and relate to NBA players from Flip’s role-modeling.

      From a businessman perspective, this strikes me as total country club protocol BS, but none-the-less not unreasonable. I appreciate the effect this has on Wiggins, which is basically to state clearly, ‘We believe you will deserve every penny of this, but you aren’t there yet. I’m going to generate some leverage over your future earning potential by getting you to publicly stake a claim to what kind of player you’re going to be – a guy who just stays the way he is and thus shows he’s not worth a second max contract, or the kind of guy who really challenges himself and takes that next level and fully deserves a second max contract.’

      Lastly, I don’t believe for a minute that Thibs doesn’t have plans and strategies for everything, including Glen. Thibs has a strong personality, and remember when we all wondered how Wiggins would handle it, based on Smitch’s revelations of Wiggins needing a different approach than KAT? Perhaps the Wolves simply want to drive home a bit of the reality check to Wiggins (and by extension, to KAT and Butler and other players that they may want to recruit) and reclaim the narrative a bit (that they’re not just freely handing out cash, but are rewarding players who commit and get and better). With Wiggins, however, perhaps hearing it from Glen is better fit for communicating that, you know?

      Maybe Wiggins has a good relationship with Glen and will take it the right way, or maybe it’s as simple as Glen simply asserting that he is the owner, and he believes in value and rewarding value, but the not so veiled threat is that Wiggins doesn’t deserve the max if he doesn’t improve (aka he’s not a max player right now).

  2. Conspiracy theory: Perhaps this meeting is a way for Glenn/Thibs to placate KAT and Butler, who clearly don’t have endless respect for Wiggins if they’re openly recruiting another player who’s acquisition would force Wiggins to be traded. Bluntly, they’d rather have Irving than Wiggins (and who else?). Perhaps this meeting is a way for Glenn and Thibs to acknowledge KAT and Butler’s justified uncertainty about Wiggins the player and Wiggins the teammate.

    More generally: Is Wiggins the current player worth the max? No. Is potential Wiggins likely worth the max soon? Maybe. But questioning whether Wiggins is worth the max for a normal franchise is different than making a statement about his market value. On the market, many many teams are willing to play Wiggins max money. Someone will. Will it be us? That’s the question. More specifically, we will either max Wiggins here or trade him asap. I think there’s a strong argument for both. My fanciful side kind of wants us to dump him, because I’ve not liked his development or his on court personality at all. When is the last time you’ve seen a guy with his athletic ability playing close to every game in the season, like 39 minutes a game and hardly ever posterizing people? I know it sounds shallow, but I think it is a red flag about effort, engagement and simple ability to use god given gifts well. He should be dunking over people every game. Or every few games at least, right? Instead he’s the king of midrange. This to me shows a lack of motor, a lack of attitude, a lack or engagement, a lack of finesse in his feel for the game, and lack of ball handling that leads to easy points and dunks for a wing… In other words, it’s not just about a lack of poster images to choose from—it’s a sign of real basketball flaws. We could get rid of that kind of player instead of hoping that it will improve for a known all star commodity or at worst some very useful pieces. To me it sounds tempting, particularly when you factor in that locking up KAT is more important and expensive and we need free dollars to build around. If Wiggins takes up a lot of that cash and doesn’t markedly improve many aspects of his game, he could hog tie the franchise, financially. The flip side is that Wiggins could develop or that trading him would bring in an established player that might not work out here (Irving?) or pieces that don’t have the sum total of natural talent that Wiggins has. It’s hard to find natural ability like that and it gets drooled over. Maybe too much? For a franchise as lowly as the Wolves, it might be best to keep Wiggins and try to be smart about developing talent. It’s the sober choice, but it hasn’t really been a sober summer in the NBA.

  3. Lots of good points made by the people who have already commented, so I’ll just add one:

    I don’t have a problem with Taylor wanting to look Wiggins in the eye and let him know the kind of expectations he has for Wig under a contract of this magnitude. It’s his money. Furthermore, I know for a fact that Taylor has had a very positive impact in negotiations for some contracts over the past few years, one as recent as a year ago.

    I don’t have a problem with him doing this. What I cannot understand is his need to share this with the media. This sit down meeting before signing the contract feels like a private matter between himself and Wiggins. So why is he sharing it with reporters?

    1. Yeah, I heard that last night too. He helped seal deals with Jefferson (back when they had just traded for him and he was eligible to extend), Rubio, and Dieng.

      1. In the name of transparency, the friend of mine is a relatively low-level office person so it’s by no means someone close to Taylor. But I guess Taylor is a bit of a legend around there in terms of his ability to get players to sign for less. Not that it’s done the franchise a lick of good lol.

  4. I don’t know what Glen will hear that will ensure that Wiggins lives up to the lofty expectations a max contract brings. Certainly, we look at Wiggins talent and the potential for a top 15 type player is there. If he was the the second or third big contract the wolves were signing (after Butler and KAT) Glen could be more demanding. However, with the trade of LaVine, Wiggins knows that a big two isn’t as attractive as a big three for fans, basketball players or prime time game matchups. If you look at the overspending Thibs did on Teague (about $4mill) Taj (about $5mill), factor in Ghorghi getting about $3 mill to much and Cole getting his salary for another year and you wasted enough to pay all three max deals and not worry about it. This is why Thibs should not be POBO, he just doesn’t have the background to pull all this together without severely overspending.

  5. Uniform Talk:

    – My friend texted me a leak of the white jersey yesterday and my response was, ‘It looks like a flour bag!’

    -What’s the deal with 2 boring blues and no lime green trim to speak of? The design is so boring it could have used the color. But even a more jazzy design would have been improved by green trim, including outlining the letters.

    – I guess the tree aspect was just a tease, as there is no use of that motif in the new unis I’ve seen. I saw fan designs that were much better and tastefully used the trees in the sidebar area.

    – Even for Bucks type elemental jersey design these lack a boldness and punch to the font.

    – Someone online quipped that they look like 1920’s men’s bathing suits.

    – I’ve said this before multiple times, but I think ads on uniforms, the working clothes of athletes and clothing that represents our whole state to others, is disrespectful. The athletes and fans deserve better than relentless greed.

    – Aside from that, ads on unis are aesthetically tacky.

    – Overall, lame. It’s more of a lateral move that makes the unis look less 1999ish yet still not any better from a design or excitement point of view. The lack of green makes the uniforms slightly depressing (two rather dull blues and white for color) and doesn’t describe our state. The green implies life, forests etc that go along with all our water (blue). How hard would it have been to do a slightly better job on this?

    1. Not quite as down on them as yourself, pyrrol but I’m not crazy about them either. They’re oddly conservative, yet a bit futuristic as well. Completely agree on the lack of flair; They’re conservative and almost monochromatic. HATE the Fitbit advertisement. Utterly inappropriate to have that on a professional athlete’s uniform.

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