As of writing this article, Andrew Wiggins has yet to put pen to paper on his 5-year, $148 million contract extension with the deadline of October 16th looming ever closer. The course to getting this thing signed has been a curious one, involving Wiggins firing his (former) agent Bill Duffy after he had negotiated the deal and then moving on with negotiations without hiring another agent (according to the Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski and KSTP’s Darren Wolfson, Wiggins’ dad Mitchell Wiggins, who played in the NBA in the ’80s and early ’90s has become his de facto agent with third-party lawyers being used for independent counsel).
It would seem strange on the surface for Wiggins not to sign the extension immediately – not many people have the opportunity to extend for that sum of money, after all, and Wiggins has said repeatedly that Minnesota is where he wants to be – but is it possible that waiting to re-sign until after the season is in the Wolves’ and his best interests?
Why Waiting is in the Wolves’ Best Interests
Perhaps the most important reason for waiting to re-sign Wiggins until he hits restricted free agency next summer is that the Wolves would be able to utilize his Bird Rights. To boil it down to an overly simple explanation, a team obtains a player’s Bird Rights after said player has played for said team for at least three consecutive years; Bird Rights then allow for the player to re-sign even if the contract would push the team over the salary cap. The Wolves own Wiggins’s Bird Rights since he has has been a member of the Wolves for going on four years now and re-signing him using them would allow for increased roster and cap flexibility heading into next summer (Towns will be due for a monster extension and Jimmy Butler’s impending free agency is right around the corner; not to mention the roster is still a major work in progress, so any flexibility the Wolves’ can achieve the better off they’ll be).
Waiting would also allow Tom Thibodeau and company to see how exactly Wiggins functions in his new role and whether or not he is the best fit for it. It’s likely that Wiggins will see his usage and primary scoring opportunities dip this year and while he has shown that he can be a very solid spot up shooter in the past (he hit over 40% on catch-and-shoot threes last year) it remains to be seen if that role best utilizes his abilities. Wiggins will undoubtedly get some minutes as the primary leader on offense with the second unit (we already saw some of that in preseason), but how will he adjust, both mentally and within the flow of the game, to playing alongside Butler and likely differing more shots to Towns? These are legitimate questions and it would make some sense for the Wolves to want to have some answers before fully committing (obviously, Thibs thinks these questions have already been answered since he offered Wiggins the contract, but they linger nonetheless).
Why Waiting is in Wiggins’ Best Interests
It’s only speculation (much like Wiggins, his camp is extremely tight-lipped), but it’s impossible to wonder whether or not there are some minute details in the contract’s verbiage that aren’t sitting well with Wiggins. Is it possible that Wiggins wants his fifth year to be a player option rather than guaranteed?
Can't confirm, but it's the only real justification I have for the delay
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) October 11, 2017
Although this may seem like a ridiculous thing to keep someone from signing a $148 mil contract, for a player of Wiggins’ age it’s rather important. By making the fifth year a player option, Wiggins would be able to opt out of his contract and reach unrestricted free agency a year sooner (his age 27 season rather than his age 28 season). This has all sorts of implications ranging from being able to sign a supermax extension should he qualify (which I’d say is unlikely, but not impossible; here’s a primer on supermax extensions) a year sooner to his second unrestricted contract being offered to him in possibly his year 30 or 31 season.
If Wiggins is serious about wanting his fifth year to be a player option, there’s an argument to be made that he’s better off waiting and using that as a bargaining chip for negotiations next summer or signing a four-year offer sheet from another team (only the Wolves can offer a fifth year) which would get him to unrestricted free agency at the same time (summer of 2023).
Or maybe it’s possible (unlikely in my estimation, but possible) that Wiggins isn’t sold on having a lesser role with the Wolves. He’ll still be prominently featured within the offense, but maybe he isn’t sold on his fit now that Butler is around. Not signing his extension now would allow for him to play things out this year and determine if it’s in his best interests to stick around in Minnesota.
There are inherent risks with waiting, however. Injuries are always right around the corner, even for a player like Wiggins who has been extremely durable even with an insane amount of minutes played through his first three seasons; maybe the salary cap won’t grow as quickly as some believe; maybe Wiggins doesn’t even get the fifth year player option next summer.
In the end, it’s likely that one of Wiggins or the Wolves will cave by next Monday’s deadline. $148 mil is a lot to pass up and if players learned anything from this past summer it’s that betting on yourself and trying to make more money in free agency isn’t always the best idea. Wiggins wants to be a Wolf and the Wolves want Wiggins to stick around. This extension will almost assuredly get done, but maybe, just maybe, waiting wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Update: The Wolves announced that Andrew Wiggins signed his presumably 5-year, $148 mil extension right before I published this piece. Here is the press release:
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) October 11, 2017