Timberwolves would have a hard time finding trade partner for Andrew Wiggins, need him to play up to his contract
The former No. 1 pick, who's underachieved for much of his time in the NBA, is still owed $133.5M over the next four seasons
While he has shown flashes of potential over the course of his career, Wiggins has yet to develop into the consistent two-way star that may expected him to become after he came out of Kansas after a single season. Labeling Wiggins as a "bust" would be too strong, as he holds respectable averages of 19.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and a steal per game over 400 career contests; not the five-year output of a player who doesn't belong in the league. No, Wiggins has game. It's just that he hasn't grown into the franchise cornerstone that the Timberwolves need him to be, and quite frankly, are paying him to be.
That's the issue for Minnesota. Not only did the Wolves bank on Wiggins becoming a two-way superstar, they doubled down and prematurely paid him like one when they gave him a five-year, $148 million extension in 2017. Now, they are now hamstrung by that decision, and due to Wiggins' lack of development, they find themselves in a sticky situation.
Given his production, Wiggins, 24, projects as a useful role player at this point in his career -- either on Minnesota's roster, or as a trade chip. But as it stands, the Wolves would have a very difficult time finding a taker for Wiggins' massive deal, which is eating up a large chuck of the team's cap space, in turn preventing them from spending that money elsewhere. Wiggins is due $133.5 million over the next four seasons. It is quite literally the definition of an 'albatross contract.'
It's not only the sheer dollar amount that makes Wiggins' contract so unattractive to potential trade partners, but also the length, as there are four full years remaining with no outs or options attached. For the Wolves -- or teams looking to clear cap space -- this means that Wiggins' contract won't even be attractive as an expiring contract (i.e. a way to shed salary and clear cap space) for a few more years. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
So, while the Wolves may be open to the idea of moving Wiggins over the offseason, they will likely have a very difficult time doing so. The former top pick hasn't developed into a big enough box office draw that an organization could justify overpaying for him, either. Once the 2019-20 season starts, Wiggins could potentially play himself into an attractive asset, but it's hard to see anyone trading for that contract during the summer.
Minnesota has two ways to improve as a team heading into next season: Move Wiggins' contract and use the then-available cap space to fill out the roster around Karl-Anthony Towns, or hope for major on-court improvement from Wiggins. Since the first option appears unlikely, the Wolves don't have much of a choice but to go with the second option and hope that Wiggins -- a man once dubbed 'Maple Jordan' -- is a late bloomer.
Things were looking up for Wiggins after his third year in the league when he averaged a career-high 23.6 points. However, instead of continuing on an upward trajectory, Wiggins' play plateaued in his fourth and fifth seasons. Some of that may have been due to the presence of Jimmy Butler, whose ball-dominant style of play took some on-court opportunities away from Wiggins.
Here's a look at how Wiggins' game suffered while paired with Butler, via The Athletic:
Butler's all-around game was primarily responsible for catapulting the Wolves into the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and Thibodeau constantly praised Wiggins for his willingness to sacrifice individual statistics to contribute to winning. But there were signs that Wiggins was doing more than just sacrificing. He was regressing.
His free-throw attempts fell from 6.6 per game in 2016-17 to 3.8 the following season, a startling lack of aggression from a player who lived at the free-throw line in the first three seasons of his career. His 3-point shooting plummeted from a respectable .356 to .331 and his overall field-goal percentage dipped from .452 to .438. His shot selection was outdated, a steady diet of long 2-pointers, both under Thibodeau and Saunders.
Perhaps most startlingly, Wiggins' dunks fell from 77 in 2016-17 to 58 in that year with Butler and just 39 last season.
But now with Butler gone, the Wolves are hoping to get Wiggins back on track.
"We're going to spend as much time as possible not only with Andrew, but with every player on this roster," Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas said. "We want them to be in Minnesota as much as they can be and we're encouraging that at a high level. But anywhere, wherever they're at this summer, we're going to be with them. Whether it's an assistant coach, player development coaches, trainers, strength coaches, we are going to have our touch on all our players."
The fact that the Wolves need him to step up isn't lost on Wiggins, and the former Rookie of the Year feels as though he is (finally) in a good position to respond.
"I feel confident in the changes we made this year, this summer, and I feel confident that I'll be back on track this season," Wiggins said. "Especially with Gersson Rosas and [head coach] Ryan [Saunders], they'll help me… Ryan, the head coach, Gersson, just two guys that believe in me. And even how Ryan was putting the ball in my hands at the end of the season, I feel like I was getting back into a really good groove and the confidence and everything was there. So I feel like working out with those two this summer, being really hands-on with them, I feel like I'll come back in September, October, training camp and be ready for the season."
Last season, Wiggins was the 19th highest-paid player in the NBA, which means that the Wolves were paying him like an All-Star. If they hope to have any chance of contending in the West moving forward, they need him to start playing like one.
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