Glen Taylor Unsure about Signing “Big 3”
The Timberwolves, led by a roster of players 27 years old and younger, could make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Even casual NBA fans recognize the talent on the roster and the possibility of the team contending for championships within a few years. Part of the uncertainty, though, is whether owner Glen Taylor can keep the best players on the roster long term by signing them to richer contracts in the coming years.
Among the team’s starting players only power forward Gorgui Dieng, 27, is contractually committed to the Wolves beyond the 2018-2019 season, according to figures from Basketballreference.com. Dieng’s deal, agreed to last fall, goes through the 2020-2021 season when he is paid $17,287,640, per the website. Point guard Ricky Rubio, 26, is an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season when he will earn $14,800,000.
The often referred to “Big 3” of the Wolves are small forward Andrew Wiggins, 22, center Karl-Anthony Towns, 21, and shooting guard Zach LaVine who turns 22 today and is sidelined after ACL surgery last month. All are working for rookie contracts and will be in line for much bigger compensation in coming years. Wiggins and LaVine are reportedly restricted free agents after next season. Towns reaches that status in 2019.
Taylor is hopeful he will be able to keep the “Big 3,” while knowing he will also have salary obligations to another dozen or so players. “I am not sure,” he told Sports Headliners earlier this week. “Is it a concern I have? It is. Do we have a full answer? No. Are we laying out some scenarios? Yes.
“But we’ve signed ‘G’ (Dieng) and we’ve signed Ricky (new deal in 2014). We need some other good guys to come off the bench. In the end, you have to figure out what’s your priority.”
Dieng and Rubio are the top paid players on the roster with $65,148,783 and $42,600,000 multiyear deals, according to Basketballreference.com. Neither of those players is considered a superstar but Wiggins, Towns and LaVine have potential to earn that description.
Taylor has asked the Wolves’ front office to crunch numbers to provide various options in shaping future payrolls. Part of the consideration will be the size of the salary cap allowed by the NBA for its teams, and what Taylor is willing to expend, including a possible willingness to pay a penalty (“luxury tax”) for exceeding the league’s cap.
Taylor has often lost money operating the team but said the large number of rookie contracts on his payroll (including first and second season guards Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones) will allow the franchise to turn a profit of a few million dollars this season, regardless of whether the Wolves make the playoffs.
As of today, the Wolves have 19 games remaining during the regular schedule. Their record right now isn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs and Taylor said it will be “very difficult” to earn one of the eight postseason spots in the Western Conference. Minnesota is 2.5 games back of the eighth place Nuggets.
“I want the guys to work towards it,” Taylor said. “I don’t want them to give up at all because I just think that’s part of the learning lesson here, that we’re going to play some tough teams this week and we gotta come out and battle every one and try to win…some of these upsets.
“It’s difficult (to accept) when you can see how close we are (in the standings), and it’s difficult when you see how we lost so many of those games early in the season that we could of and should have won.”
Taylor likes the performance of first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. The two speak frequently, usually by phone. “We talk a lot about basketball. I am impressed that whatever (past) play I talk about during the game, he really knows exactly what play I am talking about.”
Taylor said Thibodeau has a five-year contract that includes incentives for the team making the playoffs.
The Wolves drafted LaVine and Towns but made a 2014 trade for Wiggins who was acquired for power forward Kevin Love—Minnesota’s most popular player when he played in Minneapolis. Love, an NBA All-Star, helped the Cavs win the NBA title last June. Wiggins has scored 20 points or more in 42 games this season and ranks with the NBA’s high potential players. Would Taylor trade Wiggins today to reacquire the 28-year-old Love?
“No, I would not because I just think he (Wiggins) has even a lot more upside (than he has shown),” Taylor said. “I think Wiggins has a lot to learn yet. Just from experience, he will improve and become even better.
“Then I think he is (also) an end of the game type of guy if he can learn from experiences how to use his (skills to help) everybody on the team.”
The late Flip Saunders, who three years ago was the Wolves’ basketball boss, scouted and liked Wiggins before acquiring him. “He just saw in him kind of what we are actually seeing,” Taylor said. “A person with all kinds of talent, he could just do things that a lot of other people won’t be able to do. …“
Taylor said Thibodeau has talked to him about Wiggins. “Thibs really likes him. He wants him to play better defense. If he is going to be critical of Wiggs it’s generally in the area of defense.
“He’s saying that he’s got a lot to learn. Yes, he makes mistakes but…it isn’t because he is selfish. He (Wiggins) doesn’t anticipate certain things developing soon enough. He (Thibodeau) says experienced guys anticipate. They see movement by the opposition and they sort of know where their players are…”
Rubio will meet the public at the Twin Cities Auto Show on Sunday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Lexus display in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The St. Paul Saints will provide giveaways to the first 1,000 auto show guests that day.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen will be at the Hyundai display March 15 from 6 to 7 p.m., and Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will appear at the same location March 18 from 6 to 7 p.m. Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant Scott Stevens will be at the Toyota display from 4 to 6 p.m. March 17.
NBC televises the Wild and Blackhawks as its game of the week on Sunday from Chicago. Minnesota and Chicago have the two best records in the NHL’s Western Conference. One point separates the Stanley Cup contenders, with the NHL regular season schedule ending early next month. The Wild has won its last four games in Chicago but the Blackhawks have a two-game winning streak in the season series that ends Sunday.
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk leads the NHL in wins and save percentage. Chicago wing Patrick Kane is tied for second with four other players for most points in the league.
The Star Tribune announced Eden Prairie High School forward and Gopher recruit Casey Mittelstadt as its prep hockey Player of the Year on Tuesday. Since 1985 only two players from the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools have won the award—Southwest’s Tom Chorske in 1985 and Johnson’s Tom Pogreba in 1996.
Minnesota natives Mitch McLain and Michael Bitzer are first team All-WCHA selections as announced by the Edina-based league office yesterday. Bowling Green’s McLain, a forward from Baxter, Minnesota, is joined on the team by Bemidji State goalie Bitzer who is from Moorhead, Minnesota, and is a Hobey Baker candidate.
High school football coaches have until Monday to submit information to the Minnesota Football Coaches Association regarding their class of 2018 college prospects. The MFCA is sponsoring a recruiting combine for prep players to gather data about them on April 29 at the Braemar Dome in Edina, and the organization is also coordinating a recruiting fair May 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park where high school coaches can meet with college coaches to discuss prospects. For details click the MFCA ad on this page and visit the organization’s website.
An online Monday article from the Las Vegas Journal-Review reported Nevada sports books lost $8.25 million in January, according to figures from the state’s gaming control board. Much of the revenue was lost on football including the college national championship game won by underdog Clemson over Alabama, and NFL playoff games where the public beat the spread. The loss was historically unusual and the newspaper noted: “The house doesn’t always win on football.”
Gregg Wong, the former Pioneer Press sportswriter, will again work as an official scorer for the Twins, sharing the scorer responsibilities this season with Minnesota sports author Stew Thornley and Rochester-based physician Kyle Traynor.