When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning signed an NFL rookie record contract 19 years ago, somebody asked him what he planned to do with all that money.
He answered that he planned to earn it.
Timberwolves young star Andrew Wiggins didn’t offer such a succinct statement when his team gathered Friday for another season, but he vowed that maximum five-year, $148 million contract he soon will sign won’t change him one bit.
“Not at all, I’m pretty much the same guy, same mood,” he said. “That’s what hard work does. I’ve been grinding my whole life for this contract. It’s nothing but up from here. Never get complacent, keep getting better.”
On the former No. 1 overall draft pick’s way here, Wiggins fired his agent last month, rearranged the team that advises and represents him and met more than once face-to-face with Wolves owner Glen Taylor, who said he wanted such a meeting before he made that sizable offer.
Asked Friday about his reaction to Taylor’s request, Wiggins said, “It was no big reaction. It was simple: OK, he’s offering all that money, he can do whatever he wants.”
He called himself in “no rush” to sign a contract that he wants to be sure he fully understands before he does so. He could sign it before the Wolves open training camp in San Diego on Saturday morning, before they play their first preseason game Friday against Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim, Calif., but he must sign it by a mid-October deadline or he and the Wolves must then wait until July.
“No doubt,” Wiggins said. “Minnesota has been good to me. They’ve been loyal, trustworthy. They’re committed. They want me here, so I want to do the same.”
When he does sign, it will change his life, even if he is correct that it won’t change him.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, it gives you financial freedom,” veteran teammate Jamal Crawford said about an athlete signing his first mammoth contract. “Then you start thinking about generations. It’s not about you anymore. You’re able to set up your grandkids, your mom, your dad, other family members you care about. It just gives you a freedom, a peace so you can concentrate on the task at hand and be the ultimate professional.”
Any which way, Wiggins no doubt will sign it, sooner rather than later.
“Usually when you have two sides that want to get something done, you get it done,” Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said. “I don’t think it will change him. I know what he has done this summer. I think he wants to be great … Understand regardless of what you’re being paid, don’t lose sight that you’re chasing excellence. If you’re chasing excellence, all the other stuff is going to care of itself.”
Wiggins spent a chunk of his summer in Minneapolis, drilling and watching film with Thibodeau. He also worked on his shot, his ball-handling and his body.
“I put on some weight, thankfully,” he said.
Wiggins said Friday that he has gained five pounds, is stronger and, in an admission that will delight Wolves fans, claimed he is committed to rebounding better (low bar that it is) than he has in his first three NBA seasons.
The Wolves acquired three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler in a draft-night trade and signed free agents Crawford, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, but their intentions to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004 might rest as much on the defensive commitment and improvement that Wiggins and fellow young star Karl-Anthony Towns make.
Wiggins already is among the NBA’s most gifted, athletic young scorers, but at age 22 hasn’t yet reached the kind of consistency and versatility that defines the league’s biggest stars. With their $148 million investment that won’t pay Wiggins big until the 2018-19 season, the Wolves are betting on him to do so before the contract expires in 2023.
“We all want more from him, but also remember he is going into his fourth year,” Thibodeau said. “We tend to measure him against a player who has been in the league seven, eight years and we tend to forget the steps those players made to get where they are. So he has to continue to work. Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Same with Karl. The sky is the limit for them. Making the commitment to play great defense, to understand how important that is to winning is critical.”
Wiggins told a reporter in July that he is worth “nothing less” than a maximum contract and the Wolves agreed. Towns is due for the same when he’s eligible to negotiate a contract extension next summer.
That kind of money brings expectations and pressure to perform, of course.
“It doesn’t really matter, Andrew is a competitor,” Towns said. “He is a man who wants to win. He wants to play to the best of his abilities. He wants to put on for Canada, so I don’t think Maple Jordan is going to have a problem this year with signing that contract, which he rightfully deserves. He’s a max player. Getting that contract won’t stop him from achieving his goals, which is being one of the best players in the NBA, which he is.”
Wiggins no longer has an agent, not after firing one of the league’s most respected ones, Bill Duffy, after he negotiated a five-year extension in which the Wolves gave Wiggins all they could by NBA rules.
Wiggins said Friday he’s not certain if he will hire another agent again. Instead, he has a manager, a lawyer and the experience of his parents, both of whom were professional athletes.
“It’s not as hard as you think,” Wiggins said. “Me and Bill, we were good. It was nothing against him at all. It was more about a business point of view from my end. I wish him all the best of luck, I wish his agency the best of luck because they did nothing but good on my side.”
So Wiggins has forged ahead with what he calls his own “team” and after he apparently convinced Taylor he will become the player someday that Taylor is paying for starting a season from now.
“Financial wealth, like people would say, you’re set,” said Butler, who bet on himself and held on before signing a five-year, $92 million contract extension with Chicago in 2015.
“But you can’t let that money change how you go about the game. You still have to work like the first day of your rookie deal. Good for him. He deserves it. What he has done in this league, what he has done for this team, he works incredibly hard and he’s going to do that for a very, very long time.
“He’s going to be fine. The money isn’t going to change him. It’s going to change his life and his family’s life, but he’ll still be the same person.”