The NBA’s new labor agreement reached with its players delivers 400-plus pages of provisions that keeps the league playing lucratively through at least 2022, including one provision that fascinatingly applies to the Timberwolves and their fans.
In negotiations influenced by Kevin Durant’s seismic decision last summer to leave small-market Oklahoma City for championship-groomed Golden State, the NBA will allow teams to designate two players who can receive five-year maximum extensions when they complete their rookie contracts.
That’s good news for the Wolves, but it comes with an asterisk for a team that has been through something like this before with a guy named Kevin Love:
* They’ll soon enough have three players who could be worthy of such a designation.
Second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns is the sure-thing first choice when he becomes eligible to sign a contract extension worth well above $100 million in 2018.
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins and rising star Zach LaVine both will be eligible for huge extensions before next season and, should the Wolves ever have to choose between them, the choice won’t be as obvious as it might appear.
What makes a potentially intriguing and delicate situation even more so is this: Wiggins and LaVine are represented by the same agent, former Gopher Bill Duffy.
The current collective-bargaining agreement allows teams just one such player. Like a similar agreement in the new CBA that allow select, qualifying older players to sign six-year deals with their current teams, the change is incentive intended to keep the biggest stars with the teams that nurtured them.
It was a 2012 decision by Wolves owner Glen Taylor and then-president of basketball operations David Kahn that set in motion Love’s departure from the organization two years later.
Headed toward the second of three All-Star Game appearances, Love was angered when he was offered only a four-year, $61 million-plus contract extension.
Taylor and Kahn decided to do so for a variety of reasons, including his knees and long-term durability as well as leaving that five-year designation free for newly signed Ricky Rubio.
Nearly five years later, the Wolves never used that designated-player slot on either player.
Nearly five years later, Love plays for Cleveland and Rubio plays a supporting role on a team this time rebuilt around Towns, Wiggins, LaVine and perhaps someday rookie point guard Kris Dunn.
Love’s unhappiness led him elsewhere. Later that year, Oklahoma City’s refusal to make James Harden a third max-paid player alongside Durant and Russell Westbrook sent him to Houston and today all three superstars play in separate cities.
The Wolves will have options to re-sign their three young stars to five-year contracts if needed and if they choose. It’d require either Wiggins or LaVine to accept a four-year extension or wait to sign a five-year contract as a free agent. Or one could agree to a five-year extension with a player option, essentially making it a four-year deal, too.
Whether Wiggins and LaVine both insist on max years and max money remains to be seen.
Wiggins can create or get his own shot with the game on the line, but hasn’t yet become the kind of transformational two-way player envisioned when Cleveland drafted him No. 1 overall in 2014.
LaVine is the two-time slam dunk champion whose game this season is growing both offensively and defensively into his athleticism.
It also remains to be seen whether Thibodeau trades either one to balance his roster with more age and experience and speed the building process.
For example: Could he turn Wiggins or LaVine into an All-Star caliber player such as coveted Jimmy Butler should the Bulls reverse course and decide to rebuild? Could ambitious Boston GM Danny Ainge package defensive-minded and sensibly-priced veterans and/or draft picks into Wiggins, the kind of perimeter scoring star he seeks.
What’s certain is that it’s a good day to be in the NBA and the Wolves’ young stars will get paid big.
“It’s good to have job security,” Wolves’ union rep Towns said before later adding, “For me, money has just been paper. The game, the basketball, the court, the squeak of the shoes, that’s what matters to me. Keeping us on the court is the most important thing and they did a great job of getting this deal done not only for us, but for the next draft class and the draft classes to come.”
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: email@example.com, Blog: startribune.com/wolves