After an offseason steeped in anticipation, the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves have started the season flat. The 30-point deficit the Wolves found themselves in against the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be a wake-up call. It’s clear as day that the chemistry on this team needs some work.
So often, analysis of NBA basketball views players as singular beings. Player A has this skillset, which should complement player B, who has that skillset. This type of analysis fails to acknowledge that these players are complex individuals. Beyond the team’s success, each guy has goals and aspirations that are uniquely their own. For the Timberwolves specifically, there are currently a lot of financial dynamics at play.
The Wolves have Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns locked in contractually for the foreseeable future. Anthony Edwards will be able to sign a contract extension after this season. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, Edwards has all but signed a maximum extension. But a few players are playing for their next contract, and those added incentives might be affecting the product we see on the floor.
Reid is operating in a very limited role because he’s playing behind two all-NBA-caliber centers. If the Wolves can’t come to an agreement with him this season, it would not surprise me to see him find greener pastures somewhere else. Minnesota has a pipeline of backup bigs who can take his place were he to leave, so the pressure on the Wolves is minimal. However, I’m sure Reid is eager to show the Wolves and other teams around the league that he is a high-quality offensive player who can play the 4 or the 5.
Nowell’s contract situation is far more interesting and impactful. It’s clear that Nowell is looking to prove himself as a legitimate second-unit scorer. So far this season, he has more than doubled his shot attempts and is third on the team in attempts with 14.3 per game. This summer, we saw that bench scorers can make big money. Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole signed contracts worth greater than $120 million. Certainly, Nowell doesn’t have the track record that either of those two players has. Collin Sexton recently inked a four-year, $70 million extension, which I think Nowell and his camp might point to as a goal. Minnesota won’t be the only one vying for Nowell if he can show an ability to lead a bench unit. Clearly, it’s his prerogative, as we’ve seen him be more aggressive on the floor.
D’Angelo Russell’s status with the team and future earnings also hinge greatly on this season. He made an All-Star game in his fourth season, which helped earn him a maximum extension with the Brooklyn Nets. Russell’s star has fallen since then as he’s transitioned from being viewed as a rising young star by much of the league. Now there seems to be many who question his ability to lead the team as a primary ball-handler, and his defensive shortcomings are undeniably a liability.
Russell and the Wolves failed to come to an agreement on a contract extension this past offseason, and there have been crickets from both sides about whether or not they’ve even come close. Brian Windhorst reported that Russell’s camp has reached out to the Wolves, but “it doesn’t seem like it’s being reciprocated.”
With no agreement in sight, the personal dynamics could be challenging to navigate — especially if the Wolves continue to disappoint. Russell already spent the offseason in a flurry of trade rumors, and his spot on this roster has felt tenuous for some time now. Russell was Gersson Rosas’ big acquisition. Time will tell how Tim Connelly’s regime value’s DLo’s contributions to this roster.
There’s a lot on the line for Jaden McDaniels this year. He’ll be able to ink an extension this upcoming off-season. The Wolves are clearly very invested in McDaniels. They opted to trade more draft capital to the Utah Jazz so that they could retain him in the Gobert trade. That would signal that McDaniels’ camp is entering into negotiations from a place of strength. But he still has some things to prove if he wants a big payday.
Here are some recently signed extension numbers around the league.
McDaniels hasn’t necessarily had the same production, nor the playoff reps, as Mikal Bridges and De’Andre Hunter. Still, he has shown signs of being a high-level 3-and-D type player. McDaniels has flashed a skillset beyond that of a spot-up shooter at times, though. His ability to find his spots in the midrange and knock down jumpers off-the-dribble has been eye-opening. McDaniels also started this season attacking the rim more aggressively. And his defense has, at times, looked like that of an All-League defensive player.
So, McDaniels has a significant incentive to show the extent of his skillset. The Wolves will have no problem retaining him in the future, as restricted free agency will allow them to match any offer that other teams could throw at him. But Jaden has a chance to earn himself a fat $100 million payday if he can continue to expand his game.
The Wolves’ starting lineup is stacked, though. The offensive environment is such that McDaniels is often an afterthought. After the opening game of the season, Russell’s comments illuminated that fact.
“Not one play was drawn up for him,” he said. “So for him to dominate the game the way he did, guard the best player and dominate the game offensively. … He’s gonna have a hell of a career, hell of a season. He’s just scratching the surface.”
As the season progresses, we will see McDaniels, Russell, Nowell, and Reid compete to earn their next contract. The effect on the court may be rocky as the team also works on building chemistry and continuity. Therefore, how these players manage their personal agendas and team dynamics will partly determine how good the Wolves can be this season.