The line of people frustrated with Andrew Wiggins not reaching his potential as a player — due to work ethic and an at times passive personality — is longer than the lines for the new Pixar rides at Disneyland this summer. It goes back to Bill Self and most of Jayhawk nation in Kansas, continues through Flip Saunders and Sam Mitchell, and goes right up to Tom Thibodeau and his unflinching glare.
Sources familiar with the situation told Sporting News that Butler is uncertain about playing with Wiggins — Butler had problems last season with Wiggins, his work ethic and his approach on the defensive end of the floor. Thibodeau has had similar problems with Wiggins in the past, too, and he had some hope that bringing a tough-minded veteran like Butler into the locker room would spur Wiggins to improve. It didn’t.
Not even close — Wiggins regressed. Butler and Wiggins play a similar position and style, in the face of that Wiggins ceded shots (nearly six fewer per game in similar minutes) and with that his efficiency dropped — he shot 33.1 percent from three and his true shooting percentage of 50.1 was well below the league average, as was his PER of 13.
Butler is right to be frustrated, but this may be who Wiggins is.
It matters because Butler is entering the last year of his contract, and while he’s technically extension eligible right now he makes a lot more money becoming a free agent then re-signing with the Timberwolves next summer. However, if he’s even more frustrated after next season, would he still re-sign? Might he bolt?
If your first thought was “well then just trade Wiggins” good luck with that. Wiggins $146.5 million extension he just signed last summer kicks in this summer and other teams have seen what Butler has seen. Not even his hometown team of Toronto is going to jump at Wiggins with that contract.
For a team that should be on the rise — the Timberwolves did win 16 more games than the season before and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — with elite players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler, there is a lot of turbulence around the franchise. Butler loves Thibodeau and his hard-driving style, Towns not so much. Thibodeau’s long-standing habit of riding his starters hard wears on guys — the Timberwolves starting five played more minutes than any five-man unit in the league (330 more than the third-place team, that’s almost seven full games worth) and three Timberwolves were in the top 15 in minutes played total.
Throw in the Wiggins dynamic, and this feels like a Minnesota team that could take another step forward next season, or implode. Whichever direction it goes, Wiggins will be one of the main reasons.