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How have former $100M earners panned out for the Timberwolves?

By Julian Basena

MINNEAPOLIS -- Karl-Anthony Towns recently signed a contract extension that will keep his pockets lined and his people blessed for years to come. The four-year, $224 million dollar contract he agreed to on the first day of free agency will keep him in Minnesota through the 2027-28 season. And it's reasonable to say he's earned it.

At just 26, Towns has earned two All-NBA nods, three All-Star appearances and has averaged 20 points on 50% shooting on five of his seven active seasons. And he's coming off his statistical best season, in which he led the Wolves to the playoffs for the second time in his career and the second time in 18 years.

Towns' new deal currently stands as the largest tender ever signed in franchise history, the closest one being Towns' $190 million extension he signed in 2018. He has been fixed in rarified air since he officially claimed the mantle as the Timberwolves centerpiece three seasons ago, when Andrew Wiggins was traded. Only two other players, Wiggins and Kevin Garnett, have agreed to $100 million dollar contracts outside of Towns in Timberwolves history and they, too, have enjoyed impressive careers — with and without the Timberwolves.

Kevin Garnett (Photo by Rich Kane/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Out of all the top earners in Timberwolves history, Garnett is undoubtedly the most successful. As he carved out a name for himself, Garnett was the first of his kind in a variety of ways. The first player drafted out of high school after 20 years of drafts dominated by college prospects. The first Timberwolves with multiple All-Star nods. The first recipient of a $100 million dollar contract in franchise history. Garnett's famous six-year, $126 million extension signed in 1997 helped keep the "Big Ticket" in town and allowed him to grow into the player that would eventually win MVP and lead Minnesota to their first and only western conference finals appearance.

However, the Timberwolves would ultimately fizzle out as the 2000s continued. Garnett's co-stars left for free agency or were traded for less effective assets and the franchise's winningest coach, Flip Saunders, was no longer around. Garnett grew disgruntled enough to pursue greener pastures in Boston, where he joined fellow All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the Celtics in 2007 to form the first modern super team. It was there where he nabbed his first championship and a defensive player of the year award. After a brief stop with the Brooklyn Nets to establish another super team (which failed), Garnett closed his career with the Timberwolves to play alongside Wiggins and KAT, an era his initial exit shepherded.

(credit: Jordan Johnson/Getty Images)

Wiggins is still writing his story. His first few years in the NBA on the Wolves were marred by unfulfilled expectations. The first overall selection of the 2014 draft drew comparisons to Kobe Bryant in his early career and he showed flashes of dominant scoring ability, but never quite reached the level of a first-option scorer. He was offered a handsome extension anyway and signed his five-year, $148 million extension in 2017 in the midst of his struggling climb to live up to his billing. He still never peaked despite being relatively serviceable on a team that was seemingly rotating through coaches. (Wiggins played for four different coaches in his six years at Minnesota).

So Wiggins was traded in favor of a more affordable collection of players in 2020 after six years in Minnesota, and gradually developed into an All-Star and Finals MVP candidate for the Warriors en route to winning an NBA championship after three years in Golden State. A change of scenery, new role and likely a more grounded coaching staff and front office worked wonders for the former number one pick.

Though it is a particularly small sample size over just three decades of franchise history, it points to a fortunate trend. The larger contract offers in Timberwolves history are typically given to the right players — even if they don't stay in Minnesota. For the Wolves' newest big-time earner, the present might be the perfect time to ensure that KAT is the first Timberwolves superstar to spend his career in Minnesota.

They have their respected and talented head coach in Chris Finch, a similarly impressive and gifted general manager in Tim Connelly, who recently joined from a burgeoning Denver Nuggets team, and a roster with proven assets, namely Anthony Edwards, that have shown to be playoff ready. At no point, since Garnett and company have graced the Target Center floor and produced western conference contenders, has the Timberwolves organization been this stable with established members at every corner.

The present is, indeed, perfect. This time, things may just pan out.   

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