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Jaden McDaniels and the Art of Making a Deal

McDaniels is in the middle of an interesting contract extension negotiation with the Timberwolves, who need to do whatever it takes to keep their star defensive weapon.

Well, friends, we’ve nearly made it. Media day was yesterday. Training camp is already underway. The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Abu Dhabi for two preseason games on the fifth and seventh of October. We’ve nearly made it. The offseason, and the drought of talking topics September brings, is nearly over.

Media day was filled with a lot of uncertainty (has anyone checked in on why Karl-Anthony Towns was so standoffish?), but one thing that’s for sure is that the three names that are at the forefront of every major franchise decision right now in Chris Finch, Anthony Edwards, and Tim Connelly all badly want Slim to get locked in.

The quote of the day came from Edwards, who said, “I think the world knows we wouldn’t be Minnesota Timberwolves without Jaden McDaniels.”

It’s not a needless hyping up of a teammate, which is what media day quotes usually are; it’s the truth. Once the 27th pick out of Washington, McDaniels has grown from bench wing to impactful stopper, and into a top forward prospect across the entire association. While Edwards came in day one as the first pick with superstar expectations, McDaniels came in undervalued and produced. Now, making just $3.5 million in 2023-24 may be the only way Jaden remains undervalued.

That seems to be changing, however. Rumors were that the Wolves’ number one priority going into the season was giving McDaniels a much needed raise. Those rumors were confirmed outright when Connelly said this:

The question of a new deal is not one of worthiness but one of compromise and unfortunately, there is no reason for Jaden to do so. Minnesota will likely be offering a deal similar to that of Portland Trail Blazers Jerami Grant. The deal was universally panned but considering how much better McDaniels is than Grant in a similar role, along with being significantly younger, Grant’s $five year, 160 million deal is certainly not a bad framework.

A deal of that magnitude would immediately make McDaniels a top player in total contract value and the 13th highest paid forward in the league. That seems like very fair value for a player with an extremely bright future who has improved year over year. The question here is where the Wolves ultimately nail down Jaden’s value. Ultimately, would they offer McDaniels the full rookie scale max contract? We no longer live in the world of the 2010s Oklahoma City Thunder; promising young players are not traded over disputes of minimal contract differences, but finding fair value is always an issue for front offices to navigate.

When in Denver, Connelly was struck with a similar proposition in the contract negotiations of forward Michael Porter Jr. Eventually, he reneged and gave Porter Jr. the full max extension. That decision has worked out for the Nuggets, winning last year’s championship with significant contributions from their max contract wing, so there likely isn’t a sour taste in Connelly’s mouth.

All of that is to say, there’s no reason for the Wolves not to offer McDaniels the full max from an on-court or personal perspective. The only worries come from a cap sheet standpoint. This point has been spoken on at length this offseason, from conversations about trading one of the two bigs for multiple smaller pieces or young players to fully committing to being contenders by throwing more money on the pile, so I will keep it short. The Wolves have three players making over $40 million dollars a year on the books for the next few years in Rudy Gobert, Town and Edwards. They have Mike Conley making $24 million this season as an expiring contract. Naz Reid is signed long-term for three years and just shy of $42 million. There’s also smaller, but non-minimum deals for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and offseason acquisitions Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr.

The Wolves will be pressed up against the cap. That shouldn’t matter in a conversation of paying your second or third-best player for the future, but it does. So the question remains, how high will Minnesota go with their offer?

On the opposite side of the table, McDaniels should not settle. On an emotional level, these situations are nothing alike, but I feel the need to point on recently traded Portland big man Deandre Ayton. The former No. 1 overall pick insisted to the Phoenix Suns that someone would offer the former number one overall pick a max. The Indiana Pacers did. The market for quality young players is always there, especially if your agent is Bill Duffy, who has both Ayton and McDaniels on his client list. The process of restricted free agency is always tense. The payoff is regular for the world of RFAs.

Right now, the top seven teams in cap space in 2024 would all be looking for a capable young wing. Each of the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, and Orlando Magic could offer McDaniels a max in free agency. All of them should if the opportunity presents itself.

Thus, the issue of this negotiation is obvious. It’s hard to find a sweet spot between where the Wolves can maintain any cap flexibility, and with it, any ability to keep this team together, and where Jaden would be getting fairly compensated.

Jaden McDaniels will (crossing my fingers) be signed to an extension before the season starts. It will be a deal that the larger NBA community will balk at. After all, McDaniels is a zero time All-Star or All-Defensive team member. He is a career 9.6 points per game scorer. He is the definition of a non-box-score impact player. Whenever anyone says that, you can show them this graph and say with confidence that he is arguably the best non-big defender in the entire NBA.

The rough draft title of this piece calls a deal impossible, but I amended that. A Jaden McDaniels contract that may mark the end of this team as presently constructed. Someone will need to be moved. And it will be worth it.

The Timberwolves aren’t the Timberwolves without Jaden McDaniels. That goes beyond next year. Minnesota has one of the brightest duos in the league with Ant and Jaden. That is worth maintaining.

An extension is coming and it will be huge. It will be huge to overcome that impossibility of compromise for McDaniels. That contract will be threefold however. It will mark the continuance of the era that the 2020 draft began. It will mark a possible future so bright that it could lead to the best era in franchise history. It will also mark an inevitable end to the era that preceded it. Given the choice between that threefold convergence and the stubbornness to make one of the best developments this team has ever seen prove his value for another team, I’d rather look to the future and prove that anything, the impossible included, is possible.