The Timberwolves will not lack motivation this season. Sure, there is the whole thing of the team trying to make the playoffs, players trying to prove they are who they think they are and the franchise, in general, trying to prove it's on the right track moving forward.
But a number of players — including many likely rotation players — also have massive financial implications tied to this campaign.
D’Angelo Russell didn’t shy away from that on media day.
“Anytime it’s a contract year in this professional world, the pressure’s on you, and you take it for all it’s worth,” Russell said. “I just wanted to come back with that mentality and that approach towards the game. Hopefully, some of the young guys can see that.”
To be clear, Russell still has two years left on his contract. But he’s thinking about a possible extension at the conclusion of this campaign. Jake Layman, Patrick Beverley and Taurean Prince will be true free agents after this season.
If he doesn’t come to an agreement on an extension prior to the preseason deadline, Josh Okogie will be a restricted free agent next summer.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch believes it’s the team’s responsibility to increase the market value of its players. And he won’t shy away from conversations about the topic when it's atop the minds of his players.
“I think if it’s applicable to something that’s happening within the team or something, that’s kind of foremost in their minds and maybe bothering their performance, we’ll talk with them one on one and maybe openly about it,” Finch said. “But mostly it’s about being committed to their development, helping them get not only their individual game better, but also how do we develop them in the system that gets them on the floor to be able to play well. A lot of individual attention both with player development and film study. Things that everybody is doing.”
Finch acknowledged having a roster full of players in a contract year can cut both ways for a team. Players tend to be at their best — on and off the court — when their finances are at stake. But they can also worry about not being hurt, and playing time and role can become even more personal when what you do in a given season can result in the gain or loss of millions of dollars.
“That’s where anxiety builds. That’s where they start worrying so much about what their future is going to hold. Just normal human behaviors,” Finch said. “It really comes down to the individual and their approach.”
The Timberwolves can point to their recent history, where they’ve prioritized re-signing their own players in free agency. That’s often been out of necessity. Without much cap space to speak of, signing their own players has been about the Timberwolves’ only option in free agency, outside of trades.
The same figures to be the case moving forward unless the roster is seriously reshuffled. If you make a legitimate impact to help the team, there is a good chance you’ll be compensated as such the following offseason. Such was the case for Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt in recent years.
So maybe Prince is approaching this season with the proper approach. He, too, was asked about playing in a contract year this season.
“It’s a bigger year for the Timberwolves, obviously, for the greater scheme of things,” he said. “But for me, it’s obviously big to just continue to get my children the life they deserve, and my family, as well. So that’s what I’m working for. I get everything I want any day. Money doesn’t define that.”