MINNEAPOLIS (AP) In the funny-money economics of the new NBA, Gorgui Dieng’s four-year, $64 million contract extension really isn’t a lot of money.
In the real world that Dieng inhabits, the one in which his hometown in Senegal can’t even get basic necessities for its hospital, $64 million can, and will, have an incredible impact.
”It doesn’t matter how much you make but what can you do with it,” Dieng said Tuesday, one day after signing the contract to keep him with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the long haul. ”I’m sure a lot of people make more money than I did before and they didn’t do the right thing with it. I always wanted to help and I’m going to keep helping. I’m going to do the best I can to my ability to make peoples’ lives better.”
Working hand-in-hand with Matter, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding health care throughout the world, and Roger and Nancy McCabe of the Timberwolves Fastbreak Foundation, Dieng has put together a three-phase ”Gorgui Project” to deliver equipment and tools for the hospital and agriculture in Kebemer. Dieng has helped ship massive containers back home with X-ray machines, beds, rototillers and even a tractor to help those he left when he came to the United States to pursue a basketball career.
So while other big men like Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams signed extensions for four years and at least $100 million, Dieng wasn’t interested in squeezing every last dollar he could out of the Timberwolves. Had he declined the offer and become a free agent next summer, he likely would have commanded a contract of at least $80 million. But in his four years in Minnesota, Dieng has found a home, and he made it clear he wanted to stay.
”I want to be here. I didn’t want to be here I wouldn’t have bought a house this summer,” he said. ”Everybody knew it. I wanted to be here. I don’t like moving around back and forth. I like here. I like the organization. Great people. They help you. It’s an easy task for me being here.”
The 26-year-old Dieng has emerged as a versatile and dependable big man, able to defend multiple positions, block shots, rebound and hit the midrange jumper. It didn’t take long for new coach Tom Thibodeau to understand he is a perfect fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt. Dieng is averaging 13.0 points and 13.5 rebounds in the first two games this season.
”I think it’s important for the organization,” Thibodeau said. ”Obviously, we feel very good about him signing. That’s important for us to move forward. He embodies all the things we’re looking for. He has had a very good start to his career. He continues to improve. He gets better and better, but it’s also who he is: His character, his intelligence, his drive. I think those things are important.”
Dieng’s decision to sign for less than he probably could have gotten on the open market provides the Wolves some flexibility for the coming years when Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine come up for extensions that are expected to come at a much steeper price. Dieng met with Wolves owner Glen Taylor on Monday to chart out the vision for the franchise over the next five years, and he decided to try to set the tone for the negotiations to come in hopes that this tight-knit group stays together.
”If I go to another team, am I going to be happy? I don’t know,” Dieng said. ”I just wanted to be happy and make sure I’m comfortable where I am at. I’m looking forward (hoping) they’re all going to do the same and be honest with their teammates, because at the end of the day it’s not all about the money.”