With no shot at LeBron, Timberwolves still want to be aggressive in free agency

By Jon Krawczynski, AP
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Timberwolves ready to spend in free agency

MINNEAPOLIS — If any team in the NBA needs LeBron James, it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Fans of one of the league’s woebegone franchises have suffered in the frozen north country through rebuilding project after rebuilding project following the only truly successful season in the club’s history — the run to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

The Wolves haven’t been back to the playoffs since then, tied a team record for futility with only 15 wins last year and desperately need a king-sized star to help them on the court and at the box office. One reporter last week even floated the idea of trading for Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony in a move to get James’ attention.

“Sugar plumbs and fairy tales,” Timberwolves president David Kahn replied.

By all accounts, there will be no miracle in Minnesota this summer, no ace up Kahn’s sleeve that will lure one of the biggest names on the free agent market who could single-handedly energize what has been a lifeless organization.

But the Wolves do have plenty of money to spend — about $20 million — and planned to be aggressive with it after the market opened at 11:01 p.m. Central time on Wednesday night.

The odds will be stacked against them in a competition against teams in far bigger markets with far more salary cap room. The Bulls, Nets, Knicks and Heat have shed salaries with abandon, virtually giving players away to make a run at the most talented crop of free agents in league history.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kahn said. “I think it’s going to be crazy and we need to jump into the craziness. So the last thing we’re going to do is lay back. That doesn’t mean we’ll do something impulsively or overreact, but we’ll be very active.”

While Chicago, New Jersey, New York and Miami will begin their free-agent agenda by giving sales pitches to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Timberwolves will start with center Darko Milicic.

The former second overall draft pick — selected ahead of Anthony, Bosh and Wade — languished for seven seasons with four teams, and was intent on returning to Europe after the season before coming to Minnesota in at the trade deadline in February.

Given his first extensive playing time in years, Milicic averaged 8.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 games with the Wolves. Coach Kurt Rambis was impressed with Milicic’s versatility and presence on the defensive end, and thinks he will be the perfect fit for the up-tempo style he is trying to employ.

“Darko, we think, could be our starting center this year and we’d like to have him back,” Kahn said.

Milicic’s agent, Marc Cornstein, said Wednesday that his client is definitely open to returning to Minnesota.

“I know he really enjoyed his time in Minnesota and would be happy to come back if everything worked out,” Cornstein said.

If Milicic does re-sign, it could mark the end of Al Jefferson’s time in Minnesota. The main cog in the seven-for-one deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2008, Jefferson averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season in his first year back from major knee surgery.

Despite being one of the best low-post players in the game, the Wolves may look for a more athletic power forward who can run the fast break.

“We will explore trading Al, but we will not trade Al unless it’s the right deal for us,” Kahn said. “Al Jefferson could not only be on this team next season, he could be on this team the next three seasons. I’ve met with Al and I’ve discussed this.”

The Timberwolves are also considering bringing center Nikola Pekovic, their 2008 second-round pick, over from Greece and could also target Memphis forward Rudy Gay, among others.

Kahn said thinks it is important to get potential free agents to the Twin Cities to see firsthand what it would be like to play, and live, here.

“I think that one of the things we’re selling is stability,” said Kahn, referring to the Wolves having an owner in Glen Taylor, a front office staff and a coach who plan to be in place for some time. “I think we can do a better job of presenting that here as opposed to a third-party cities.

“We have a decent little story to tell, and it’s one that’s building as opposed to one that’s already there.”

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