Wolves will meet with Rudy Gay, David Lee; deal with Pekovic 'very close'
The Minnesota Timberwolves wasted no time dipping their toes into the free-agent waters on Wednesday night.
Within minutes of NBA free agency beginning at 11 p.m. Central, president of basketball operations David Kahn had set up visits with the team's two priority free agents: Memphis forward Rudy Gay and New York Knicks center David Lee.
"We'll see like everybody else, but ... I think we're prepared," Kahn said in a late-night conference call with Twin Cities reporters.
"I think we identified two players in particular who kind of fit with us, and certainly, there's far more players on the list who could well fit with us as we march through this. So, it's not as if this is a (matter of), 'Well, these two players, and if that's not it, we're done.' But I think for this week, this was the right starting point for us."
Gay, who is a restricted free agent, will visit on Thursday. Lee, who is unrestricted, will visit on Saturday.
Kahn also confirmed the Wolves are "very, very close" to signing European prospect Nikola Pekovic, the 6-11, 243-pound center who was the Wolves' second-round pick in the 2008 draft. ESPN reported it's a done deal for three years and $13 million.
Though the Wolves added three small forwards on draft night, Kahn made fairly clear Gay -- the 6-foot-8, 230-pound former Connecticut star who averaged 19.6 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, his third in the NBA -- sits atop the team's wish list.
The Wolves entered free agency with roughly $13 million in salary-cap space. However, Kahn acknowledged Gay's restricted status means the Wolves "may also have to trade in order to get the players you want.
"I'm certainly not suggesting we're trading anybody tonight," Kahn added. "I just feel that he's a player that's been on our radar from a distance for quite some time."
The most logical player to shop in any sign-and-trade would be leading scorer and rebounder Al Jefferson, who lacks the athleticism Kahn wants in his post players. And wiping the three years and $42 million left on Jefferson's contract off the Wolves' payroll might be a must in order to make a competitive offer to Gay, 23.
Dumping Jefferson one way or another also would open a place for Lee (6-9, 250), a 27-year-old out of Florida who averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds in 2009-10.
"Al's situation ... is fluid," Kahn said. "We don't know what will occur there. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. And I think that David Lee plays also a style of play that fits very well with who we are, or who we aim to be.
"He's very productive. He runs really well. Again, he's very strong finishing around the basket. He's developed a very effective outside shot. He's an exceptional passer. ... We thought that he would also be a very obvious fit for us going forward."
Kahn said he could Lee and the Wolves' other incumbent post, Kevin Love, "could easily play some minutes side by side" and made a similar case for Gay and top draft pick Wesley Johnson">Wesley Johnson.
The signing of Pekovic is another move to address the post -- "I think he's somebody who could really help us next season and beyond," Kahn said -- and Kahn remains "cautiously optimistic" about re-signing Darko Milicic "sooner than later," too.
But the focus in the coming days will be on Gay and Lee, whom Kahn admitted will be checking out the Wolves during their visits as much as the Wolves are checking out them.
"It's not as if, in one day or a day and a half, we'll be able to replicate what it'd be like to have Rudy Gay as a member of our team," Kahn said. "But I expect these to be very serious visits. We'll have some social time; they'll meet (owner Glen Taylor) as part of the visits, and they'll interact with other people in our staffs.
"I look forward to, A, getting to know them better as persons, but I guess just as important, getting to know them as players, and specifically, what their aspirations are for their careers and how they see themselves and where they want to take their careers."