Reporting Mike Max
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves kept up their aggressive push to upgrade their promising young roster on Thursday, waiving center Darko Milicic and formally submitting their offer sheet for restricted free agent forward Nicolas Batum.
Owner Glen Taylor said the Wolves were continuing to talk with Batum’s current team, the Portland Trail Blazers, about a sign-and-trade option for acquiring the 6-foot-8 native of France. But Taylor also said he expected Batum to sign the deal — the four-year contract is worth more than $45 million — by the close of Thursday’s business day and for the Blazers to match the hefty offer as they’ve vowed.
“We’re going to call their bluff,” Taylor said.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said Wednesday the 23-year-old Batum, who averaged a career-high 13.9 points last season, is more valuable than what the Wolves had been offering in a sign-and-trade. Batum is the type of versatile, athletic player the Wolves have been lacking on the wing in head coach Rick Adelman’s offense, but Olshey said, “I don’t believe in letting talent walk out the door.”
Batum and his agent told the Blazers they hoped the offer wouldn’t be matched and that they prefer the Wolves, believing they’re a better fit for his skills and style.
Milicic received the amnesty designation, a one-time provision allowing a team to let a player go without his remaining contract counting against the league’s salary cap or luxury tax. The Wolves still must pay the 27-year-old Milicic about $7 million more.
They’ve been busy trying to clear room under the cap to sign guards Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved and, ideally, Batum. Roy and Shved have already agreed to terms on contracts. Other buyout candidates include Martell Webster and Brad Miller, and players like Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Wes Johnson or even Derrick Williams could be traded to help create more space, if necessary.
Milicic signed a four-year deal with $16 million guaranteed in July 2010. Acquired in a throwaway trade with the New York Knicks in February 2010, the 7-footer showed flashes of the potential that prompted the Detroit Pistons to make him the second pick in the 2003 draft with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade still on the board.
Milicic often struggled to stay in shape and fell out of Adelman’s favor down the stretch last season. His productivity was far less than what president of basketball operations David Kahn predicted after signing the big Serbian, infamously calling his acquisition for the Wolves “like manna from heaven.” Milicic appeared in 29 games last season, starting 23, and averaged 4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 16.3 minutes.
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