MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves have been engaged with the Trail Blazers for days in a back-and-forth dance to try and pry Nicolas Batum out of Portland.
And it’s not quite over yet.
The Timberwolves traded center Brad Miller and two second-round picks to New Orleans and waived swingman Martell Webster on Friday, all in an effort to clear enough cap room to sign Batum to a four-year, $46.5 million offer sheet with incentives that could push the deal past $50 million.
Once Webster clears waivers at 5 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, the Wolves can submit the signed offer sheet to the league. The Blazers will have three days to match the offer for the restricted free agent or let him leave for Minnesota.
Portland GM Neil Olshey has been adamant that the Blazers will match any offer for the 23-year-old swingman and will not agree to a sign-and-trade deal to let him land in Minnesota. But Wolves president David Kahn said on Friday night that he remained hopeful they could work out a trade before Sunday to make it work. Absent a deal, Kahn said the Wolves would submit the offer to make the Blazers match it.
The Wolves reached an agreement on the deal with Batum last week and have been trying to work out a trade ever since.
“I take our commitment to him not only seriously, it’s a matter of honor,” Kahn said. “When you make a commitment you have to follow through.”
Batum averaged 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in his fourth season with the Blazers, and the Wolves see him as the versatile, defensive-minded perimeter player they have been searching for over the past few seasons.
“He very much is kind of a missing piece,” Kahn said. “We’re very hopeful that we can have him. But we understand what restricted free agency is.”
Portland does have all the leverage, but Batum told the Blazers last week that he wanted to play in Minnesota. His agent Bouna Ndiaye said that Batum feels more comfortable with Wolves coach Rick Adelman and badly wants to play in Minnesota.
The Wolves are doing everything they can to make that happen. They used the amnesty clause on Darko Milicic on Thursday, then waived Martell Webster on Friday and will only have $600,000 of his $5.7 million salary count against their cap.
Then they sent Miller and the two picks to New Orleans for a conditional second-round pick. Because of a buyout in Miller’s contract, the Hornets essentially bought two second-round picks — the Brooklyn Nets’ No. 2 in 2013 and Minnesota’s in 2016 — for $848,000. Miller said at the end of the season he will retire, but is waiting to file paperwork until his buyout is completed.
“All I can say is that I enjoyed my time in Minnesota a real joy I had there,” tweeted Webster, who was limited by back injuries in his two seasons in Minnesota. “Thank you so much for what you gave me Minneapolis.”
Earlier this week, Olshey took a couple of shots at Kahn and the state of Minnesota when talking about a negotiation that has been dragging on despite Portland’s insistence that it will end with Batum staying out West.
When asked why Batum likes Minnesota so much, Olshey said he must really like mosquitos and frostbite. But Kahn said his dealings with Olshey on the phone have been cordial.
“I don’t have any issues with him,” Kahn said. “We have absolutely no acrimony whatsoever toward the Trail Blazers. Absolutely none.
“This player happens to be on the Trail Blazers. And we really like this player … He really wants to be here. There’s absolutely nothing involved here beyond that.”
The situation could continue to drag on until Wednesday before reaching a resolution, if the Blazers use the maximum allowable time to make a decision on the offer sheet. If they do match, that means the Wolves are risking losing out on other possible free agent wing players, including Houston’s Courtney Lee and O.J. Mayo of Memphis. The Wolves have also reached out to Boston big man Greg Stiemsma and Lakers power forward Jordan Hill in addition to reaching agreements with guards Brandon Roy of Portland and Alexey Shved of Russia.
But Kahn did not seem concerned about the process hindering their ability to add other players. The Wolves simply feel that the possibility of adding Batum, however small that may be, is worth the wait.
“We think that we owe it to ourselves to take the shot,” Kahn said. “If they choose to match it, it leaves us with a significant amount of room under the cap for us to pursue other players.”
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