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Speculation is swirling around swingman Nicolas Batum (right, with Kevin Love), a restricted free agent.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune file

WOLVES FREE AGENCY

Third team enters the mix as the Wolves court Batum

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • July 12, 2012 - 12:00 PM

The Timberwolves accelerated their contentious pursuit of Portland restricted free agent Nicolas Batum on Wednesday, moving toward reaching a sign-and-trade arrangement for the 23-year-old swingman or offering Batum a painfully rich offer sheet that the Trail Blazers would have three days to match.

ESPN the Magazine reported the teams were discussing a deal that would send two first-round picks and a veteran small forward from another team to the Blazers for Batum.

The report said the Wolves will sign Batum to that offer sheet -- Batum's agent last week said the Wolves agreed to a four-year deal that will pay at least $45 million -- if a trade agreement wasn't reached by Wednesday night.

The report didn't identify the veteran small forward, but it is believed to be Chicago's Kyle Korver, whose presence would fill Batum's spot in Portland, give the Blazers the corner shooter they'll lack and whose one-year contract would give the Blazers salary-cap flexibility next summer.

Portland General Manager Neil Olshey on Wednesday said the Wolves have nothing to offer in a sign-and-trade that interests him and reiterated that the Blazers would match any offer.

"I don't believe in letting talent walk out the door," he told Portland reporters.

But he also said he continues to talk to the Wolves about a trade.

He also took a couple of swipes, at the state of Minnesota and Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn.

When asked about Batum's desire to play for the Wolves, Olshey said: "I guess he's into mosquito bites and frostbite. I don't know what to tell you."

Somebody also asked why the Wolves hadn't yet followed through on their threat to offer Batum all that money.

"It's called the Wrath of Kahn," he said, referring to the 1982 Star Trek II movie "Wrath of Khan."

If the Wolves sign Batum to an offer sheet rather than strike a trade, they will have to make a series of roster moves first to clear enough salary-cap space to give Batum a $10 million-plus first-year salary.

Those moves include buying Brad Miller and Martell Webster out of the final year of their contracts and likely using their one-time amnesty clause to waive center Darko Milicic. They also might have to trade a player, perhaps Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea or Wes Johnson.

Ridnour or a draft pick could be headed to Chicago in the deal that would send Korver to Portland.

The Wolves also need enough cap room to sign three-time All-Star Brandon Roy and Russian guard Alexey Shved, both of whom have agreed to contracts but have not signed them yet. The NBA moratorium on trades and signings ended at 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Wolves also have pursued free-agent big men Greg Stiemsma, Boston's restricted free agent, and Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers power forward.

They have asked the agents for both players for patience while they sort out matters, namely their pursuit of Batum. Stiemsma's agent said his client prefers to play for the Wolves if they can reach agreement on a contract that could pay him $2.5 million or $3 million a year.

The Blazers have reached contract agreements with forward J.J. Hickson and past draft picks Joel Freeland and Victor Claver, moves perhaps strategically intended to fill out the team's roster so they sign Batum last and thus exceed the salary cap. They're allowed to do so because Batum's "Bird rights" allow Portland to go over the cap to sign one of its own players.

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