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Andrei Kirilenko, left, of Russia battled Serbia during the 2011 European Baskeball Championships. Kirilenko played in Russia during the NBA lockout last season but recently said he would return to the NBA.

Mindaugas Kulbis, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wolves now might deal Johnson to get Kirilenko

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • July 25, 2012 - 12:30 PM

The Timberwolves are targeting former NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko and are willing to pay the free-agent small forward as much as $9 million per season for at least the next two seasons, league sources said Tuesday.

To clear enough cap space to do so, they reportedly plan to trade small forward Wes Johnson, their No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

Yahoo!Sports reported Tuesday that the Wolves were nearing agreement on a three-way trade with Phoenix and New Orleans that would send Johnson and a future No. 1 pick to the Suns in a deal that would shed Johnson's $4.3 million salary and clear space on the Wolves' salary-cap books.

Also on Tuesday, the Wolves officially announced a trade struck days ago with Memphis that sends shooting guard Wayne Ellington and brings forward Dante Cunningham back in return.

Kirilenko, 31, is a small forward who would address many of the same needs the Wolves sought when they signed restricted free agent Nicolas Batum to a $45 million offer sheet that Portland matched last week.

He plays the same position -- one which Wolves coach Rick Adelman appears intent on upgrading -- and would give the team the kind of accomplished defender they lack.

Batum is eight years younger, but Kirilenko is a 10-year NBA veteran who played last season in his native Russia for CSKA Moscow, where he was named Euroleague MVP. He will play for Russia in the London Olympics that begin Friday.

Kirilenko on Tuesday told Russian news agency R-Sport that he will return to the NBA next season after he returned to Russia to play last season when NBA owners locked out players in a labor dispute.

"Which club in particular, we'll know in a day or two," Kirilenko said.

"After such a strong season with CSKA, I understand that I can still play at a high level. I'm 31, but I can still play and still want to play."

Kirilenko is under contract with his Moscow team through 2014, but his agent, Marc Fleisher, said he has a "small" buyout that will enable him to come to the NBA now if he chooses to terminate his contract.

The state-owned RIA Novosti news agency also reported that Kirilenko's CSKA team is already making plans to find his replacement.

Kirilenko played all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz, which selected him 24th overall in the 1999 draft and paid him $17 million a season at the end of his last NBA contract.

He played 82, 80 and 78 games his first three NBA seasons, but never played more than 72 games in a season after that. He played 67, 58 and 64 in his last three seasons there.

It could take a two-year, $18 million contract with a player option for a third year for the Wolves to sign Kirilenko.

Coincidentally, the Wolves could announce the first of their free-agent signings as early as Wednesday, and that would be Russian guard Alexey Shved, a teammate of Kirilenko's with CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team.

If the Wolves trade Johnson, president of basketball operations Kahn now would have dealt away five first-round draft picks in two years -- No. 6 Jonny Flynn, No. 18 that eventually became Martell Webster and No. 28 Ellington, No. 4 Johnson and No. 23 in 2010 that became Lazar Hayward.

The trade of Ellington for Cunningham helps balance the roster of a team that has agreed to contract terms with guards Shved and Brandon Roy while losing forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph from last year's team. Tuesday's trade was done on the same day free agent Ronnie Brewer -- a player whom the Wolves had pursued as a free agent -- agreed to a one-year deal with New York.

Cunningham, selected 33rd overall by Portland in 2009, is capable of playing both forward positions. He was signed by Memphis as a free agent before last season.

Ellington, meanwhile, would have struggled to find playing time with a Wolves team that has agreed to terms with guards Shved and Brandon Roy in free agency.

Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.

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