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Timberwolves GM Scott Layden: Thursday's draft could be 'historic'

If you know Timberwolves GM Scott Layden at all, you know he’s not a man given to hyperbole.

So when he and Tom Thibdoeau addressed the media this morning and he talked about Thursday’s draft, you got the impression that this year’s version is really good.

“This, I think, has a chance to be a historic draft, “ Layden said. “You look at the top end of the draft and I think there’s a chance that there’s going to be a lot of very good players. But it also runs deeps into the late first round. I think that’s why there will be a lot of activity at this draft, because I think teams see potential to get a great player.”

If you’re talking history, you’re talking 1984 and Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Kevin Willis, Otis Thorpe and Alvin Robertson, among others.

Or 2003 and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, among many others.

Or 1996 and Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, among others.

This 2017 draft features Washington's Markelle Fultz, UCLA's Lonzo Ball, Kansas' Josh Jackson, Duke's Jayson Tatum and Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox at the top.

The Wolves own Thursday’s seventh pick and unless there’s a surprise among the first six selections, they’ll choose from a pool of prospects that will include Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Kentucky’s Malik Monk, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, France’s Frank Ntilikina, Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and possibly Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac if Isaac doesn't go as high as No. 3 or in the top six.

“We like the players that are in the draft, both at our position and if we decided to move down a little bit,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a possibility of moving up as well. It’s a great position to be in.”

The draft’s biggest intrigue is what Danny Ainge and Boston does with the third pick now they he’s traded down from No. 1 with Philadelphia and how the shadows of Paul George and Jimmy Butler will impact draft night.

Both players could be traded by then, which could throw a curve in how the draft unfolds.

The Wolves are one of the teams in the discussion with Chicago on Butler.

“We’re not going to get into specific players,” Thibodeau said when asked about it. “You hear a lot of trade rumors and things of that nature. We’re always looking to improve our club, if we feel there is somebody we can add and improve in certain areas. But we’re always looking to get better.”

The Wolves could move down in the draft, move up or stay just where they are. They also could trade it for a veteran or veterans, with Butler almost certainly at the top of their list because of Thibodeau’s relationship with him.

“In all likelihood, the picks are so valuable at this time of year that you end up wanting to keep the pick,” Layden said, “but we’re leaving all options open.”

Thibodeau wouldn’t discuss the specifics of Tuesday’s Nikola Pekovic waiving that’s expected to get his $11.6 million salary for next season off the books, but he did say, “We want to thank him for all that he did here. It’s unfortunate that his career was cut short because he’s a terrific talent, terrific guy. He did everything he could to come back and it just got to the point where we just didn’t see it happening. So we felt that that was the best thing to do. But we want to thank him for all that he did for the organization.”

Goodbye Godfather: Wolves waive popular big man Pekovic

The Timberwolves waived injured center Nikola Pekovic on Tuesday, ending their association with the last player remaining from the Kevin McHale era long ago.

Sidelined because of foot pain almost since he signed a five-year, $60 million contract in August 2013, Pekovic played only 12 games the past two seasons and hasn’t played since January 2016.

 

 

A block of brutish strength when he was healthy, Pekovic played 97 games since he signed that rich contract as a restricted free agent.

By waiving Pekovic two days before Thursday’s draft and 11 days before the NBA’s free agency period begins, the Wolves will get salary cap relief for a player who is owed $11.6 million for the final year of that contract next season.

McHale, then the Wolves’ vice president of basketball operations, drafted Pekovic with the first pick of the second round in the 2008 draft. McHale’s successor, David Kahn, signed him to leave European ball for the NBA in summer 2010 and Kahn’s successor, Flip Saunders, signed Pekovic to that $60 million deal.

“It’s still a little unbelievable,” Pekovic said that day he signed. “I came here three years ago and I was basically not even a backup center or nothing. I know I was really fighting and pushing for this and I’m really happy that all this happened.”

A 6-11 center, he played 271 NBA games for the Wolves, averaging 12.6 points on 51.8 percent shooting and 6.7 rebounds. He never missed fewer than 17 games in any of his six seasons, but averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds during his best year in 2013-14.

Fond of wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt over his bulging muscles, Pekovic was once asked what kind of tree he would be if he could. Without missing a beat, he replied, “I don’t want to be a tree. Can I be a carrot?”

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Today's Scoreboard

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