Wolves add 'Russian Rubio' to mix

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2012 - 8:31 AM

Alexey Sheved will lead Russia into the Olympics before adding depth to the Wolves' lineup at both guard spots and small forward.

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Aleksey Shved, right, is a 6-6 combo guard who can also play small forward.

Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press

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The Timberwolves on Tuesday continued to add before they inevitably subtract, agreeing to contract terms with Russian guard Alexey Shved in the hours before the NBA's signing period commenced just before midnight, NBA sources said.

Five days after they struck a verbal deal with three-time All-Star Brandon Roy, the Wolves added another guard to a collection that already includes Roy, Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Wayne Ellington and Malcolm Lee.

By doing so, they added a versatile international player who last week helped lead Russia to the London Olympics during a qualifying tournament in Venezuela but is just reaching the NBA at age 23.

Both Roy and Shved were eligible to sign multi-year contracts at 11:01 p.m. Tuesday, but neither is expected to do so until the Wolves' pursuit of Portland restricted free agent Nicolas Batum is resolved. The Wolves can sign Batum to a rich offer sheet that the Blazers have the right to match within three days or it can reach a sign-and-trade agreement with Portland.

The Wolves will have to make roster moves -- buying out veterans Brad Miller, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic and possibly dealing Ridnour or Barea -- to clear enough salary-cap space if they intend to sign Batum to an offer sheet expected to be worth at least $45 million for four years.

The process is simplified if the Wolves can reach a trade agreement with the Blazers, although Webster, Miller and Milicic likely won't return to the team either way.

On Tuesday, Batum himself went public with his desire to play for the Wolves rather than return for his fifth season in Portland.

Until then, Batum's agent did the talking for his client. But on Tuesday, Batum told NBA.com in a phone call from France that it's time for him to "move on" from Portland to Minnesota, where he wants to play with Rubio and be coached by Rick Adelman.

"That's where I want to play and that's where I want to put my family," Batum said. "I've got nothing against the fans [in Portland] and nothing against the city. But this is a basketball decision and basketball-wise, I want to be there. Last year, they impressed everybody, and that's what I respect. Last year was tough for all of us, and I think I need a new start. I think I need something else."

If the Wolves were hoping for some help from the NBA in fitting Batum, Roy and Shved -- and any other moves they might make -- into their salary cap, they didn't get it Tuesday: The league announced the cap and the luxury-tax threshold will stay exactly the same next season as last season, a $58 million salary cap and a $70.3 million tax threshold.

The Wolves also have shown interest in free-agent big men Jordan Hill and Greg Stiemsma, but have put both negotiations on hold while they chase Batum.

They acted on Shved on Tuesday, however, bringing him to town for a visit and reaching contract terms with him before he leaves to play for Russia in the London Olympics.

Shved is a 6-6 combo guard intended to provide the kind of ballhandling and playmaking skills the Wolves lacked last season everywhere but from their point guards. The Wolves envision him being able to play as many as three positions -- both guard spots and small forward.

He scored a game-high 22 points and had six assists, four rebounds and two steals in Russia's victory over Nigeria on Saturday that secured an Olympic spot.

In many ways, Shved seems like something of a Russian Rubio: Lots of flowing hair, instinctive playmaking ability that leads at least one prominent NBA international scout to believe he's much more natural point guard than shooting guard and, like Rubio, he has been something of a basketball sensation in his home country since he was barely a teenager. Unlike Rubio so far, he also has matured into a deft shooter

He is not expected to participate in the Wolves' summer minicamp at Target Center on Friday through Sunday and won't play with their summer-league team in Las Vegas because of his Olympic commitments.

Timberwolves Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson and Malcolm Lee are expected to play in Las Vegas. The Wolves will bring 15 to 20 players -- including international prospects Paulao Prestes and Lior Eliyahu and Ohio State guard William Buford -- to minicamp and 11 or 12 will make the Vegas team.

Wolves to play in Winnipeg

The Timberwolves will play the Detroit Pistons in a preseason game in Winnipeg on Oct. 24 as part of the NBA's Canada Series.

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