The NBA’s free-agency negotiating period began at 11:01 p.m. Sunday and Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders was in Los Angeles with $7 million or more in his pocket to spend on a starting shooting guard.
Agents for unrestricted free agents O.J. Mayo, J.J. Redick, Kevin Martin and Mike Dunleavy are all based there.
Wolves unrestricted free agent Chase Budinger — who along with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic is one of the team’s top two priorities, according to Saunders — also lives just down the freeway in San Diego.
Teams can strike deals with free agents as soon as the clock struck midnight July 1 in New York City — or 9 p.m. in California — but no contracts can officially be signed until a moratorium period ends July 10, after the NBA’s salary cap for next season is set.
The Houston Rockets were expected to send coach Kevin McHale, General Manager Daryl Morey, Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, current players James Harden and Chandler Parsons and owner Leslie Alexander and three other executives to meet Sunday night in Los Angeles with Lakers unrestricted free-agent center Dwight Howard, the prize of this year’s free-agent crop.
Saunders has more than the $5 million mid-level exception to offer after forward Andrei Kirilenko decided not to exercise a $10.2 million option for next season Saturday and after the team sold its 26th pick and traded Malcolm Lee’s $900,000 contract on draft night Thursday to Golden State, picking up an extra $2 million on the salary cap.
The Wolves will have to agree to and finalize a contract with a free agent from another team before they can re-sign Pekovic and Budinger on or after July 10. They can exceed the league’s salary cap — $58 million last season — and push their payroll right up to the luxury tax ($70.3 million last season) by signing each because both are their own players.