NBA free agency’s best deadeye shooter came off the market when veteran guard J.J. Redick struck a deal to play in Philadelphia on Saturday, the same day Denver ratcheted its recruitment of Atlanta forward Paul Millsap, a four-time All-Star whom the Timberwolves also have pursued.
ESPN reported the Nuggets sent a traveling party that included General Manager Tim Connelly, coach Michael Malone and young guard Gary Harris to meet Saturday night in Atlanta with Millsap, a stretchy forward who’d fit nicely next to gifted center Nikola Jokic.
At age 32, Millsap still is considered the best power forward available, but if his price is too rich the Wolves could turn their focus to others such as Oklahoma City’s Taj Gibson at that position of need.
To clear enough salary-cap space to pay Millsap the $20 million-plus salary he seeks, the Wolves would have to make additional roster moves beyond Friday’s trade with Utah that sent away Ricky Rubio, who on Saturday posted online a dignified, heartfelt farewell to the Wolves, their fans and to Minnesota.
Friday’s trade brought back a protected 2018 first-round pick belonging to Oklahoma City, but mostly it applied Rubio’s $14 million salary toward the three-year, $57 million contract on which they reached terms with free agent Jeff Teague.
To clear that kind of space, the Wolves probably would have to trade backup center Cole Aldrich and his $7.3 million salary, renounce the rights to restricted free agent Shabazz Muhammad and include Gorgui Dieng and his $14.1 million contract in a sign-and-trade transaction.
Rather than do all that, they could aim for more affordable power-forward options such as Gibson or Toronto’s Patrick Patterson.
Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau coached Gibson for five seasons in Chicago and praised him enthusiastically both times the Wolves and Bulls played last season.
The Wolves pursued Redick when the free-agent negotiating period began late Friday night. But the next day, Redick agreed to a one-year, $23 million contract with the 76s that made him the rare star to migrate from west to east, after Chicago’s Jimmy Butler joined the Wolves and Indiana’s Paul George was traded to Oklahoma City in the previous nine days.
In an Instagram message on Saturday to his followers, Rubio reminisced fondly about his arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in June 2011, when he was greeted by camera lights galore and hundreds of fans. He called it something he’ll never forget.
He remembered former Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, apologized to Minnesotans for never getting them to the playoffs and thanked the Wolves organization, its staff and the “amazing teammates” with which he played.
“Basketball brought me here six years ago,” he wrote. “I didn’t know much about Minnesota and now I’m proud to call it home. You never know what this journey will bring you and I wouldn’t change a bit of mine over the last six years … What we have in Minnesota is special and you don’t know that until you live there.
“You helped me grow as a player, but more importantly as a person. I learned a lot, met incredible people who became part of my family and will always be in my heart … especially you, Flip.”