At 11:01 p.m. Central Thursday, the starter’s gun went off.
What is expected to be one of the most frenzied free-agency periods in NBA history began, with teams allowed to contact free agents to negotiate contracts, armed with a ballooning salary cap that could be at or more than $94 million.
What did that mean for the Timberwolves? Tom Thibodeau, coach and president of basketball operations, said last week he didn’t see the Wolves being one of those teams knocking on doors right out of the gate, but that he would be prepared, prioritized and ready to sell potential free agents on the team.
However, the Wolves did reach out to at least one free agent right away. The Wolves contacted Luol Deng’s representative after 11 p.m., and a conversation between and Deng and Thibodeau is expected sometime Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Yahoo reported the Wolves, Utah and the Clippers had contacted Deng after the market opened, with the Jazz expected to be very aggressive in their pursuit of the 31-year-old forward, who has spent the past two seasons with Miami.
Ron Shade, the agent for Deng, said earlier Thursday that he anticipated a call from the Wolves. Shade added he expected plenty of inquiring calls from other teams, too, but that Deng wasn’t meeting with any teams late Thursday.
Deng could fill a Wolves need. He and Thibodeau worked well together when they were with Chicago from 2010 to ’14, with Deng being named an All-Star twice.
Meanwhile, it appeared at least one other big man who might have been a good fit with the Wolves could be going elsewhere.
Reports had 31-year-old center Joakim Noah — a game-changing defender, when healthy — negotiating with New York on a deal worth about $72 million over four years. Deals can only be agreed to for now; contracts cannot be signed until Thursday. Like Deng, Noah played for Thibodeau with the Bulls.
The money appeared to be flowing freely as the market opened. The Lakers reportedly agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal with center Timofey Mozgov, who ended his season in Cleveland coming off the bench. And Washington neared a deal to keep injury-prone guard Bradley Beal for $128 million over five years.
The biggest story leading up Thursday was Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant. He met with the Thunder on Thursday, then reportedly was planning to fly to New York, where he will entertain offers from a select few teams starting Friday.
Many still see Durant staying with the Thunder, perhaps signing a two-year deal with an opt-out clause for 2017, when the salary cap likely will take another jump.
• The Wolves waived forward/center Greg Smith. He signed consecutive 10-day contracts with the team before sticking the rest of the season.
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.