The Timberwolves cleared nearly $5 million off their salary cap Saturday by waiving veteran center Cole Aldrich, as expected.

The team released him hours before the NBA’s free-agency period begins at 11 p.m. Saturday Central time.

By doing so, they will pay him $2 million of $6.95 million due for this coming season after he signed a mostly guaranteed three-year, $21 million contract in July 2016.

“I can’t say I’m necessarily surprised,” he said Saturday after Wolves general manager Scott Layden called him with the news. “It happens.”

A Bloomington Jefferson High School star who played on Kansas’ 2008 NCAA title team, Aldrich came back home with a new contract that set him and his wife, Britt, for life. The Wolves signed him two summers ago as a free agent after he had a productive season with the Los Angeles Clippers the year before.

He played in 62 games his first season with the Wolves and just 21 last season, but he was part of the franchise’s first team since 2004 to make the playoffs.

He was in the eighth grade back then.

“It has been a blessing to be here,” said Aldrich, who bought a home in Minneapolis’ western suburbs two years ago. “To be a part of that drought that we ended as a team, I know how fans felt. I grew up here. I’ve been kind of a die-hard Timberwolves fan my whole life. Being a part of that was super cool. It was a blast, seeing Target Center go crazy again.”

Now 29, he’s an unrestricted free agent starting late Saturday night, looking for wort in what will be his ninth NBA season. The 11th player taken in the 2010 draft, Aldrich didn’t rule out a return the Wolves, who likely will need to fill out their roster with players paid the league’s minimum salary.

“I don’t know if there’s an opportunity to back here, even,” he said. “There might be. I don’t want to speak on their behalf. I’m open to any option. At point of my career, I know who I am as a player. I know people think the quote-unquote traditional big is becoming extinct, but I could go through al 30 teams and name one guy on every team who is a traditional big.”

Aldrich played 13.3 minutes a game his one season with the Clippers, but played 8.5 minutes a game his first season with the Wolves and just 2.3 minutes a game last season when Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng stayed healthy and played most of the big-man minutes.

“You look at it and yeah it would have been great to play more,” he said. “As an athlete, you want to play and compete. But I’ve always said I want to star in my role and my role this year was to be a good teammate, support the guys on the court and stay ready.”

On Thursday, Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said, “We obviously like Cole a lot,” but declined to say whether Aldrich would be waived or traded by Saturday because he was under contract at the time.