David Kahn promised the Minnesota Timberwolves would be aggressive when the free agency bell rung, and he backed up those words shortly after the market opened early Thursday morning.
Kahn secured visits from Memphis small forward Rudy Gay and New York power forward David Lee as he works to reshape a roster that won just 15 games last season.
Kahn also said the team was “very, very close” to a deal with center Nikola Pekovic, the team’s 2008 second-round draft pick who has been playing in Greece. No contract can be signed until the free agent moratorium ends on July 8.
Gay was scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities on Thursday and visit through Friday while Lee is scheduled to come in on Saturday.
"They clearly were the two players I felt we wanted to meet and wanted to get to know better and have an opportunity to have a dialogue with,” Kahn said early Thursday morning. "I’m very pleased that both of them accepted.”
Gay averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 rebounds last season for the Grizzlies and fits what Kahn says the team is looking for in a young, athletic wing player with a versatile offensive game. He is a restricted free agent, so the Grizzlies would have the right to match any offer made.
"He’s a player that’s been on our radar from a distance for quite some time,” Kahn said.
The Timberwolves brought in three wing players on draft night – Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson at No. 4, Marquette’s Lazar Hayward at No. 30 and Portland veteran Martell Webster in a trade for the 16th pick. But Kahn said there is plenty of room for Gay and did not rule out trading any of the aforementioned or Corey Brewer if Gay were to sign with Minnesota.
Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis envision pairing Gay and Johnson together on the wings, once Johnson learns how to defend shooting guards.
"When you think about it it would be quite exciting actually to see some of these guys flying up and down the court together,” Kahn said.
The invitation to Lee could be further proof that Al Jefferson’s days in Minnesota are coming to an end. Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds for the Knicks last season. Kahn thinks his skills fit the up-tempo offense Rambis wants to run better than Jefferson, who thrives in the halfcourt as one of the best low-post offensive players in the game.
"It is fluid. We don’t know what will occur there,” Kahn said of the possibility of trading Jefferson, who averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in his first season back from major knee surgery. "David Lee plays a style of play that fits very well with who we are and who we aim to be. He’s very productive. He runs very well. He’s strong around the basket. Exceptional passer. We thought he would also be a very obvious fit for us going forward.”
Gay is expected to visit the Nets and Knicks on Friday and Saturday, and the Miami Heat would like to meet with him in the coming days as well. Lee will almost assuredly take other visits before making a decision and Kahn said it was still far too early to say if any offers would be made.
In the 6-foot-11 Pekovic, the Timberwolves will be adding one of the most coveted players in Europe to a front line that sorely lacks size and played the 6-10 Jefferson out of position at center all last season.
Pekovic played for the Greek team Panathinikos in the Euroleague last season and averaged 14.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. Kahn would not say that a deal is in place.
"I don’t feel comfortable saying that without anything written on a piece of paper,” Kahn said. "He’s somebody who could really help us.”
Kahn also spoke to the agent for center Darko Milicic on a busy night and is working to bring the 7-footer back to Minnesota.
Given his first extensive playing time in years, Milicic averaged 8.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 games with the Wolves. Rambis was impressed with Milicic’s versatility and presence on the defensive end, and was vocal in his desire to see him return.
"Darko, we think, could be our starting center this year and we’d like to have him back,” Kahn said.
Milicic’s agent, Marc Cornstein, said Wednesday that his client is definitely open to returning to Minnesota.
"I know he really enjoyed his time in Minnesota and would be happy to come back if everything worked out,” Cornstein said.