MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying hard to land Pau Gasol.
If they have to part with the highest draft choice in franchise history after just one season, the Wolves appear ready to do it.
That much became clear leading up to the NBA draft on Thursday, when Minnesota offered Derrick Williams in hopes of landing the second pick from the Charlotte Bobcats to help get Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers, two people with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press.
The people requested anonymity because the talks were meant to remain private. The deal never came together before the draft began, and the Bobcats stayed at No. 2 and took Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Timberwolves are expected to continue their pursuit of Gasol in hopes of putting him with fellow Spaniard Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love on a revamped roster aimed at returning the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Wolves’ interest in Gasol has long been rumored, with the highly skilled big man considered an ideal fit for coach Rick Adelman’s corner offense, and the kind of playoff-tested veteran needed on one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. He’s close friends with Rubio, the Wolves’ superb young point guard who is recovering from a torn ACL and hopes to be ready early next season.
Gasol has teamed with Kobe Bryant to win two titles in Los Angeles, but always seemed to catch the brunt of the criticism when things went wrong.
That happened again this year when he averaged just 12.5 points along with 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs, and the Lakers were eliminated in the second round by the younger, quicker Oklahoma City Thunder. He often appeared to get lost in the shuffle while Bryant and Andrew Bynum got most of the touches on offense.
He was the subject of trade rumors all season, starting before it began when Commissioner David Stern, operating as owner of the New Orleans Hornets, nixed a deal that would have sent Gasol to Houston as part of a package for Chris Paul to the Lakers.
“It has been a crazy year and a lot to deal with. … Unfortunately, we had tough losses and things didn’t really go our way for the most part,” the four-time All-Star said at the end of the season. “You just have to regroup and digest this loss and this season, and learn from it and move on.”
Gasol is due to make more than $38 million over the next two seasons, an enormous sum that the salary cap-strapped Lakers might have difficulty footing under the harsher luxury tax penalties scheduled to kick in in 2013.
Love’s max contract extension kicks in next season, making him the only Timberwolves player who is expected to be on the roster next season making more than $4.6 million. If the Wolves buy out Martell Webster and decline to tender qualifying offers to Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, as expected, they should have plenty of cap room for Gasol.
But if they want to bring him in to play alongside Love in the frontcourt, it likely will come at a hefty price. Offering Williams, the second overall pick last season who showed promise and inconsistency in his rookie year, means the Wolves would be giving up on him after just one season. The 21-year-old Williams has plenty of potential to grow into the star that many projected when he entered the draft after his sophomore season at Arizona.
Gasol will turn 32 next week and played nearly 39,000 minutes in his career, raising the question if he has enough gas left in the tank to help turn the Timberwolves into a legitimate contender.
Williams knows the Wolves tried to deal him, but it’s unclear how he will respond if he’s still on the team at the start of training camp.
He averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds and was the only Timberwolves player to play in all 66 games last season. Williams had several big games during an inconsistent season, which included participating in the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend. He scored 27 points in 27 minutes in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Feb. 28 and had 27 points and eight boards in a loss at Denver on April 11.
But the 66-year-old Adelman has been pushing for the franchise to add more veterans, and he grew impatient at times with Williams last season.
Williams did most of his damage while playing power forward, which is the same position played by Love, who blossomed last year into a surprising MVP contender. With Love playing so many minutes at power forward, the Timberwolves were hoping Williams could drop some weight this summer to help him become quick enough to play small forward for the majority of the time.
Earlier this week, Kahn said Williams was already down to 233 pounds, with a personal goal of 225.
“I think the most important fact about Derrick to me is that he turned 21 last month. He’s still very, very young,” Kahn said Wednesday. “This is a very important summer for him to demonstrate if he’s serious about his craft, his occupation, that he’s serious about himself. This is the offseason. I challenged him in his exit interview, and I’m eager to see the results of this summer.”
Kahn declined to list Williams with Rubio and Love as “untouchable” players when the team considers trades this summer.
“We have two untouchables,” Kahn said. “That doesn’t mean everyone else will be traded this summer. We just don’t know.”