By Jon Krawczynski
The Associated Press
---- — MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves entered free agency with two priorities at the top of their list — add a shooting guard with range and retain Chase Budinger.
One down, one to go.
Budinger agreed to terms on a three-year, $16 million contract on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. The deal includes a player option for the final year. The person requested anonymity because an official announcement has not been made.
Budinger averaged 9.4 points and shot 32 percent from 3-point range last season. He only played in 23 games thanks to a knee injury that derailed a promising start to the year, but Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and new President Flip Saunders made no secret of the fact that they badly wanted Budinger back in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves paid Budinger a visit at his San Diego home on Sunday night, arriving just after the market opened at 9:01 p.m. on the West Coast. Budinger also entertained an offer from the Milwaukee Bucks, but ultimately decided to remain with the Timberwolves and a coach he has grown very fond of in his short time in the league.
Budinger played for Adelman in Houston before arriving in a trade prior to last year's draft. His ability to shoot from the perimeter and move without the ball paid immediate dividends, helping him fit right in with the system Adelman was still installing in his second season with the Timberwolves.
Budinger's high-point last season came early on in a game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 9. He scored 18 points in the game, including the game-winning layup with less than 1 second to play that came after he made the kind of cut to the basket from the 3-point line that few other Timberwolves players showed the instincts to make. But the very next night in Chicago, Budinger tore the meniscus in his left knee and did not return until late March.
The Timberwolves sorely missed him. They finished last in the NBA in 3-point shooting and had to rely almost exclusively on the pick-and-roll on offense, something that Adelman has historically been reluctant to do in favor of his more free-flowing, motion-based corner offense. But without Budinger there to make cuts away from the ball and come off screens, the Wolves had to simplify things.
After Andrei Kirilenko declined his $10.2 million option with the Wolves to become a free agent, a starting job opened at small forward. The promise of significant playing time, coupled with Adelman and pass-happy point guard Ricky Rubio, no doubt played a role in his decision. The deal, which was first reported by Yahoo! Sports, cannot be officially signed until July 10.
With Budinger back in the fold, the Wolves now turn their attention to adding another 3-point shooter at shooting guard. They're in the market for a big guard who can knock down open 3s and who won't be such a mismatch defensively against some of the Western Conference's prototypical shooting guards the way Luke Ridnour was.
Potential targets for the Wolves include Mavericks free agent O.J. Mayo and Thunder free agent Kevin Martin, who played for Adelman in Sacramento and Houston.
The Wolves will also have to address restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic, who is expected to receive significant offers on the open market once Dwight Howard makes a decision on where he is going. Saunders has said that the Wolves, who can match any offer made, will do whatever it takes to keep him.
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