NEW ORLEANS – With Nemanja Bjelica lost for the season, the Timberwolves will sign veteran free-agent forward Omri Casspi — a similarly sized player who can do many of the same things — for the season’s final 13 games.
Sacramento traded Casspi to New Orleans in last month’s blockbuster trade that sent star DeMarcus Cousins there, too, but the Pelicans waived him Feb. 25 after he broke a thumb in his first game played with his new team.
Multiple teams pursued him, but the Wolves offered the prospect of featured playing time and didn’t insist on a team option for next season, according to Star Tribune sources.
That will allow Casspi to be a free agent come July. He is expected to be available for Tuesday’s home game against San Antonio.
An eight-year veteran who is joining his fifth team, Casspi can play both forward positions, and maybe even some shooting guard. But he’s mainly the kind of “stretch” power forward that Bjelica was becoming so effectively for the Wolves until he suffered a season-ending foot injury Wednesday in Boston.
When asked if Casspi can help provide what the Wolves now miss without Bjelica, point guard Ricky Rubio said, “I hope so. We miss Belly a lot on this team.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said before Sunday’s game at New Orleans “hopefully, we’ll know shortly” about discussions ESPN.com reported included Thibodeau having dinner with Casspi on Saturday night in New Orleans.
“It’s possible,” Thibodeau said, grinning ever so slightly when asked if he had done so. “We had a meeting.”
Casspi has averaged 6.1 points and four rebounds while playing 22 games for Sacramento and one for the Pelicans this season.
“He’s a good player,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He has the ability to shoot the three-point shot. He’s a great slasher and cutter. He has good size. All of those things really are positive. He can be a stretch 4, but I also think he can play 3 [small forward] and even some 2 [shooting guard], depending on the situation and the opponent.”
It takes time
The Pelicans entered Sunday’s game as winners three times in their past four games after they had lost six of their first eight games after putting Cousins alongside Anthony Davis in their frontcourt. They beat Houston soundly at home Friday, though, with Cousins out injured.
“They’ll figure it out,” said Thibodeau, who has coached both players with Team USA. “Both guys can do it all. They both can pass. They both put it on the floor. They both can shoot. You make a trade like that, a trade of that magnitude, it takes some time to get adjusted. DeMarcus is trying to fit in. You just have to be patient and allow them to work through it. But he’s an incredible talent.”
The difference a year makes
This time last year, Wolves rookie Kris Dunn and his Providence teammates played their way past USC with a last-second shot into the NCAA tournament’s second round, the first time the school had won a tourney game since 1997.
“And now I’m here,” he said. “My dream was to play in the NBA. Definitely, it’s a blessing. I can’t be upset at anything.“
• FSN’s Kevin Lynch did color commentary on Sunday’s TV broadcast in place of regular Jim Petersen, who flew across the country three times in three days to watch stepson Sanjay Lumpkin play for Northwestern in the NCAA tournament.