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Will Nemanja Bjelica Join the Timberwolves?

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Scuttlebutt has the Serbian Forward looking to make the move to the NBA. The Wolves hold his rights. Will he be a Timberwolf next season?

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Two years after his firing, David Kahn's draft maneuvers continue to play a role in the Timberwolves present and future.

On draft night 2010, Kahn traded the draft rights to Trevor Booker (23rd overall) to the Washington Wizards for the draft rights to Lazar Hayward (30th overall) and the draft rights to Nemanja Bjelica (35th overall).

At the time, Bjelica was a 22 year old forward in the process of moving from Red Star in his home country of Serbia to Caja Laboral in the Spanish ACB League, and it was unclear whether or when he might try to come to the NBA. What was clear was that it wasn't going to be for a while, and so Bjelica went on the list of Wolves "assets" that might or might not ever be realized.

After three years in Spain, the last one of which finally showed some progress after it appeared that he had stalled out, there was some mild talk in the summer of 2013 about his potentially joining the Wolves. Nothing came of it, and he signed a three year contract with Fenerbahce, the Turkish powerhouse.

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Bjelica emerged as an important player for Fenerbahce almost immediately, averaging 25+ minutes with 10 points and 6 boards a game in their 24 game 2013-14 Euroleague campaign. After a summer with the Serbian National Team, where he was a big part of their silver medal performance at the World Cup, Bjelica has been playing the best basketball of his career at age 26 early in this season.

Although his three point shooting has not been as good this season (Euroleague only), he's getting more done inside the arc, converting his 2PA at a better than 50% clip and getting to the line significantly more than he has in the past. Meanwhile, I'm not worried about his shooting, as he's been lights out in the Turkish league thus far--nearly 50% from three and an ungodly 78% from inside the arc, if the stats I have can be believed.

And now there is talk that he wants to make the move to the NBA.

Darren Wolfson reported that Bjelica has hired U.S. agent Arn Tellem to represent him, and the indications are that he would like to give the NBA a shot next season, or at the latest the season after. He's currently in the second year of a three year deal, but I do not have any information on what sort of buyout clause exists if he wants to get out of the deal in the summer of 2015.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Twolves?src=hash">#Twolves</a> had Euro scout Zarko Djurisic at tonight&#39;s Barcelona-Fenerbahce game. N. Bjelica + draft prospect Mario Hezonja among guys playing.</p>&mdash; Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) <a href="https://twitter.com/DarrenWolfson/status/543190377864249344">December 11, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Fenerbahce beat Barcelona in that game, with Bjelica finishing with 13 and 6, including the game tying tip in to send it to overtime and the game winning layup at the end.

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Over the weekend, he went for 21 and 10 in a Turkish League win, moving them to 8-2 in the league and tied for first place. They remain 2nd in their Euroleague group at 7-2 after their win over previously unbeaten Barca. In other words, Bjelica is playing a major role for one of the better teams in Europe.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Learning more on Bjelica. 1 scout who just saw him says <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Twolves?src=hash">#Twolves</a> have 25+ min./game PF, or a nice trade chip. W/ Tellem, he&#39;ll want good $$.</p>&mdash; Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) <a href="https://twitter.com/DarrenWolfson/status/544543248090664961">December 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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All of which raises the question of Bjelica's short and medium term future. He's currently 26 years old, so it's becoming a now or never thing for him with the NBA. Assuming it's possible for him to get out of his contract next summer, the next issue is how motivated the Wolves will be to sign him to a contract. My guess is that he will be looking for something north of $5 million a year to make the move, and whether the Wolves see that as a good investment remains an open question.

In large part, of course, it depends on what happens with the roster over the next 8 months. Bjelica is a power forward, so whether the Wolves wind up retaining Thaddeus Young is a relevant issue. The development or lack thereof of Anthony Bennett might also play a role in their decision making, as will, of course, what happens in next summer's draft and what the overall roster and payroll looks like as they head into the new cap year.

Bjelica is a stretch four with real ball skills. He can handle and pass it, as well as shoot from the perimeter. Whether he has the physical gifts to take full advantage of these skills in the NBA is an open question, as is his ability to defend and rebound at an NBA level. Hopefully our European readers who might have seen him play more regularly can chime in

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There is no question that the Wolves are in no position to ignore talent wherever they can find it, and Bjelica's ability to space the floor would be a welcome addition to the team as it currently stands, which has all the spacing of a bunch of fraternity guys seeing how many of them they can stuff in a VW Beetle (do the kids still do that?).

That said, I don't know whether they will be interested in making a long term commitment to him for significant dollars, especially since no matter what happens, the roster is going to be loaded with players with limited NBA experience as it is.

If I had to guess, and I want to emphasize that is all it is as I have no inside information, I suspect the Wolves probably view him as more valuable as a trade piece than they do as a future part of the roster. He's a potential sweetener to any deal, and it seems likely that the Wolves will be looking to deal as part of their newly announced rebuild both in advance of the trade deadline and next summer.

He doesn't quite seem like the kind of player that Flip Saunders covets. It's unlikely that the Wolves view him as a "two-way" player, and his attributes are not those that Saunders has appeared to look for in his draft picks so far. Flip has leaned toward raw players with physical skills that he thinks he can teach and mold, rather than guys with more developed basketball skills but limited physical gifts. Whether that preference extends to a guy like Bjelica remains to be seen.

Scouts are watching Bjelica, and I'm sure his name will come up in trade conversations throughout the rest of the season. If the Wolves find a partner that values what he brings to the court, it wouldn't be a surprise if he's included in a deal, either to smooth the way to moving a contract, or in exchange for a young player or draft pick that the Wolves prefer.

Either way, keep your eye out for Bjelica, as it appears that one way or another, he might finally be coming into play as an asset for the Timberwolves.