Flip Saunders' pre-draft mission isn't limited to scouring the 2013 class for potential sleeper picks. While that's been the bulk of his workload this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations has plenty of in-house chores on his to-do list, even if they mean going abroad. Coming out of Tuesday and Wednesday with a fresh set of talent to consider via Minnesota's workouts with players that project well outside the lottery, Saunders now must balance the Timberwolves' developing draft plans with forging current player relationships. To that end, he'll meet with point guard Ricky Rubio on Saturday in Miami, Fla., and restricted free agent big man Nikola Pekovic during an upcoming trip to Europe. He's also spoken with small forward Chase Budinger, whose contract expires at the end of June. The Saunders-Rubio rendezvous gives both sides the chance to set a foundation similar to the one Saunders and forward Kevin Love appear to be developing. His meetings with Budinger and Pekovic, however, carry more weight. Budinger is an unrestricted free agent and one of the Timberwolves' best returning shooters. Pekovic is a restricted free agent and a stalwart center whom Saunders has said they can't afford to lose. Official negotiations don't take place until July 1-10, with free agent signings possible July 11. But teams can converse with players already under contract. And Saunders most certainly will. "I think Budinger fits very well into Coach (Rick) Adelman's system," Saunders said of the 6-7, 218-pound fourth-year pro. "I think he's aware of that. We're aware of how he does fit in. He was successful before he got hurt, so he's definitely a good match with the people that we have." Not long after meeting with Rubio, Saunders will board a plane for Treviso, Italy, and the Adidas Eurocamp, a showcase for international draft prospects. While in Europe, he'll sit down with Pekovic, a Montenegro native who will be able to entertain other teams' offer sheets which the Timberwolves in turn must match to return their 6-foot-11, 281-pound leading scorer of a year ago. Forward Andrei Kirilenko has a player option on his contract, too. Saunders said there's a good chance the Russian will remain on the roster. He has until the end of June to opt out.
Saunders expects Pekovic, Kirilenko back with Wolves
Fox Sports North | May 30