Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 7/1/13
All-world high school prospect spends a controversial year in So-Cal before eventually winding up in the Great White North. Didn't the Minnesota Timberwolves enact this scenario once this week already? Nine more days of free-agent negotiations after Monday mean there's a long road to adding shooting guard O.J. Mayo to a roster that now includes Shabazz Muhammad, introduced Friday as the team's first pick in the 2013 draft. Mayo is, however, beyond-much-doubt president of basketball operations Flip Saunders' top external target in free agency, which runs through July 10. He's the most affordable, all-around talent available at a spot the Timberwolves simply must fill, and it's for that reason Saunders met with him face-to-face not long after landing in California on Sunday. With a desperate need for scoring and a team environment that's not putting up with any rubbish, red flags sticking out of the ground occupied by guys like Muhammad and Mayo aren't redirecting Saunders' search. "We're not gonna let any of those players off the hook," Saunders said. "We've got high demands on what we expect of them on the floor and off the floor." Each considered the country's No. 1 prospect coming out of high school, Muhammad and Mayo were cited by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits. But Mayo's acceptance of numerous gifts before and during his one season at Southern California was much more severe than Muhammad's travel expenses procured for recruiting visits. USC vacated all of its 2007-08 victories as a result of Mayo's dealings, and he entered the league with a reputation as a troublemaker. Considered by some a selfish player at UCLA, Muhammad has a fresh start ahead of him to rebut the same rap. In five professional seasons, Mayo hasn't been able to. Drafted and traded by the Timberwolves to Memphis in the deal that landed Kevin Love, Mayo stormed into the league with Grizzlies, averaging 18.5 points per game (still a career high) and finishing second in the NBA's rookie of the year voting. But two seasons later, an in-flight fight with teammate Tony Allen and a 10-game suspension for testing positive for a banned steroid knocked his popularity back down several notches. Things didn't get much better in Dallas this past season, where Mayo repeatedly clashed with coach Rick Carlisle. But he did start all 82 games for the Mavericks, scored 15.5 points per game and hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers -- the most glaring trait Saunders is focused on in potential two-guards. Minnesota has roughly 7 million to spend on a shooting guard, which would be a substantial raise for Mayo, who made about 4 million last year. But the Timberwolves appear in a battle with the Los Angeles Clippers for Mayo's services -- newly hired coach Doc Rivers called him Sunday night, according to media reports -- and other teams could certainly present him an enticing offer in the coming days. Saunders also has to decide whether Mayo's baggage is worth his upside. The former Minnesota coach said Friday the franchise's front-office, coaching and locker room leadership tiers should prevent any acquisition from having a negative impact. But that was in reference to Muhammad, a rookie with some dues to pay. Should the Timberwolves fail to work an agreement involving Mayo, there are other unrestricted free-agent avenues available. J.J. Redick, who finished the 2012-13 season in Milwaukee, possesses that 3-point shooting stroke Minnesota covets. His reported asking price is in the 10 million range annually, and he's primarily been an off-the-bench guy, but Redick's 39 percent outside clip for his career may be too attractive to pass up. The Clippers have interest in both Mayo and Redick and are reportedly discussing sign-and-trade deals involving both, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. To acquire either, Minnesota may have to work up a similar scenario and give up a piece or two. Kevin Martin is also a hot commodity and received a call from Saunders the second the free-agency negotiation period began at 11:01 p.m. Sunday, Stein reported. The nine-year pro can shoot from outside, too, though his career appears to be on the downturn. Several teams, including incumbent location Oklahoma City, reportedly have shown interest in Martin, who made 12.4 million last season. His history playing under Rick Adelman's system for two-plus years in Houston renders Minneapolis an attractive destination. That's where unrestricted free agent Chase Budinger spent his first three years in the league before reuniting with Adelman. Timberwolves director of basketball administration Rob Babcock stopped by Budinger's San Diego home on Sunday after the negotiation period opened, according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A high Minnesota priority that's become popular among several shopping teams early in free agency, Budinger's a small forward. But retaining him at that position ensures the Timberwolves can focus their efforts on bringing in a two-guard, especially if unrestricted free-agent forward Andrei Kirilenko signs a contract somewhere else. The 32-year-old Russian opted out of the final year of his contract with Minnesota, but that doesn't mean he's closed off to returning, as long as he can land a longer-term deal. "Here, I was really happy with everything," Kirilenko told Sport-Express, a Russian newspaper. "Everything except for the term of the contract." Kirilenko stood to earn 10 million next year; while he may be open to returning, it's likely the Timberwolves will use that money to retain Budinger, restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic and bring in a premier shooting guard. Accomplishing the latter could also come via a trade. Guards J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour -- both of whom are slotted to make a little more than 4 million next season -- are on Minnesota's trading block, according to multiple reports. Minnesota and the league's 29 other teams have until July 10 to agree to terms with free agents, who can sign contracts once the NBA releases its salary cap that day. That figure is projected at 58.5 million. Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter
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