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Waived Timberwolves, Aldrich enjoyed his time in Minnesota, would be open to return

ST. PAUL — In a cost-cutting move, the Timberwolves announced they waived Cole Aldrich on Saturday, June 30.

The move saves Minnesota roughly $5 million. Aldrich signed a three-year, $21 million free-agent deal in the summer of 2016. His full $7 million salary for next season was set to become guaranteed Saturday evening. By letting the veteran center go before the Saturday deadline, Minnesota now owes Aldrich just $2 million for next season. Every penny counts for a cash-strapped Minnesota team this offseason as it tries to stay under the luxury tax.

Aldrich, a Bloomington Jefferson grad, now enters the free-agent market. He didn't speak with an ounce of bitterness Saturday. Although the 29-year-old center admitted receiving the news was "tough," and the Minnesotan's homecoming didn't go as many expected it would, he enjoyed his two seasons back home.

"Although the situation may not have been necessarily what I wanted to have it on the court, I think sometimes we all forget to take a step back and really enjoy the moment," Aldrich said in a phone interview with the Pioneer Press. "I had an unbelievable time this past year on that playoff run that we made."

Without the chance to make an on-court impact, Aldrich tried to help the team in other ways.

"My impact was definitely felt in the locker room," he said.

On Saturday, in reference to Aldrich's release, Jimmy Butler's agent Bernie Lee tweeted that "every team needs a person who will tell the truth every single time it's needed no matter who needs to hear it." For the Wolves, that was Aldrich, who provided a needed veteran presence and was capable of supplying a light-hearted approach to balance out Thibodeau's intensity.

"It kind of goes back to the old cliche of starring in your role, and my role this past year was to make sure that we were in the right position to go in and win games," Aldrich said. "Whether that's during a timeout, going up and telling (Karl-Anthony Towns) or (Andrew Wiggins) or Tyus (Jones) just a little something as an adjustment throughout the game that I'm seeing from the sideline that they might not see on the court, or just kind of being the high-energy, funny, goofy guy that I am that lightens the spirit."

Aldrich came to Minnesota off a productive year with the Clippers in which the center was an integral piece of a playoff team's rotation. But Minnesota's second unit struggled early in Aldrich's first year, and he was phased out of the rotation as the Timberwolves went smaller. Going from playing to not is a tough transition for a player, but Aldrich has experience in all roles.

"My career, it's like riding Wild Thing at Valleyfair," Aldrich said. "It's just kind of riding the waves and not getting too high and not getting too low. It's tough to go through a season and not play a whole lot of minutes. But ... you can make an impact and be a part of a team even when you're not on the court."

That's part of the reason Lee tweeted that "Hopefully (Aldrich) finds his way back" to Minnesota. The Wolves could re-sign Aldrich for the veteran's minimum as they fill out their roster.

"I would think that they would be interested, but I don't want to speak for them," Aldrich said. "They obviously know who I am. ... I'm definitely open to it. I think this team is going in the right direction."

Aldrich admitted he's no fan of free agency. He said the "sexiness" of it applies to only a handful of players. He noted plenty of players in his draft class have been out of the league for five years and said his eight years in the NBA have been "a blessing." In past summers, he's wondered whether he'd find a spot in the NBA or have to go overseas.

"For guys like me who are kind of in the middle of everything, we're just trying to figure out what team we could be a part of and impact in a positive way," Aldrich said. "Things will figure themselves out. And it's basketball. It's not life or death. It's just a game."

What will Aldrich's options be this summer? The trend seems to be teams going smaller, but Aldrich can still name one or two bigs on every team who fit the mold of the "traditional big guy."

"You need a guy that can role hard to the rim, a guy that can pass out of the post, out of the pick and roll, can defend the pick and roll, because that's a big part of our game now," Aldrich said. "I've never been a guy that you're going to pass the ball in the post and say, 'All right, go get us a bucket.' That's just not my style, but there are so many other ways of impacting a game — knowing your coverages, knowing the scouting report and being a good locker room guy."

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