Mayo stays fairly close to home

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS _ Five hours after more than 2,000 draft-party participants cheered the arrival of new Timberwolf O.J. Mayo, their NBA hometown team made a midnight CDT deal that reshaped its roster.

The Wolves dealt Mayo’s draft rights along with Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner and their contracts to Memphis for the rights to Kevin Love, swingman shooter Mike Miller, forward Brian Cardinal and center Jason Collins.

The dramatic deal long after the revelers left the team’s Target Center practice facility rids the Wolves of Jaric’s bloated contract, Walker’s problematic presence and delivers a uniquely skilled 6-9 rookie forward and a deft veteran three-point shooter.

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When the Madison Square Garden floodlights finally gleamed and league Commissioner David Stern stepped to the podium Thursday evening, all the predraft posturing and silliness dissipated and the draft unfolded just as expected _ Memphis guard Derrick Rose first to Chicago, Kansas State forward Michael Beasley second to Miami and Mayo third to the Wolves _ without any seismic trades.

That is, until the Wolves delivered the big one long after the draft crowds in New York City and the Target Center basement went home.

Minutes after the Wolves took Mayo, assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg appeared before the draft-party crowd and told the gathered fans how Mayo had not once, but twice &uot;blown away&uot; the team’s seven-man scouting tribunal with an individual, invitation-only workout for five NBA teams and an an hour’s interview with the Wolves on Saturday in Chicago.

One fan in the audience wore a No. 32 USC jersey, Mayo’s jersey.

Twelve years ago, the Wolves drafted Connecticut star Ray Allen and traded him minutes later for Stephon Marbury. Two years ago, they took Brandon Roy and then sent him to Portland for Randy Foye and cash.

Each time, the newest Timberwolves wore team caps while the first round still progressed.

This time, Mayo already presumably was preparing to fly to the Twin Cities for a news conference on Friday afternoon.

When reporters cornered Hoiberg in a crowded elevator as he headed back up to the team’s draft room, one fellow asked if his just-finished speech meant the Wolves were keeping Mayo for posterity.

&uot;This means we’re keeping him,&uot; Hoiberg said.

The Wolves used their two early second-round picks to select Serbia’s Nikola Pekovic, a promising 6-11 European forward who just signed a rich contract with a Greek team and might not play in the NBA for at least three seasons, and Kansas guard Mario Chalmers. They then traded Chalmers to Miami for two future second-round picks and cash.

For weeks, Heat President Pat Riley supposedly explored just about every option other than selecting Beasley, who before Rose burst forth in the NCAA tournament was considered a lock to be theNo. 1 overall pick in this draft. He brought Mayo and Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless to Miami on Tuesday for a second and final &uot;secretive&uot; workout.

Hoiberg said the Wolves’ decision-makers thought there was a &uot;very realistic chance&uot; the Heat would take Mayo and leave Beasley available with the third pick. In an ESPN interview, Riley, who reportedly is concerned about Beasley’s immaturity, said his scouting staff &uot;got me in a room and made sure Mr. Beasley was going to be part of the Miami Heat.&uot;

That left Mayo, who says he set aim for Thursday night when he was 9 years old. That’s when his mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he opted for &uot;NBA player&uot; over a fireman, policeman or astronaut.

He traveled only to New York, Los Angeles and Miami to work out for the Knicks, Clippers and Heat and declined an invitation to come to Target Center. Those decisions might suggest Mayo, who already has signed a four-year endorsement deal with Nike, wanted to play in a major market, a contention he denied Thursday night.

&uot;I’m totally excited, I’m so happy to be a part of the Minnesota organization,&uot; he said. &uot;I just wanted to hear my name called and be part of the NBA. It didn’t matter if it was a big-market organization, small market, medium market. I just wanted to be a part of the NBA.&uot;

Good thing, because before the night was through he was headed from one small market to another small market while Love, the UCLA freshman forward, was bound for Minnesota and McHale, the Basketball Hall of Fame player after whom Love patterned his game.

Love brings the Wolves a frontcourt complement _ a player who can spread the floor with his outside shooting and unique passing skills _ to star Al Jefferson’s low-post scoring game.

Miller, 28, is a career 40-percent shooter who also will help the team spread the floor when defenses collapse on Jefferson inside.

In dealing their three current players, the Wolves send away Walker’s $9.3 million salary slot that expires after next season and Jaric’s big contract, which has three seasons and $21.2 million remaining and in return take Cardinal’s two-year, $13 million deal that the Grizzlies have been desperate to trade.