The Timberwolves will open training camp Saturday with the unknowns that accompany a reconfigured team and the certainty they have too many players (17 so far) following a historic 5-for-1 Kevin Garnett trade.
The team's youth movement -- eight players are 25 years old or younger -- makes veterans Trenton Hassell, Juwan Howard, Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Marko Jaric potential trade candidates, either by the Nov. 2 season opener against Denver or the February trading deadline.
Wolves Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale said he talked to other teams all summer about deals that would further transform his team, but called September "a slow, slow, slow month" while potential trading partners discuss options with other teams and contemplate the $67 million-plus salary cap.
"We have three or four deals that are just laying around," McHale said. "Teams are like, 'If we can do this, we'll do that.' At a certain point between now and Nov. 2, they're going to get their things in order."
Coach Randy Wittman, who had the interim tag removed from his title when he received a contract extension in May, wants to settle on an eight- or nine-man rotation and said summer workouts have convinced him such newly acquired youngsters as Al Jefferson, Corey Brewer and Gerald Green won't be denied.
"The youth is going to force me to play them," he said.
Wittman joked that the Wolves are just a "couple of 3-for-1 deals" away from having enough players for two teams.
"You can't play that many guys," said McHale, whose team will practice Saturday morning at Target Center before holding the next 10 days of camp in Turkey and London. "I would like to have lighter numbers than that, no question."
Second-round draft pick Chris Richard -- Brewer's teammate at Florida -- remains unsigned. Nearly all second-round picks sign for the league minimum salary -- $427,163 this season -- but at issue is the amount of guaranteed money, if any, for this season and possibly successive seasons. Richard has been in town for about a month, working out daily with his new teammates.
"By Saturday, he has to make a decision," McHale said.
Contract talks, Part II
The Wolves have until Oct. 31 to sign Jefferson -- entering the fourth season of a contract he signed as a rookie in 2004 -- to a contract extension or they won't be able to sign him until next summer, when he will be a restricted free agent. The Wolves could match any offers then, but a breakout season would bump up the price for a promising, young low-post player who was the centerpiece of the Garnett deal.
McHale said he has had "preliminary" discussions with Jefferson's agent about what will be a hefty raise. "We'll see," McHale said. "That's something we'd like to get done here."
Second-year forward Craig Smith, who impressed during summer-league play with his leaner physique and productive play, sprained an ankle during a workout Monday and is expected to be sidelined for the opening days of training camp, McHale said.
Veteran forward Mark Madsen is on schedule for a mid-November return from a shoulder injury sustained in a personal watercraft accident in August, Wittman said.
Howard, acquired from Houston in June and upset when Garnett was traded in July, asked the Wolves to trade him to a handful of teams he specified, McHale said. "I think [owner Glen Taylor] made it clear to him that a deal has to make sense for both sides," McHale said.