The Timberwolves traded guard Trenton Hassell to Dallas for Greg Buckner on Friday night in a swap of veteran defensive specialists that clears the way for the team to sign second-round draft pick Chris Richard before it leaves for Turkey today.
Richard, a bruising 6-9 forward who, along with Wolves first-round pick Corey Brewer, won two NCAA titles with Florida, missed Friday's season-opening media day because he had not signed a contract. Wolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said a pending trade that would clear more salary-cap room for Richard's contract was responsible for the delay.
That trade came late Friday when Hassell was sent to the Mavericks in a swap of players similar in many ways except for this: Hassell has been a starter for most of the past three seasons for a team now committed to playing its younger players.
Hassell is 28, Buckner is 31. Both are small forward/big guards designated most nights to defend the other team's best offensive players. Hassell is due $4.35 million this season on a contract that runs through 2010. Buckner, a former Clemson star who played in a memorable double-overtime NCAA tournament loss to the Gophers in 1997, is due $3.5 million this season on a contract guaranteed through next season.
Hassell averaged 8.7 points and 29.3 minutes while starting 68 of the 76 games in which he appeared last season. Buckner averaged 4.0 points and 18.1 minutes and started 11 of 76 games last season.
Friday night's trade could be the first in a series of deals this season as the Wolves try to reduce a roster that still stands at 17 players following July's 5-for-1 Kevin Garnett trade. It's possible that two or three more players -- including a list of veterans that includes Ricky Davis, Juwan Howard and possibly Mark Blount -- could be traded by opening night on Nov. 2.
Richard and Davis both were absent at Friday's media day. Team officials said Davis was ill and at a doctor's office.
On Friday afternoon, McHale said a pending trade would enable the team to sign Richard. The Wolves are over the NBA salary cap but under its luxury-tax threshold.
"I like the way he likes to hit people, the way he plays," McHale said. "Hopefully, we can get things done and get him in here to be part of our organization for a long time."
McHale said he expected Davis to miss this morning's first training-camp practice and join the team this afternoon for its flight to Turkey, where the Wolves will begin 10 days of practices and games overseas.
Forward Al Jefferson, one of five players acquired from Boston in July's trade, has taken over Garnett's locker stall.
"I heard he got my locker in Boston, so I said I'll return the favor and get his locker here," he said.
The Wolves will carry 15 players -- 12 active -- when the regular season begins. Coach Randy Wittman was asked Friday if the team must get its current roster down considerably below 15 players to keep everybody happy.
"You hope that's what you use October for," he said. "Do we need to get to 12 or 13 rather than 15? Those are questions I can answer a little bit better once I get a month with them."
Jerry Zgoda email@example.com