With so much changed, team heads to Turkey for more unfamiliarity

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2007 - 9:45 PM

TOM WALLACE ¥ twallace@startribune.comASSIGN#113200 SLUG: 1wolf.#1133200Chris Richards passes the ball during drills at the Wolves first preseason practice at the Target Center Saturday.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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The Timberwolves flew by chartered aircraft Saturday afternoon to Istanbul, Turkey, with a copy of the 1978 film "Midnight Express" in hand and newly acquired Greg Buckner, newly signed Chris Richard and ailing Ricky Davis on board.

The team traded starting small forward Trenton Hassell to Dallas on Friday night for Buckner in a swap of veteran defensive specialists intended to give the remade Wolves some salary-cap flexibility and an even more different look.

"We're pretty committed to making some changes," said Kevin McHale, the vice president of basketball operations, who dealt Kevin Garnett to Boston for five players in July and is considering more changes to a team that has 16 players on guaranteed rosters and only 15 available spots. "We're very committed to change some of the personnel to give us a different look, a fresh look and a different look, and that's what we did."

McHale was otherwise evasive when explaining a trade involving two players with similar styles. The main differences: Hassell, 28, has been a starter for most of the past three seasons on a team now committed to playing its younger players, and Buckner, 31, is a reserve accustomed to playing fewer minutes. Hassell also will make $4.35 million this season compared to Buckner's $3.5 million, and Hassell's contract is guaranteed for three more seasons compared to Buckner's two.

Wolves coach Randy Wittman praised Buckner's professionalism, leadership and versatility. Buckner's lighter contract also might make him a better candidate to have his contract bought out if the Wolves cannot otherwise reduce their roster from 16 to 15 or fewer by opening night Nov. 2.

"Both guys are known more for their defense than their offense; Greg can play multiple positions while Trenton was more of a 3," said Wittman, suggesting Buckner can play both forward and guard while he considers Hassell more of a small forward. "The more versatile you can be on this team, the better chance you have to play. That's what this team is evolving into."

Richard, a second-round pick from the University of Florida who missed Friday's media day, signed Saturday morning and then participated in the team's opening practice of training camp at Target Center. Davis missed both media day and Saturday's opening practice because he was ill, team officials said, but he joined his teammates later in the day for the overnight flight to Turkey, where the Wolves will start a 10-day overseas trip intended to promote the NBA globally.

Wittman also took with him to Turkey a copy of the grim motion picture that depicts an American student held in a Turkish prison for smuggling drugs. Rumor was, he planned to show the movie -- which unflatteringly portrays Turkish people -- on the long flight across the Atlantic.

"That could be a rumor, might not be," he said. "It's a good movie. I like that movie. That's coach's decision."

Progress?

Wittman addressed his players at the end of Saturday's 2-hour, 45-minute practice and told them they got better as a team in that short time. Somebody asked new forward Al Jefferson how he knew that to be true.

"We learned a play, one play," he said. "That was something we didn't know before today."

Moving on

Saturday was the first practice day in 13 seasons without Garnett on the floor.

"I think I'm over it," Wittman said. "I'm ready to move on with this team. I wasn't anticipating him behing here, so there was no thought to it. We're both going in different directions. It was exciting to be out here today."

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