To the Wolves' surprise, Greg Buckner has turned out to be a leader -- and an emergency point guard.
INDIANAPOLIS - Greg Buckner knew in June his days with the Dallas Mavericks were done.
He didn't know he would end up in Minnesota on training camp's eve, and he never, ever imagined that, after eight NBA seasons as a defensive specialist at small forward and big guard, he would be the most efficient of the healthy Timberwolves point guards halfway through their preseason schedule.
"Something new," he said with a smile.
Last month's trade for Trenton Hassell the night before the team left for Turkey made him a veteran oddity on a Wolves team now committed to youth. Injuries that have sidelined point guards Randy Foye and Sebastian Telfair combined with Buckner's veteran savvy have put the basketball in his hands when Marko Jaric, uneven as the team's starting point guard for now, goes to the bench.
The 6-4 Buckner hadn't played point guard since the unconventional Don Nelson coached him early in his career in Dallas.
"Guys get to this league because they're versatile," said Buckner, 31. "I haven't played point guard in a long, long time, but I can do that.
"I'm not going to go out there and be fancy like Steve Nash. I'm going to get guys in the right places and see what happens."
Coach Randy Wittman wasn't certain what kind of player he was getting when the Wolves traded Hassell, a starter for most of the past three seasons, in a deal that gives the team some salary-cap flexibility.
He said he never expected Buckner -- a former Clemson star who battled the Gophers in that memorable 1997 Midwest Regional semifinal game in San Antonio -- to be the leader he has been since he arrived.
"He brings a guidance," Wittman said. "He's not a vocal guy. It's just the small, little things he has done with the young guys: 'You've got to do this on this play,' or 'You've got to do that on that play.' With those things, he has been unbelievable. I wouldn't even have dreamed we'd get that when we made the deal."
He also didn't envision he might have another point-guard option.
"You never know," Wittman said when asked if Buckner could play that spot in the regular season after Foye and Telfair heal. "If you need somebody to shut down a bigger point guard and if you need somebody who can get you into your offense, he has shown me he can do that. That's something in the back of your mind. That's not the position he's going to play for us. But he can."
Buckner's relatively modest contract makes him a viable financial candidate for a buyout if the Wolves cannot otherwise get their roster down from 16 guaranteed contracts to a player limit of 15. But Wittman said before Friday's 113-110 double-overtime victory at Indiana -- the Wolves' first victory of the preseason over an NBA opponent -- that that wouldn't happen.
"As a coach, I love the essentials he brings," Wittman said.
Buckner played 76 games last season for a Dallas team that went 67-15. On Friday, he played 33 minutes, including extensively down the stretch and into both overtimes.
"I've been around winning basketball," Buckner said. "A lot of the young guys here haven't been around winning too much in the NBA. You've got to pay attention to details every day.
"This is my team, too, now, so I have to help these guys get going. The faster they get going, the better we'll be. You've got to do it every day. You can be good one day and be horrible the next. That's one of the things I can show these guys."
Jerry Zgoda firstname.lastname@example.org
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