Wolves keep valuable defender Hassell

Updated: August 4, 2004, 8:13 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves matched the Portland Trail Blazers' offer for restricted free agent Trenton Hassell on Wednesday, meaning the team will keep one of its top defenders.

The Blazers signed Hassell to an offer sheet on July 26, and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said then the contract was worth $27 million over six years.

"I'm happy to be staying in Minnesota, and I can't wait for the start of the season to hit the court and get back to work," Hassell said.

With Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson expected back healthy, there was some doubt whether the Wolves would decide to match the offer -- because their backcourt will be more crowded.

"Obviously, they put a value on signing him," Bartelstein said Wednesday. "We thought this would be a good situation either way."

Hassell started 74 games for Minnesota last season after two seasons with the Chicago Bulls, who picked him in the second round of the 2001 draft. Defense is his specialty; he averaged 5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Wolves but normally guarded their opponent's top scorer and frequently shut him down.

"There's a lot of scorers in this league, but there's not a lot of people ... who are willing to sacrifice and play defense," Hassell said recently. "When I first started out I had no choice -- that was the only way I was going to get to play. So I kind of got a reputation and I did well at it."

Wolves vice president Kevin McHale, in a prepared statement, called Hassell a key contributor to the team's run to the Western Conference finals.

Blazers general manager John Nash said in a news release that the team was disappointed, but added, "it is not surprising that the Minnesota Timberwolves place as much value on him as we did."

The Timberwolves still haven't re-signed Hudson, the team's top offseason priority. The two sides tentatively agreed on a deal in early July, but they haven't been able to wrap it up.

At issue is unique language in the contract regarding guaranteed money the point guard would earn if he stays healthy, according to agent Bill Neff. Hudson missed the playoffs and all but 29 games of the regular season with a severely sprained ankle. He had surgery in April.

Neff said Wednesday he has written the contract about 12 different ways. "Each time we send it to them they reject it or they claim the league has rejected it," Neff said.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Neff was waiting for word on his latest proposal, but he said he wasn't worried about the deal not getting done.

"I'm not concerned, other than that my client might get frustrated," Neff said. "If I have to, I'll go sit down in Glen Taylor's office and we'll work it out by more conventional means."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press