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Wolves keep valuable defender Hassell

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."