Starting for Szczerbiak 'a big priority'
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota sixth man Wally Szczerbiak wants to start next season and wouldn't mind being traded if the Timberwolves can't accommodate him.
Szczerbiak was named a starter out of training camp this season, but voluntarily moved to the bench when the team struggled early.
Frustrated the move did not pay off -- the Timberwolves were eliminated from the Western Conference playoff race with a loss to Seattle on Sunday -- Szczerbiak said being a starter next season is "a big priority."
"If I earn a starting job, I want to be in the starting lineup," Szczerbiak said. "That's what ticked me off this year. I worked my butt off in the offseason and in training camp and earned a starting position. And for the betterment of the team, I went to the bench."
Szczerbiak turned into one of the leading candidates for sixth man of the year, averaging 15.6 points and shooting nearly 51 percent from the field this season. But his sacrifice didn't translate to team success, as the Wolves slumped from Western Conference finalists last season to the draft lottery this year.
"When a player earns a starting spot and gets it taken away and the season turns out like it did, that's disheartening," Szczerbiak said.
Though he has spent his entire six-year career in Minnesota and was an All Star in 2001-02, Szczerbiak has been a constant part of trade rumors.
"I'm sure my name will come up in trade talks again," he said with a smile. "If I went somewhere else, it would be exciting. It would be a fresh start. But at the same time, depending on who is here next year, it could be a fresh start here as well."
Interim coach Kevin McHale has said he will look to find a permanent replacement for Flip Saunders, who was fired in February. McHale has not even said definitively whether he will return to his role as the team's vice president of basketball operations.
As for the players, Latrell Sprewell's contract is up and it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will not return, which would open up a spot in the starting lineup for Szczerbiak.
"I'm just going to keep working my tail off, do what I always do in the offseason, and just be hungry," Szczerbiak said. "Wherever it is."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press