Wolves to have Vegas bonding session

Updated: August 20, 2005, 7:30 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Following an immensely disappointing season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were in desperate need of a makeover.

Vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale has done that this offseason, hiring a new coach, adding at least three new players and jettisoning fading stars Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell.

With that in mind, the Timberwolves are headed to Las Vegas for a little bonding and basketball. Starting on Monday, the team is holding a mini-camp in Sin City to get all the new faces acquainted with each other.

The trip was the brain child of Dwane Casey, who was hired in the offseason to be the team's new coach.

"Dwane wants to get the guys all in one environment before we get real serious," general manager Jim Stack said. "He can kind of indoctrinate the guys into his philosophy and build a little camaraderie. That goes a long way when it comes time to start the season."

Casey comes to the Timberwolves from Seattle, where he was integral in instilling a fast-paced style of play that relied on versatile players who can change roles on the fly.

That will be an adjustment for Timberwolves Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak, who are used to playing in a more structured system.

That's why the two-day camp in Vegas is so important.

"I'm excited just to get all the new guys together and get to work," said forward Mark Madsen, who signed a new five-year contract this summer, in his trademark upbeat tone. "Work on the pick 'n' roll defense, baby."

It will also give team leaders like Garnett and Szczerbiak a chance to meet the newest Timberwolves -- Marko Jaric, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Rashad McCants.

"We've had a lot of changes this summer," Madsen said. "I think [this trip] is only going to pay dividends down the road."

The Timberwolves needed to get younger and more athletic after a season in which they looked old and stagnant while missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

So McHale traded disgruntled guard Sam Cassell to the Clippers for Jaric, who is nine years younger and a much better defender.

He also signed Tskitishvili, a versatile 7-footer with a soft shooting touch, to a free agent contract after an impressive summer league and drafted McCants, an ultra athletic guard out of North Carolina, in the first round.

Add to that the possibility of guard/forward Damien Wilkins following Casey from Seattle, and that's a lot of new faces. Wilkins signed an offer sheet on Thursday, and the Sonics have seven days to decide whether to match the offer or let him go.

"We feel good about the fact we have added some versatile athletes," Stack said. "We want to get more athletic. We're doing some good things and we're not quite finished."

The trip won't be just about basketball.

Stack said they are planning a few events away from the court, including a team dinner and possibly a bowling trip, to try and bring the team closer together.

"Anytime you get the whole team together, good things happen," Madsen said.

Stack hopes the trip will help get the team in the right frame of mind heading into training camp. Last year, Sprewell and Cassell complained about their contracts during the preseason and McHale said the team had a poor training camp in general, which was a precursor to a dismal season.

So Stack is not surprised that nearly all of the players planned to attend the mini-camp.

"Everybody has a pretty sour taste in our mouths about not making the playoffs last year," Stack said. "Last year was an aberration and we want to make amends."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press