MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves have often found success searching for and finding the right role players to fit into coach Flip Saunders' system.
They have no choice. With Kevin Garnett's contract chewing up most of their salary cap and three of their next four first-round draft picks forfeited as punishment for signing Joe Smith to an illegal deal last year, there's really no other way to craft a contender.
Guard Chauncey Billups -- who played for four NBA teams in his first three seasons -- was plucked off the bottom of the free-agent pile last summer. An eight-player trade between Washington and Dallas forced the Wizards to cut Felipe Lopez last February -- clearing the way for the swingman to sign with the Wolves. And forward Gary Trent -- who played for the Mavericks last season -- was added this year.
All relatively inexpensive. All extremely valuable.
"We've got a lot of guys who can play, but they're not all going to be able to play," Saunders said. "Hopefully guys are going to be able to accept roles. Maybe their time might not be now, but it might be later -- understanding that sometimes we have to sacrifice in what's going to be best for the team."
Shouldn't be any problem with that.
"This is definitely a blessing for me to be here and be on a team where nobody cares who gets the credit," Billups said. "Nobody cares who gets it done, as long as you get it done. People just out there playing, man."
Anthony Peeler, who has struggled throughout his nine-year career when called upon to start but played well as a long-range shooting specialist in a reserve role, joins Billups and Trent as players who could probably start for other teams.
"We've got real names on the bench now," Peeler said. "It's not guys where you'd just look over there and go, 'Who are those guys? They only go seven deep."'
"We feel like we really have a starting eight," Billups said. "We feel like our bench should beat anybody else's bench."
Forward Tom Hammonds, who battled chronic soreness in his ankles, is supposed to be retired. But the Timberwolves' buyout of his contract has not yet been finalized. If an agreement isn't reached, there's a chance Hammonds could return to the team to fulfill the final year of his contract -- something he has said he doesn't want to do, preferring to concentrate on his drag racing career.
The Wolves waived forward Bill Curley Thursday afternoon, reducing their roster to 14. That leaves them with three centers (Dean Garrett, Rasho Nesterovic and Loren Woods), four true forwards (Kevin Garnett, Sam Mitchell, Joe Smith and Gary Trent) and seven guards (Will Avery, Chauncey Billups, Terrell Brandon, Maurice Evans, Felipe Lopez, Wally Szczerbiak and Anthony Peeler) -- although Lopez can play small forward as well as shooting guard. Teams can carry 12 active players.
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