All-Star's agent looking for maximum deal

MINNEAPOLIS -- These were the delightfully dogged days of summer for Wally Szczerbiak. He dropped his golf handicap from 13 to 8. He coached youth basketball camps on his native Long Island. He became a first-time expecting father. "We have f...

MINNEAPOLIS -- These were the delightfully dogged days of summer for Wally Szczerbiak.

He dropped his golf handicap from 13 to 8.

He coached youth basketball camps on his native Long Island.

He became a first-time expecting father.

"We have five months off," Szczerbiak explained. "You can only lift so many weights."


But alas, the weightiest of matters was not resolved in the course of an otherwise productive offseason.

Since July, agent Gary Wichard has been in contract negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves, seeking a six-year, $83.6 extension for his fourth-year, All-Star client.

If a deal doesn't get done by Oct. 31, the 25-year-old Szczerbiak will become a restricted free agent after the 2002-03 season.

The issue, like many involving the smooth shooting guard/forward with model looks and a mysterious, perhaps imagined, riff with teammates, was met with pursed lips and crossed arms during the Timberwolves annual media day last week at Target Center.

"You have to talk to (general manager) Kevin (McHale) about that," head coach Flip Saunders said.

How 'bout it McHale? Will an extension be carved prior to the Oct. 30 opener against Denver, avoiding a potentially disastrous season-long distraction?

"I don't know that either," he said. "We'll find out."

Much of the tension comes from the fact that Wichard is asking for such gaudy figures -- the maximum, in fact, for a player of Szczerbiak's experience -- from a team already strapped by mega deals given to franchise frontman Kevin Garnett and hobbled point guard Terrell Brandon.


This request for a player with proven clutch ability, but who has been treated as a black hole by teammates during crunch time.

"That's totally in the hands of my agent and the big guys over there," said Szczerbiak, motioning to Saunders and McHale. "I'm just going to step on the floor and play my butt off."

That's exactly what the Miami of Ohio product has done in three previous seasons with the Timberwolves.

He's increased his scoring by at least 2.4 points per game each campaign, including a career-high 18.7 average in 2001-02 when he finished in the top 15 in the league in field goal percentage (50.8), 3-point percentage (45.5), minutes (3,117) and field goals (609).

So what exactly is Wally worth in the free agent market?

The comparisons most frequently offered are that of Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand and New Orleans Hornets point guard Baron Davis, two other fourth-year Western Conference all-stars.

Davis had already been given the bucko bucks, while Brand is currently negotiating for them.

Taking into consideration the positional differences between the two, Szczerbiak actually stacks up favorably, especially against Davis, perceived as one of the few dynamic point guards in the NBA. Last season, the 6-foot-7 Szczerbiak had slightly better scoring and rebounding numbers and was marginally better in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, while the 6-3 Davis tallied considerably more assists, steals and blocks in similar minutes.


Apples to oranges? Perhaps. But stand Minnesota's man next to a similarly productive pure shooter of the same size and equally average defensive ability.

New York's Allan Houston will earn $99 million through the life of his six-year agreement at 20.4 points per game, and 43.7 percent shooting from the field.

Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic averaged 21.2 points per game with less assists and 46.0 percent shooting at $40 million, accepting a deal below market value to stay on a team expected to win.

In Szczerbiak, the Timberwolves get roughly 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per night from a trouble-free player who hasn't missed a game in more than two seasons.

All that at around $13.8 million per year doesn't seem so comparatively outrageous -- though the Wolves still may not be willing to ante up.

Even Szczerbiaks' supposedly strained relationship with Garnett, made public in an article in ESPN The Magazine last season, appears on the mend; the two (willingly) sat down prior to training camp and discussed the team and its goals.

"It's not going to be (a distraction)," Szczerbiak said of the ongoing contract talks. "It can be if you let it, but you have to go out there and play the game day in and day out.

"I'm going to stay as far away from that as possible."


That has been the theme since this summer, as Szczerbiak, like he does each offseason, headed back to New York to be near family and friends.

He commented to the media about wanting to play for the Knicks.

He worked on his ball handling.

He pondered ways to enhance his viability as a team leader.

He didn't, however, ink a deal to stay in Minnesota.

"I'll play basketball anywhere," said Szczerbiak, folding his arms. "It's a good situation right here, right now."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548

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