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Wolves Deal With Atlanta In Search Of Chemistry, Inside Strength

February 22, 1996

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The Minnesota Timberwolves badly needed a physical center. Perhaps more importantly, they needed one who wouldn’t spend so much time complaining.

The Wolves sent disgruntled centers Christian Laettner and Sean Rooks to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday for center Andrew Lang and point guard Spud Webb.

Kevin McHale, Minnesota’s vice president of basketball operations, stressed the on-court benefits of the deal, specifically Lang’s physical style. But McHale didn’t deny he also was hoping to improve the team’s chemistry.

``Everybody’s got to understand there are roles that need to be played in the context of the team,″ McHale said. ``If people don’t accept that or don’t understand that, it ends up being (conflict) all the time.″

Although Laettner has been one of the most consistent Wolves since they drafted him out of Duke in 1992, he also has been one of the most volatile.

There had been few of those outbursts for the past season and a half until this week, when Laettner criticized prized rookie Kevin Garnett and the rest of the organization. The friction affected Laettner’s relationship with some other players.

``I wasn’t pleased at all with what he said,″ said Doug West, the only original Timberwolf. ``People were still OK with him, but everybody was just more quiet toward him.″

With a 15-36 record, the Wolves don’t need a dividing force in the locker room. After moving from power forward to center this season, the 6-foot-11 Laettner became expendable when Minnesota started looking for a physical inside player.

``I know some changes had to be made,″ said Laettner, in the fourth year of a six-year, $21.6 million contract. ``They figured out that it was time for me to go. That’s fine. I’m not the GM. I’m not the coach. I’m not making any decisions here.″

The deal gave the playoff-contending Hawks a more offensive-minded center in Laettner, who is averaging 18 points and seven rebounds. It also gave Atlanta a backup center who can score in Rooks.

In Lang, Minnesota got a true center who plays defense first but also is improving offensively. In his eighth year in the league, the 6-11, 250-pound Lang is averaging a career-high 12.9 points along with 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

``If we’re going to take the next step, we need a banger, and we thought that’s what Lang could do,″ Wolves coach-general manager Flip Saunders said.

The emergence of Garnett also made Minnesota more willing to part with Laettner. Garnett had three double-doubles in points and rebounds in the past four games.

Without Garnett’s improvement, ``I would have probably said we better wait and see what we have in Kevin,″ McHale said. ``But all of a sudden you start saying to yourself, `Hey, this guy can carry some offensive load.′ ″

Rooks, a 6-10, 250-pounder, was traded to the Wolves in November 1994 by the Dallas Mavericks. The former Arizona standout was a second-round pick in the 1994 draft, and Minnesota still owes Dallas a conditional first-round pick to complete that deal.

Rooks’ playing time has diminished in recent weeks, and he had asked to be traded.

``I was having a hard time understanding why I couldn’t play,″ Rooks said. ``Now, hopefully, this is a situation where I can go and contribute to the team.″

Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said the trade would make Atlanta ``a bigger, younger team.″ Babcock is the brother of Minnesota director of player personnel Rob Babcock. The Hawks visit Minnesota Sunday.

The 5-7 Webb is in his 11th NBA season. He played with the Hawks during the mid-1980s after signing as a free agent and returned to Atlanta last June in a trade with the Sacramento Kings.

Minnesota badly needed a point guard earlier this season, but the solid play of free agent Darrick Martin and veteran Terry Porter have left the Wolves satisfied with their production at that position.

Webb is signed through this season, and the Wolves seem most interested in the cap flexibility they will gain by unloading a salary after this season. Rooks’ contract also expires after the season, and Lang is signed through 1999.

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