McHale, Saunders Ink Vrankovic to Three-Year Deal

September 7, 1996

One of the first things the Timberwolves might have to stress to Stojko Vrankovic is that he can ease up on the treadmill. The 7-foot-2 Croatian center broke a few while passing time with the Boston Celtics.

It is unlikely Vrankovic will be as idle with the Wolves, who need him to fill a critical role this season. Shortly after the Wolves signed Vrankovic to a three-year contract Friday, coach/general manager Flip Saunders installed him as the starting center.

"Right now, we've got no players on our roster with a 'C' next to their names," Saunders said. "We're going to need him to play some significant minutes for us."

Vrankovic, the European player of the year the past two seasons, was introduced as the final piece to what could be a productive lineup.

Vrankovic, 32, has been coveted by National Basketball Association teams since he re-established himself as one of the top players in the European leagues. He and former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins led Panathinaikos A.O. of Greece to the European Cup championship last season.

Vrankovic had his sights set on returning to the NBA after two frustrating seasons with the Celtics (1990-91 and 1991-92). He appeared in only 50 games and had to rely on then-teammate Kevin McHale, now the Wolves' vice president, for inspiration.

The Celtics, which still had Larry Bird and Robert Parish as well as McHale, showed little desire to develop Vrankovic.

"Stojko had an unfulfilling time in Boston," McHale said. "I thought he should have played more. He's got the kind of work ethic that will help him become a better player. That's why some of the treadmills in Boston took such a beating."

McHale was a key reason Vrankovic and his agent, Warren LeGarie, chose the Wolves over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Celtics.

"Kevin and I had a good relationship in Boston," said Vrankovic, who has improved his English since his stint with the Celtics. "He was always very nice to me. We played a lot of one-on-one together in practice."

McHale intends to work more with Vrankovic, who does not have a reputation as a scorer. Vrankovic is known more for rebounding, shot blocking and interior defense. He averaged 12.8 points for Panathinaikos last season.

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