BOSTON -- For NBA veterans, exhibition games are for breaking in the old sea legs, busting the rookies and whetting appetites for the regular season.
Joe Wolf is an NBA veteran, but in this exhibition season, he is fighting for his professional life.
Once upon a time, Wolf was a vaunted North Carolina alumnus, the 13th pick in the 1987 draft. Three teams later, he is a fringe player hoping to catch on with the Boston Celtics.
You're bound to see plenty of Wolf tonight in Phoenix. The team's two other power forwards are hurting. Kevin McHale (ankle soreness, two strained quadriceps) didn't make the trip, and Ed Pinckney (sore knee, hamstring strain) will probably see limited playing time.
Although it's early, Wolf has the inside track on the 12th roster spot. He has experience, understands his role and has expectations befitting a reserve player. He also has NBA skills.
"He's got great court savvy," said coach Chris Ford. "In the last couple of days, he's shot the ball tremendously well. And he sees the open man.
"The way we're running our new break, he is required to handle the ball some and make some passes. He's done both very well."
Wolf was one of the last additions to the preseason roster, but for good reason. After languishing in Denver last season as a backup center behind All-Star Dikembe Mutombo, Wolf resigned himself to spending a year overseas to regain his confidence and his game.
Arese, an Italian team located outside Milan, offered Wolf a guaranteed contract and invited him overseas for a look. He decided to make the trip, tore up the competition and asked for more money.
"They didn't want to pay me," said Wolf, "so I told them the deal was off and I came home. All this was going on three weeks before Celtics camp opened.
"I was just lying around, figuring out what to do next, and Arese called back. They wanted me after all. We made the agreement on Wednesday, and I was due to fly out Thursday.
"I tried to get a ticket, but the plane was sold out. I tried to get a flight on Friday, but there were no reservations. I was looking into flights on the weekend when they called back again and said they signed someone else for a quarter of a million dollars less."
Who aced Wolf out of a job?
"I don't know," he answered. "I never caught the name. All I know is they've lost four in a row, so he couldn't be helping them that much."
There's every chance Arese could be giving Wolf a ring again in the near future. He admits he keeps one eye on Europe for potential openings.