T-Wolves aren’t bringing McHale back as coach
MINNEAPOLIS – Kevin McHale is out as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
New president of basketball operations David Kahn announced the move Wednesday, ending McHale’s 15-year stint with the Timberwolves. In a statement issued before a news conference, Kahn lauded McHale’s contributions as an executive and a coach, but there are many changes on the way and it “would have been difficult for everybody involved to put Kevin in this position.”
McHale, a northern Minnesota native and Hall of Fame player who won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, met several times with Kahn before the decision was reached.
“I was willing to come back, but they never offered me a contract,” McHale told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “They told me last week they were going in a different direction. I said, ‘I think you’re making a mistake, but that’s up to you guys.”‘
Timberwolves forward Mark Madsen said McHale will be missed.
“Kevin McHale is a great coach,” Madsen told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Salt Lake City. “I’m a little bit surprised by this news and I was hoping to play for him next season and I guess that’s not going to happen now.”
Though he helped turn a terribly unsuccessful franchise into a playoff team by boldly drafting Kevin Garnett out of high school with the fifth pick in 1995, McHale received massive criticism from fans the last few years for a series of draft-day failures and other roster moves that never worked out.
He showed more proficiency as a coach and adored this young team that he helped assemble. Timberwolves forward Kevin Love actually leaked word of McHale’s departure early Wednesday with a Twitter posting that read in part: “Today is a sad day.”
McHale joined the organization in 1994 and spent most of that time as the primary decision-maker on personnel matters, forging a tight bond with owner Glen Taylor in the process.
Even when he was working in the front office, McHale had a gift for on-court teaching – often staying late after practice to help post players from Garnett to Al Jefferson hone their inside games. He still enjoyed that aspect last season, though the losing wore on him and he wasn’t fond of the rigors of travel.
In 2005, McHale took over after firing his old friend Flip Saunders – less than one year after they went to the Western Conference finals behind Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell – and went 19-12 the rest of the season.
Taylor moved McHale down from the front office in December to take over for fired coach Randy Wittman, and hired Kahn last month to take McHale’s former position as basketball boss. Kahn had pledged to handle the decision on McHale’s coaching status with professionalism and respect.
“Kevin has a long history here and a relationship with the owner that I respect and trust,” Kahn said at his introductory press conference. “I will not hurt Kevin McHale. I will not.”
Minnesota’s record under McHale after he replaced Wittman was 20-43, but for much of that stretch the Wolves were playing short-handed after Jefferson tore the ACL in his right knee. Defensive standout Corey Brewer also suffered a season-ending knee injury and guard Randy Foye missed 12 of the last 22 games to ankle and hip problems.
After losing eight straight games following the coaching change, the Wolves went 13-10 until Jefferson was hurt. Several players remarked about the positive vibe McHale brought to the bench and expressed appreciation of his simpler strategy.
Jefferson, Foye and most everybody else in the locker room lobbied for him to come back.
“If there’s some kind of way that he leaves the Timberwolves,” Jefferson said in April, “that’s when I’ll be very, very upset.”
McHale, however, was haunted by several bad contracts given to the likes of Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson and Mike James; draft-day blunders like Ndudi Ebi, Rashad McCants and the trade of Brandon Roy for Randy Foye; and an illegal under-the-table deal with Joe Smith that ultimately cost the team three first-round draft picks.
Those missteps aside, Madsen said he thinks people should remember that McHale built a perennial lottery team into a group that lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
“I think Kevin McHale’s legacy speaks for itself,” Madsen said. “Sure, the last couple years haven’t been quite as good as any of us would have wanted. But let’s not forget that it was Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders that took this organization to new heights in 2004 that was probably an injury away from a championship.”