Over the past half-day, buzz has been spreading about Kevin McHale’s immediate future as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last night, Kevin Love posted on his Twitter account that McHale would not be returning to the team as head coach.
Many frustrated Timberwolves fans are surely pleased to hear this news, as they feel the departure of McHale is long overdue. Others are probably calling Governor Pawlenty to try and make today an official state holiday. No matter how it is expressed, the voice is almost in unison amongst the Wolves faithful, that regardless of any perceived circumstances, successes, or past performance, this was a move which had to be made.
McHale, of course, is of the dissenting opinion. This is the first (and hopefully last) time I’ll ever run with anything from Shooter’s column, but the material this time is just too rich to pass up. McHale apparently told the Timberwolves that they are “…making a mistake”.
Really? The Timberwolves are the ones making a mistake here? Really?
That quote tells us one of two things: It is either the most ironic statement made in the history of ironic statements, or, it tells us that Kevin McHale is so skilled when it comes to making a mistake, that he is able to see gross errors well before they come to fruition.
Having said that, let’s look at some of the more vicious mistakes Kevin McHale has made as the man in charge of basketball decisions at the Country Club on 600 First Avenue.
Stephon Marbury over Ray Allen
At the time this took place, there was no outrage over the move, and it was generally accepted. Hindsight shows us that this move should have never happened from the Timberwolves’ side of things.
While Marbury’s numbers were decent, and the team appeared to be headed in the right direction, the end result of his personality is something the Timberwolves could have done without. His presence eventually led to the departure of then All-Star Tom Gugliotta, and a year later Marbury was himself traded away for the perpetually injured Terrell Brandon.
All Ray Allen has done is become a nine-time NBA All-Star and win an NBA Title.
Departure of Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups came to the Timberwolves to backup the aforementioned Brandon in 2000. Over the next few seasons, his level of play elevated to a pinnacle with the Wolves in 2002 featuring career highs in games played, games started, minutes played, field goal and three-point field goal percentages, among other categories. Minnesota won 50 games that year, making the playoffs.
However, instead of opting to re-sign Billups (who received an endorsement from Kevin Garnett), McHale decided to let Billups leave as a free agent.
Within two years of leaving Minnesota, Billups won an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Billups has been a four-time NBA All-Star, and after being traded to the Denver Nuggets, helped bring them closer to the NBA Finals than they'd ever come before.
Terrell Brandon retired in 2002.
Drafting Ndudi Ebi
The clip of David Stern butchering Ebi’s name remains a haunting memory for many a Timberwolves fan. The first item to consider is that the team had a dearth of draft picks as a direct result of signing Joe Smith to an under-the-table deal, clearly a violation of the NBA’s salary cap rules.
What makes this mistake stand out primarily are the players drafted after Ebi who experienced success. Surely Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Luke Walton, or Mo Williams would’ve made for better picks, no?
Then add in the belief of what convinced McHale to ultimately draft Ebi.
The story going around was that he became enamored with Ndudi after watching him in a practice against LeBron James. To quote Allen Iverson, “No no no, not a game, not a game. We talkin’ bout’ practice?” That’s right—no game footage to seal the deal, just a practice workout.
Ebi scored 40 career points in his 19-game NBA career.
Firing Flip Saunders
McHale didn’t seem to ever have a problem making his head coach out to be the scapegoat. Saunders happened to be the first victim of this repeat offender. Following a season where the Wolves appeared in the Western Conference finals for the first time in team history, they struggled to be competitive.With their record at 25-26, McHale fired Flip Saunders and named himself as head coach.
Never mind that the team was having issues with Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. Never mind that your big men consisted of Michael Olowokandi and Ervin Johnson. Never mind that you aren’t able to bring in much youth to keep a good thing going because you screwed up by having Joe Smith sign an illegal deal. No, clearly this is the coach’s fault.
Flip Saunders became coach of the Detroit Pistons and took them to three straight Eastern Conference Finals series, and also coached the Eastern Conference in the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.
The Timberwolves have not been to the playoffs since Flip was fired.
Firing Dwane Casey
Never a fan of working more than he absolutely had to, McHale hired a coach to replace Flip Saunders following the 2004-05 season.The replacement was former Sonics assistant coach Dwane Casey, who coached the team to a 33-49 record in his first season.
Halfway through his second year as coach, Casey had the Wolves with as many wins as losses at 20-20, and appeared to finally have down his rotations and had his players in the position they needed to be in order to succeed. McHale, however, decided that Casey wasn’t meeting expectations and fired him, naming Randy Wittman as his replacement.
Apparently, you should be contending for an NBA title just two years into coaching a team that traded away two of its most key players and was still trying to recover from the sanctions and punishments of trying to illegally circumvent the NBA Salary Cap.
Casey is now an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, and they have made the playoffs every year since Casey left Minnesota.
The Timberwolves have yet to reach a .500 record in that same timespan.
Trading Brandon Roy for Randy Foye
New Timberwolves GM David Kahn mentioned that the trade involving Brandon Roy and Randy Foye “…may go down as one of the worst in NBA History.” It should be no surprise that Kevin McHale orchestrated this genius work.
The trade did bring Foye to Minnesota, as well as $1 million in cash. Hopefully Glen Taylor found a worthwhile use for that lump sum.
Foye has been decent, with several shining moments and glimmers of hope. However, what he has done pales in comparison to Brandon Roy. His short list of accomplishments includes being named NBA Rookie of the Year, and being named an NBA All-Star in two of his three seasons in the league.
As you can see, Kevin McHale’s resume is impressive. Clearly the Timberwolves, are the ones making a mistake here. They just need to give McHale more time to work things out and fix what’s wrong—that’s the answer.
No, it’s not. Kevin McHale, you’re the mistake here. You’re the one who repeatedly botched trade after trade, and draft pick after draft pick. You’re the one who almost completely on your own tore this franchise apart with your utter ineptitude and inability to do anything of substance that didn’t involve drafting Kevin Garnett, assuming that Flip wasn’t the one who made the call there.
Never mind that we largely ignored lesser gaffes such as drafting Will Avery, Wally Szczerbiak’s monster contract, the horrible trade involving Sam Cassell and Marko Jaric, and drafting Rashad McCants, among other things. The Timberwolves are the ones who made the mistake here.
If you hadn’t been the one in charge, making all of these bad decisions, David Kahn would not need to be here making the “mistake” of firing you in the first place.
McHale’s firing gives the Timberwolves an opportunity to regain much of the credibility and relevance they lost during the time Kevin was pulling the strings. Now is the time to turn a new leaf, with a new front office and a new coach and shed the old image of the Country Club.
The journey will probably be long, and probably will not be easy, but it is a necessary step to restore credibility and hope to the fans in Minnesota. Fortunately, David Kahn has made a very promising first step.