McHale ousted as Timberwolves coach
MINNEAPOLIS - During 15 years in charge of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin McHale forged two distinct reputations.
There was McHale the gifted teacher, beloved by players and staff for his relentlessly positive demeanor and an unending eagerness to share his wealth of basketball knowledge. Then there was McHale the mistake-prone executive, vilified by fans for a series of blunders and the failure to make his team into a consistent championship contender.
New president of basketball operations David Kahn dumped McHale as coach yesterday, praising him as a “great man’’ who deserves respect. But he offered no specific reasons during a press conference for his decision, saying instead that “this is going to be a transition period. And with the changes that have occurred, and with the changes that are still going to come, it would have been difficult to put him in the middle of that again.’’
McHale, a northern Minnesota native and Hall of Fame player who won three NBA titles with the 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 [Tuesday] night they were going in a different direction. I said, ‘I think you’re making a mistake, but that’s up to you guys.’ ’’
“I was more shocked, disappointed, hurt,’’ said forward Al Jefferson, one of many players who urged Kahn to bring McHale back next season. “But at the same time I understand that this is a business.’’
Timberwolves forward Mark Madsen said McHale will be sorely missed.
“Kevin McHale is a great coach,’’ Madsen said in a telephone 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 one of the most hapless franchises in professional sports 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.
After a stirring run to the Western Conference finals in 2004, the Wolves have not made the playoffs since.
McHale showed more proficiency as a coach and adored this young team that he helped assemble after trading Garnett to Boston in 2007. Timberwolves forward Kevin Love actually leaked word of McHale’s departure early yesterday with a Twitter posting that read in part: “Today is a sad day.’’
“I don’t want Kevin [Love] to feel badly about that,’’ said Kahn, who added that they won’t start the coaching search until after the June 25 draft. “We live in a very different world than all of us grew up in. I don’t think it’s a big deal.’’
McHale had been the primary decision-maker on personnel matters since he was named vice president of basketball operations in 1995, forging a tight bond with owner Glen Taylor in the process.
Though Jefferson lobbied heavily to keep McHale, he said he supported Kahn’s decision “100 percent.’’