McHale's ouster appears to be latest in long line of bad decisions
This team truly cannot get it right, can it?
McHale's 16-year association with the Wolves, which began immediately after his Hall of Fame stay of 13 years with the Celtics and rapidly advanced him into the role of Minnesota's chief basketball officer from May 1995 to December 2008, ended Wednesday not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with a tweet. Forward
That's how the news got out, a bit of bad form that should earn the franchise a new nickname -- consider them the Tweet-Wolves now. Beyond the style, though, there's this substance: McHale did a pretty good job as coach over the final 63 games of the 2008-09 season. Certainly respectable (13-18 with
Then there's this: Add McHale's 19-12 mark with a more competitive squad back in 2004-05, when he fired and replaced
Admittedly, by those standards, McHale didn't have to be Superman to leap the other guys' LEGO buildings in a single bound. Each one of those coaches, however, was given a chance to coach a 95th game. And a 96th. And beyond. Each one of them also was able to plan, run and benefit from (or not) his own training camp at least once.
The ironic thing is that, contrary to his résumé as the team's GM, McHale's performance as coach showed promise and packed attributes, to the point where some longtime observers wondered if he had missed his true post-playing-career calling.
He had an unassailable background, in terms of getting players' attention and respect, even among the youngest and most knuckleheaded. He also had a personality well-suited to coaxing, nudging and challenging them to play their best. His style might have seemed a little glib, cocky and casual for the executive suite, but it suits him on the bench. Unlike a number of NBA coaches, he doesn't fear players or resent their relative power, courtesy of their whopper guaranteed contracts. He never was a careerist, either, with one eye on the standings and the other on his next job somewhere.
Never needed to be, until now.
• Perception is reality. Kahn told some reporters Monday how surprised he was since coming to town that Wolves fans had such a negative reaction to McHale. At least the ones he encountered, he said, were "all gummed up" in their views of McHale as GM vs. McHale as coach. So even though the focus should have been solely on the latter -- and the assets McHale brought to that job -- the decision had much to do with the former.
Let's face it, this is a team desperate to sell tickets in a horrible economy, as a fading fourth among the Twin Cities' major sports attractions. It kills them to see the slack constantly cut, by the public and by local media, for the NHL's Wild, who bump along with mediocre results on the ice but a filled building each game night.
If some fans saw McHale on the sideline and immediately thought about his GM gaffes -- the
• Politics matter. In this case, it is office politics. The belief within the basketball department -- and in various corners of the NBA, too -- is that front-office maneuverings are dictating the Wolves' decisions these days. The team's CEO,
• Money matters, too. Pure and simple, McHale always worked on a handshake agreement with Taylor. So he had no years remaining on a contract, with guaranteed money, to protect him now. Whatever severance he takes, if any, will be due only to Taylor's relationship with him.
If you didn't know better, you might think that outside agents are setting the bar higher than the Wolves generally have set it for themselves. Like Orlando, their expansion partner in 1989, making it to a second NBA Finals before Minnesota managed to get to and lose its first. Like the Lakers, reminding everyone how tough it is and shall be out West. Like their division rivals, with the Wolves putting the worst in "Northworst."
But no, this is simply the Timberwolves deciding that they have lofty expectations and exacting standards to uphold. Right.