Kevin McHale, T-Wolves part ways

In what’s being described as a “mutual decision,” Kevin McHale will not be returning as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He took over the position after Randy Wittman was fired.

McHale started his tenure as general manager by drafting Kevin Garnett straight out of high school. The pick led to eight straight playoff appearances for the T-Wolves, though the team didn’t advance past the first round until the final appearance in 2004, when Minnesota lost to the Lakers in six games.

While the Garnett pick was a great one, McHale failed to surround his superstar with the right mix of talent to make the T-Wolves a perennial contender. For a list of his bad moves, click here.

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Al Jefferson out with torn ACL

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ franchise player is out indefinitely with a torn ACL.

The team made the announcement Monday after a somber practice. Coach Kevin McHale said Jefferson will likely have surgery to repair the injury in the next week to 10 days.

“Al’s played at such a high level for this team and been such a big part of our team,” McHale said. “Everybody around here today is a little bit down in the dumps.”

It was devastating news for a young Timberwolves team that has been playing better in 2009 after getting off to a 4-23 start to the season. With Jefferson the focal point, the Wolves went 10-4 in January, and the 24-year-old center was playing even better early in this month.

“I feel terrible for Al. Al’s really, right now, devastated by it,” McHale said. “It all happens for a reason. It’s hard for me to figure out what this reason is. Somehow he’s just going to have to make the best of it and rehab and get better and move on from here.”

The T-Wolves made news back in early December when they fired Randy Wittman and replaced him with then-GM Kevin McHale. At that point, the team was 4-15, and they went on to lose their next eight games to fall to 4-23. Then something strange happened: they started winning. They actually went 12-4 over the next 30 days, a run that included wins at Phoenix and at home against the Hornets. During that span, Jefferson averaged 23.0 points and 11.4 rebounds (numbers that are about the same as his season aveages), and was even getting some love as a possible All-Star (albeit as a long shot).

So Jefferson has to undergo surgery and start rehab, but what do the T-Wolves do now? The team finally started to show some life under McHale — does he get another full season at the helm?

McHale hires himself as head coach

Kevin McHale is known as one of the worst GMs in the league. Now he has decided that he is better equipped to be the Timberwolves’ head coach.

The Timberwolves relieved Randy Wittman of his job, though he should feel relieved after dealing with rumors of his imminent demise all season.

Wittman hasn’t lived up to the “goals and expectations” considering the “talent” he had to work with, according to Wolves owner Glen Taylor. Those are curious claims considering what Wittman had to run out there every night courtesy of Kevin McHale and Taylor.

Wittman could have coached Brandon Roy and O.J. Mayo. Instead, he had Randy Foye and Kevin Love. Those draft-day moves go on McHale’s ledger and perhaps it’s time for Minnesota’s favorite basketball son to answer for them. McHale stepped down from his post as VP of basketball operations to coach the Wolves once again.

Since McHale put this team together, he ought to be the one dealing with this 4-15 mess. Other than power forward Al Jefferson, the rest of the roster is either unrealized potential or veterans, such as Mike Miller, who aren’t part of the future. Taylor sounds as if he’s not letting McHale off the hook lightly.

“It is my expectation that Kevin will be able to get the most out of our team and our players,” Taylor said in a statement released by the team.

The Wolves could have as many as four first-round picks next summer. Minnesota needs to hit big in the Draft and/or put together a package to ease the pressure off Jefferson, while helping the development of Foye, Love and Corey Brewer, who recently suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“I truly believe that we have a talented group of players in our locker room who have a great amount of potential,” McHale stated. “I’m confident that we can get this turned around and get back to playing a brand of basketball that our fans can be proud of.”

McHale has a close relationship with Taylor which is why he’s lasted this long given his performance as the team’s GM. This smells like Taylor might be getting a little tired of the losing (and/or of McHale blaming the coach for the team’s performance) so he wants McHale to step in and put up or shut up.

What are the odds that there is a new GM and head coach in Minnesota next season?

2008 NBA Preview: #29 Minnesota Timberwolves

Offseason Movement: The team acquired Mike Miller as a part of a trade that sent the rights to O.J. Mayo to Memphis for the rights to Kevin Love. Miller is one of the league’s best shooters, but he’s a good all-around player at a fair price. He should be able to make teams pay if they elect to doubleteam Al Jefferson.
Keep Your Eye On: Kevin Love, F
GM Kevin McHale – that’s right, he’s still running things – fell in…um…love with Love’s game and elected to trade away the more dynamic Mayo for Love’s blend of power and fundamentals. Love showed much better athleticism after trimming down for the combine, so if he’s able to keep that going, he should be a fine power forward for years to come. He’s a terrific passer, a good rebounder and a solid shooter.
The Big Question: Is McHale the right guy to steer this ship around?
Usually, the guy who gets the team into a mess isn’t the one who’s given the job to clean it up. In this case, McHale has a close relationship with Glen Taylor, so it seems like he has a lifetime contract and is impervious to talk of his dismissal. To his credit, the Kevin Garnett-for-Al Jefferson gambit paid off (and not only for the Celtics), as he landed a young, All-Star caliber player in return for KG. Jefferson is one of the best post players in the game, and he gives the team someone to build around for years to come. If the Love draft pick pans out, the ‘Wolves might be onto something.
Outlook: In the short term, things look bleak. Other than Miller, the rest of the projected starting five (Randy Foye, Rodney Carney, Love and Jefferson) have a combined eight years of NBA experience. There’s no doubt that they’re going to struggle, but the team showed some life last season, and they should continue to improve. On the salary cap front, there is $13.5 million coming off the books next summer, so the franchise will be a player in free agency in 2009.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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