How The West Was Won

On the brink of the playoffs, the Wolves' brain trust breaks down the best season in franchise history

For the first time in their 15-year history, the Minnesota Timberwolves are favored to win a series in the playoffs. This season's success would not have been possible without crucial contributions from the team's other "three-headed monster": the front office triad of owner Glen Taylor, basketball operations VP Kevin McHale, and head coach Flip Saunders. McHale's shrewd wheeling and dealing brought veteran stars Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell and vital role players Trenton Hassell and Fred Hoiberg, among others, in a drastic overhaul of the roster. Saunders fostered a defensive identity and jury-rigged a player rotation beset by a bevy of injuries for most of the season. And Taylor bankrolled the entire affair, opening up his wallet wide enough during the off-season to spill some red ink on the team's bottom line.

In a pair of interviews conducted earlier this month--Taylor in a conference room up in the Wolves' Target Center offices a week ago Sunday; the McFlip tandem after practice two days later down in the Northwest Athletic Club adjoining the arena--the trio held forth on the ways and means of an exciting, almost magical regular season. But each one knows all too well that an eighth straight playoff defeat next week would transform the campaign into an embittering, expensive failure.

 

Glen Taylor
TEAM OWNER

City Pages: When you signed Kevin Garnett to a contract extension in October, you said it would take a miracle for the team to make money this season. I know part of that is short-term because you are paying KG about $28 million for the last year of his old deal. But will you still lose money if the team goes beyond the first round of the playoffs?

Glen Taylor: Well, more playoff games would really help us. But when I said to you it would be a miracle, it was my way of saying that I don't see any way I'm not going to lose money this year. It's just a question of whether I'm going to lose $5, $10, or $15 million. I took that to my partners before we started and we just said we think it's worth it because it won't happen next year and we can put this team together now.

I'm going to get hit this year because we have very high salaries and so we have to pay the league's luxury tax. If there was no tax this year, it would be another terrific year for us, because of the playoffs. In the playoffs, you might make on the high side, a million dollars a game, on a home game. For sure in the first round we are going to clear about a half-million dollars. And we've never gotten to the second round yet, but I think it will be more than that in the second round. But even then, there just aren't enough games to make up the difference in what we have to pay this year.

CP:What is your input into roster changes? Do you pretty much leave that to Kevin and Flip? Have you ever vetoed a trade?

Taylor:Yeah, I have. McHale is the focal point in that area, not Flip. McHale looks at the structure and talks about what types of players he is looking for. And I am very much aware of that, because that's our business plan. So when he finds a player--let's take Trenton Hassell. Quincy Lewis was going to be our guy going into the season. But I was in the car, on the phone, and Kevin calls me up and says, "Geez, Chicago just cut a guy that we can have if we act quickly." I don't know who the heck he's talking about, but Kevin is able to say, "Well, he meets the criteria of the defensive role player that we talked about wanting as part of the business plan." And so I said, "Okay, you go ahead." Another example is this point guard thing that we've been dealing with all year. I'm watching the game the other night and I see Troy [Hudson] roll his ankle. So I call up Kevin and say, "Whatever the decision is, if you think we need another point guard, I'll back you."

Once in a while, Kevin gets excited about a possible trade. Now I don't usually say no, but I do say, "Let's go back to our business plan. How does this guy fit into it?" And generally he loses his excitement and says, "This guy really intrigues me, but you're right, Glen." Earlier this year, some coaches were excited because we could have gotten Juwan Howard in a trade for Michael Olowokandi. The coaches probably wanted Howard. They knew Howard could play and Michael was hurt. So Kevin calls me and says, "Okay, here are the options." That one was real easy for me. I said, "Kevin, what was our plan? Why did we go out and get Michael? It isn't to play Houston or Memphis; it is when we have to go and play the gol' darn Lakers." I said, "We're never going to get past the Lakers unless we have a couple of good centers." And he says, "Yeah, I know."

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