By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
As the Minnesota Timberwolves plunge into the 2006-07 regular season this week at Target Center, fans' enthusiasm for the team is at its lowest point in over a decade. And small wonder. Over the past two years, the Wolves have plummeted from a playoff berth in the Western Conference finals to the second-worst record in the conference, a span that saw their win total drop from 58 to 44 to 33. During this freefall, there have been numerous calls for the firing of the Wolves' personnel director Kevin McHale, and even some talk of unloading the franchise superstar Kevin Garnett in order to rebuild the team from scratch.
The tenures of both McHale and Garnett coincide almost exactly with the period during which Mankato businessman Glen Taylor has owned the franchise. Whatever one thinks of the job Taylor has done, he has always been forthright with the fans and the media, and he has been willing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to improving the ballclub.
Two weeks ago, I went down to the headquarters of the Taylor Corporation in Mankato and spoke with Taylor for nearly two hours. It was a remarkably candid conversation even by Glen Taylor's standards.
City Pages: How is owning the Timberwolves different from your other businesses, and how is it the same?
Glen Taylor: What I think is different—in my experience owning the Timberwolves, I see it as being like the time that I spent in the Legislature, though that wasn't "business" in one sense. It's so very public. And everything that you do is known by everyone. I think in politics I did a pretty good job of being realistic and saying, well, this is really what happened, this is why I did this and that. I have found in politics that just telling the truth, even if the people don't like to hear it, has always been the best.
The other businesses that I'm in are all private businesses, which allow us to make decisions and then have time to [watch them] play out. And internally we have to recognize doing good or making a mistake, but it's an internal thing and it's much easier to do. It's among friends, and it's just much more comfortable. When I got involved in basketball, the part that is like politics is that you're running a business and though it's a private business in one sense, the public, your fans, kind of see it as their company or their team. In that sense, I think—I'm not saying it was a shocker, I understand it, but my experience in politics has prepared me for how open you have to be. The Timberwolves are not near as big as a lot of my other businesses. But in the eyes of the public, it's one of the main companies out of Minnesota.
CP: Is there a corporate culture that's the same for the Timberwolves as in your other businesses?
Taylor: The corporate culture in the basketball part, I would say, is different. Because first of all, I deal with a lot of contracts, even with my coaches and the management people. In our [other] businesses, I really don't have contracts. We hire people, we sort of assume they're going to stay with us and work with us. If they get a better job, we understand why they would leave. In the basketball part, there's a couple of things. There's number one, the players and the agents. And on some issues you can't talk to your employees, you gotta talk to their agents. And it's interesting how different players use that. Some players feel very comfortable in talking to Glen Taylor directly. Some players do not feel comfortable. So they talk to their agent who doesn't talk to me, who would talk to the coach or talk to McHale or somebody else even first.
And so, by the time I get the information on a situation, it's probably at least third-hand. And for me that's always difficult. Am I making the right decision based on the right information? Because I'm not even sure I got the right information. The other thing in basketball that's definitely different is that you commit to salaries and you're gonna pay the salary over five years or three years no matter what the performance is. All the other businesses that I have been in, you give a salary to do a basic job and if the person is in the position to make more profits, you bonus them. But it's only based upon what they do.
CP: I think a lot of people were surprised—I was surprised—that you didn't fire Kevin McHale this year. Did it ever enter your mind? What kind of conversation did you have with him at the end of the year?
Taylor: But if I fired Kevin, that would have to be [because] I had a plan to end up with something better. If I knew of changes that I could make, that would make us better, would I hesitate to [fire McHale]? I wouldn't, because I have fairly compensated Kevin and all that, and Kevin would not make an issue of leaving, I don't think. That's not the problem. I guess I would just say to the public, at the time last year, I didn't know of a person—and we have had different people that have asked for that job—I didn't see a person that I thought would do the job better than Kevin.