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: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?
Glen 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.
We're addressing that issue a little bit by bringing back some people and picking up the staff. Now let me just say, let's talk about Kevin a little bit. You have to remember it isn't like Kevin came and begged me for the job. I took over a franchise very quickly, and we had a problem with the team. I knew Kevin's name, didn't really know him personally. I came down and asked Kevin, could he help me in the basketball things? He said to me, Glen, that's not what I do. I don't even know if I could do that. And I said, Well, but you do know how to play basketball, you've seen how to win, you knew those things. I know the business part, so let me try to help you with the business part.
But Kevin was very realistic up front in saying, Okay, I'm growing a family. I earned my money already. I have some priorities, this isn't like I'm doing this for money now. So you understand, and he says, You know, I love to hunt. I love to fish. I love some other things. I mean, he was always up-front with all of those things. He didn't want to do basketball and give up those other things in his life. So it's not like he said, I'm going to work 80 hours a week, or 70, or 45 hours a week.
In turn, I didn't give him two years to train him or anything. It was on-the-job training. Quite frankly, things went pretty well. But we started with a team that had been run poorly. We took a big risk—which I have always let McHale make—on drafting Garnett. That paid off. We took a risk on Stephon [Marbury]. I can't be critical of Kevin [McHale] for that. It didn't work out, but I absolutely don't know what he could have done to change that environment. I personally met with Stephon, I personally met with his agent, and was just told it didn't have anything to do with Kevin. Stephon was going to go to New York no matter what we did. It forced us into a number of trades that have not worked out well for us.
So one might say, with [Terrell] Brandon, for example, Well, geez, Kevin, that sure didn't work out very well. But that trade was done in a short period of time, kind of based upon, oh, cripes, everything else is falling out, this is the only thing on the market. And I'm not sure that would go down as a bad trade, except that [Brandon] got injured and the guy just didn't seem to know how to handle the injury.
There are certain individuals—like, you know, we lost Rasho [Nestoveric]. Had not planned that. I guess I have never said this before, but I will be very blunt about that—Rasho only left because of [former coach] Flip [Saunders]. He liked Kevin, he liked me, he personally met with me. If we would have traded the coach, he would have stayed. But he did not like how he was treated by Flip. Rasho said, number one, he wanted somebody with more discipline, he wanted somebody with more consistency, he didn't see this coach was doing that. He was told that if he went down to San Antonio, he would get that. Now I don't think it's worked out so well down there. But I was talking about Kevin [McHale]. I don't know what I can say about Kevin on that particular trade—we lost a center that Kevin went out and helped recruit, brought here, helped train, all that stuff.