Online Exclusive: The Extended Glen Taylor Interview
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.
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, 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.
I can tell you that Chauncey [Billups] left not because of Kevin but because of Flip. Now, have we said that? We didn't want to say that about Flip because he was here at the time. But I think since then it's been stated that Kevin asked me if I would pay for Chauncey. I said I would. Kevin said he would, went to Chauncey, Chauncey said he would stay, because we were going to offer him the same [money] as Detroit. But then Chauncey went to Flip and said, would you play me, and Flip—I'm not saying that Flip said the wrong answer, but he said, "I'm not sure that I think that you're our starting guard." Chauncey then went back to Kevin, and Kevin says, basically, we're going to be truthful. Kevin could have said to Chauncey, "oh, we're gonna start you." And I know some GMs do that stuff. Then they get the player but they have an unhappy player. But Kevin doesn't do that.
So, you know, we've lost some good people, but Kevin's kind of taking the fall on these things, and personally I know that that hasn't been the case.
CP: But more recently, you've had a situation where you have more contracts tied up through 2009-10 outside of Garnett, than almost every other team in the NBA. And a lot of those deals—Mark Blount, Marko Jarich, Trenton Hassell, Troy Hudson—are ones where you have extended the time and money commitment without improving the team.
Taylor: Should we walk through some?
Taylor: Okay. So we went out and brought in Sam [Cassell] and Latrell [Sprewell]. Big decision on our parts because it was big bucks. But I paid it. That was a big gamble. But Kevin gave me the information—well, let's just say he sold me on it. Whatever. I went along with it.
CP: And with good reason.
Taylor: But there is a story. Here's two guys, they're characters, but for one of the first times in the history of our business, we are bringing some guys on the team who are a little inconsistent with the way that Kevin would bring them in. His feeling after talking to them was, they're getting toward the end of their careers, and maybe they will do more "we" than "me" just because they have the chance to win. They had told him, yes, we're changing, this will [work].
And quite frankly, it worked out for one year. I mean, it fit exactly with Kevin's plan. The second year was just a disaster, because Sam started out saying I want a contract. And I wanted a contract. I said, Sam you got two more years [on your current deal]—play one more year, and we'll do that. And he says, I want the contract now. And I said basically, no, no, play another year. I don't mind giving you a contract with one year to go. But, you know, play it. And he eventually came down, after talking to his agent and Kevin, and personally met with me. We went away with a deal—talked to his agent about it and everything—so he says, do I have your word that next year you will talk about a contract after the year?
I said, you have my word. I'm not putting anything in writing, but you have my word that that's what I'm going to do. Well, he didn't show up for camp the very next day. He went back on his word. Now, Latrell sort of did the same thing. Kevin did offer him a contract. Quite frankly, it was fortunate he didn't take it. [laughs] But I mean, he said, Kevin actually gave him probably a million dollars in an offer each year more than he should have offered. Maybe three million more than he should have. But Latrell said he wanted $12 million or $11 million [a year], something like that. We were [offering] $6 or $7 million.
His comment about "feeding my family" wasn't really the issue with me. That was just—that was a bad thing. What was worse was that he said, "Well, then, maybe I shouldn't play so hard" or something like that.
CP: I think it was, "Why would I want to help this team win?"
Taylor: Yeah. That I took issue with. And I would add, so you know, that he got a letter from me personally saying that, if that's the thing, you and I got big trouble because I'm not paying you. I basically said that. Now, in fact, he probably showed me up, because he didn't play three-quarters speed. [He played full-speed.] But he never said that again.
Okay. Troy Hudson. Again, I would just say the negotiations did not go well. We should have gotten them done sooner. We could have got it done at less money.
CP: Why did you give in and leave out any injury clause on that Hudson contract? That was the final sticking point in your negotiations, and it turned out to be crucial.
Taylor: Because the NBA wouldn't let us.
CP: Wouldn't let you do a clause that said we will pay you only if you don't get injured?
CP: Why? Because it was against the collective bargaining agreement?
Taylor: Yeah. And our problem was that we had promised him some [incentive] money, and that was the condition when we sent it to the league. We tried every way we could to get around it. Nobody has ever asked me that before about that contract, but it was one of those things where we offered him more than we would have offered him because of the [injury] conditions we'd put in there. And then, as it ended up, we lost [the injury clause] when we sent it to the league.
But let's be honest here. You could say, "Glen, maybe you should have checked it out earlier." And I would say, yes, I didn't check earlier because I thought they wouldn't have proposed it unless they thought that this was a legitimate [provision]. It certainly sounded reasonable to me. I didn't see why the league wouldn't do it. But I'll say again that maybe we should have checked that out before we go out and make an offer.
CP: Did you ever have the option of bailing on the offer?
Taylor: I suppose at the end, we could have walked away and backed out on our word. We haven't done that to players. When the league said "you can do it this way, but you can't do it that way," I guess we could have said at that time, we are withdrawing our offer.
So we ended up with the contract. And if he had been healthy, nobody would have noticed. Quite frankly, he has not worked out and we don't have insurance on him. It is the worst of all worlds. We have to pay him even though he has been hurt.
CP: Let's talk about Marko Jaric.
Taylor: Yeah, that's a different deal. So Sam has got to go at that point. I would have gotten rid of him no matter what. But I think we had other players [we could have acquired for Cassell]. But [McHale] really wanted this guy Jaric. Kevin and the staff, and, as it ended up, the coach.
CP: If I remember right, Casey thought Jaric would help build the defensive identity he wanted for the team.
Taylor: Yeah. And I would just say that they sold me. I had seen him play before and I didn't see quite what they saw. But they were saying, "Gee, the guy is 6-7 and he can play all these positions, and boy, wait until the fans see him." Here's what I would say to our fans on that: Let us see what happens this year and judge that. Because whatever we did last year, we really messed up.
And actually [he] is a player who comes and talks to me, so I can tell you what I know about him. Number one, he was really eager to come here. He would do anything the coach asked of him. I don't know that he wanted to play point guard nor did he think he should be playing there. But this is just a guy who won't back off, and if he is told to do that, he does that. I think, as we all saw, he got exposed. The opponents realized that, "If we put a little fast guy in there, it kills their whole defense."
Because we built a defense around pushing guys certain ways, and we put in a guard who couldn't do that. So all of a sudden Garnett's got to do it differently and Trenton's got to do it differently, and no one is doing their job anymore. It not only kills your defense, but there is a breakdown between the players because they aren't trusting each other on defense anymore. You lose a little trust in a guy, and pretty soon you start questioning the guy.
And all of a sudden, that whole thing started to break down. Now talking to Marko and kind of asking him after the fact, he said, "You know, I came in, I didn't say anything, I was willing to do it. I'm going to go back and look at it." He said, "I worked so hard that summer. I came here so enthused starting out. And it was just like I hit a wall." He said, "It had never happened to me before, but I just hit a wall. I am tearing after these guards and my mind was like just trying to keep up with it. I had never been there before."
And then he lost confidence in himself, and everyone lost confidence in him. And so then you say, "Gee, you gave a number one draft choice and Cassell for this guy?"
CP: What about the deal with Boston? Because I heard different things. I heard Banks was the key to it. Some people were saying the key was Ricky Davis because of his quickness and his ability to play defense and get up and down the floor on offense. But the one that really got to me is that you were trading a center who had an expiring contract, Michael Olowakandi, for a center who has a lot of money owed him for a lot of years down the road, Mark Blount. And Blount's skill set is such that it seems you are going to be asking Kevin Garnett to do a lot of the dirty work of rebounding and interior defense.
Taylor: Yeah, I would say that the trade with Boston was pretty complicated. Even the reasons for doing it.
CP: You mean the friction between Garnett and Szczerbiak?
Taylor: I'm just saying there was probably more to it that had to do with Wally that we have chosen not to talk about—that Kevin has never said and we have never said. I am just going to say that no matter what I say, people are going to deny it. But I would say some things came to a head that forced us to get into something we didn't necessarily want to do. I think it would have been pretty dangerous for Kevin McHale not to do the trade. That kind of thing. And that's all I'll say about that.
You also had Michael, and the Michael thing was festering on the team. It wasn't that Michael went up and down [in his on-court performance]. It was that Michael... Very seldom do you see someone with such poor relationships with the other players, and I am saying all of them. It was just that they could not feel he was a team player.
What we were dealing with, with a new coach, was probably some potential problems in the locker room. And I think we were forced to go out and get the deal we got. It is a little bit like, after you got that deal, you have to go out and manufacture the positives of the deal. So that's why you heard a number of things.
CP: So the deal was more about erasing negatives that creating positives?
Taylor: When we started out. Okay. Ricky [Davis] is a person McHale has always liked. This is not the first time he has tried to get Ricky. He's different from Wally, but I don't know that we dropped down there. We got a lower contract and Wally's contract was going to create a big problem for us later on. And the relationship in the locker room was way better. So we had the [approval] of our players and all that. If we could have done [Szczerbiak-for-Davis] straight up, that would have been a deal. But to get rid of Michael, we had to take Mark. It isn't that we didn't like Mark and didn't want Mark. He's a good player and not a bad guy. But the pay isn't right. And we really had, at one time, what we thought was a third-team option that could be worked out.
CP: So all those rumors about turning around and trading Banks right away were accurate?
Taylor: Yeah, all those were out there. But they all fell apart. And so then it was, should we do the [main Boston] deal or not do the deal? Let me talk for a minute about Mark. Good character. Probably what we were concerned about was, did he have a poor work ethic? We checked with a lot of people, and most of the people said it's not his work ethic. He'll do what you ask him to do, but he is what he is. So I think McHale understood all that.
Again this is the question: Can you use Mark and Kevin [Garnett] without hurting Kevin? Is there a way to bring Mark out [away from the basket] that can open up things for Kevin to do some things? Part of our answer was that Eddie [Griffin] could do all that dirty work. At the time, you could lay out a good scenario that Eddie can do this and that. So you do the trade.
CP: So Eddie was behaving himself around the time of the Boston trade?
Taylor: Yeah, we thought. At that time I thought he still had the confidence of the coaches. So when we did the trade, we still think Eddie is in the picture. Now we knew that Eddie should have had his eyes fixed and there is a problem with his shooting. But we were basically telling him, Eddie, just rebound.
CP: Exactly. You don't want him shooting anyway.
Taylor: Now somehow, when we bring in Mark, Eddie is disappointed that he's not the starting center, that Mark is the starting center, and Eddie thinks he's being replaced and backs off. And the coach gets disappointed in Eddie. The coach doesn't play him anymore, and the whole thing just goes to heck. I think we know without speaking, everybody knows this, that Eddie has to be really careful not to drink. If he doesn't drink, then things are good. But I think that caused a lot of problems. We've also always known that Eddie is a person who has to be very close to the coach. When he came here, it was said very well that Eddie needs support. He is not one of those guys who could care less what people think, like Latrell Sprewell can care less. It rolled off his back. But then there are people like Eddie, and we have others like him on our team...
CP: Who need to be bucked up?
Taylor: Yup. We know that. And once that happened, we turned to Mark Madsen, who is an altogether different player.
And then what happened on Banks was, we had a chance to trade him. But then a player on the team we were making the trade with got injured and they had to keep the player we were going to get. So they came back and said, would you wait a month to do the trade? We didn't see any problem with that, because of course we had a chance to try out Banks. So we put Banks in and I think we saw some really good things and we knew that he might be our best option for the next year. So we decided we'd better play him out, get him good, get him ready in case he was our best option [for 2006-07].
So that was Banks.
CP: [THIS FIRST SENTENCE OF Q: HUH?] It what you don't have now that was important to you and people aren't talking about that. I understand your explanation. But on that score, Rex Chapman is gone now. He was involved in that locker room stuff that happened right around that same time. Did that have anything to do with it, or was it strictly a Kevin and Wally thing for that intervention?
Taylor: That is an area I'd just as soon not comment on. I want to tell the fans as much as I can, I think you can see that. But I also think there are certain things that have happened that I don't think are in anybody's interest to talk about because it will only hurt someone. I will say to you that the trade of Wally—because the question was we need to look at Kevin [McHale]—that Kevin making this trade, part of it was because of the dynamics that just happened, that Kevin saw that, "Okay I probably have to go and do some changes here." I am willing to say that yes, there were some dynamics that happened that I would prefer hadn't happened, and it was a situation where I never really personally got close enough to find out what exactly happened with this or that. And I did hear about it and it was sort of exposed, and now you have to deal with it. And I'd rather not get into the personalities but there were some things that happened in the last year's change-over that maybe wouldn't have happened if we'd had a seasoned coach. But we had a new coach and he was under pressure at that time to win.
CP: On that subject, there are a lot of people who view the arrival of Randy Wittman as the hiring of a coach-in-waiting, so that if you're not happy with the way Coach Casey takes the team this year, then Randy will take over.
Taylor: Yeah, that's an interesting thing, because we thought of that before. Dwane was going to bring in some people, we knew that. And that scared me a little bit. But we didn't want to tell him who to bring in. It was to our advantage that Dwane went out and recruited Randy Wittman!
I really like Randy, we know Randy, and Randy is really good. So I know why you are asking the question. And I said, "Geez, Casey, I'm really happy. You could have picked this guy or that guy and you picked Randy." And then Randy calls. He's thought of the same thing too, and he called me personally and said, "Listen, if I am coming up there to replace Casey, and that's the deal, I'm not coming." He said, "I am going to be in this league too long, everybody will know that, and you are not doing me a favor, Glen, if that is the deal." And I said to him, "It isn't any deal. Casey is the one picking you. He is the one interviewing you. I would love for you to come, but you talk to Casey and you make your decision."
CP: That says something about Casey.
Taylor: And it says something about Randy too. He was saying, I am here only if I can help Casey become a winning coach. I will get my opportunities either way.
CP: On a related matter, somebody might also look at Freddie Hoiberg and say that you are grooming him for the general manager's job if McHale doesn't work out or decides to leave.
Taylor: And when we look back over Kevin and his time here, as I said to you, we didn't have a person to bring in and replace him. So let's be realistic: Do I criticize Kevin for that, or do I criticize myself? So now I am working through this situation. Again, had we planned on Freddie? No. Were there other people around the league who wanted to come here [and possibly be groomed to replace McHale]? Yeah. But would they have worked out? No, not with my personality and the way we run things.
But all of a sudden the situation landed the way it did with Freddie. It wasn't his intent. I made the decision. Kevin didn't even make the decision that Freddie wasn't going to play anymore [after receiving a pacemaker for his heart during the off-season in 2005]. I made that decision. I didn't even ask Kevin; I told Kevin. I had a heart thing, and I know what happens. I am very competitive and I know Freddie is very competitive. I know what's right and that is, we are not going to put the pressure on him. We are going to pay him all his money.
We were paying him his money, and he was free to go on to another team if he ever got healthy. I wasn't trying to save any money on Fred. It was just the right thing to do. And as it worked out, it was really the right thing to do. I didn't know he wasn't going to get well and come back in three months and play. But it worked out.
When Freddie said he wasn't going to play anymore, I said, "You'd really go back to coaching? How about staying with us instead?" And he said, "Doing what?" And I said, "Grooming you for something." But I want to do it different than with Kevin. Kevin, I just threw in.
I said, "I could have made it like, if I wanted Kevin to be gone, I could say I'm bringing in Freddie." But for my fans and for the organization, I don't think that would have been the right thing to do. I am in this for the long run. To me, it is like, "Bring in Freddie. And bring in some other support." So we brought Rob Babcock back. Why? Because Rob probably helped Kevin on a number of things. Kevin used Rob. Where Kevin is visionary, Rob is thorough; he is Mr. Write Everything Down and make sure nothing goes wrong. And when they were together before, that was a good team.
Freddie will have to learn the business side. I'm going to have him learn from Chris Wright about the business side. It is going to take me a little longer, but I am grooming him, and I think someday he is interested in being the GM. I don't think there is any question as to why Freddie is doing this; it is not to be the assistant GM or the scout. And I don't even think it is to be the coach at this point. So I think Freddie has made up his mind that someday he wants to be an executive in the NBA. We are grooming him. If he ends up with some other company or some other team, so be it. I would still do it for Freddie and I would still do it for our team. I also know that Freddie likes to live in Minnesota, that he's got family here and that he had a chance to go with the Clippers and he chose not to go with the Clippers and he stayed with us for less money. So I'm just being practical in saying, well, where do you think this is going?
So I am saying to our fans, yeah it is easy for you to say, go out and get somebody else. But I think teams just do that, they just change, and you aren't any better than you were before. But McHale absolutely had no problem—as a matter of fact, it's the opposite—McHale is not afraid to have somebody around to replace him. He doesn't need the job.
I will say this: Kevin has devoted more time and energy this last year knowing where the team is. He has gone out on more scouting trips. In the long run it isn't where he wants to go, but he is doing that anyway. But I have to have a better staff. Not to be critical, but maybe I should say, Kevin should have built a better staff around him. I think I can be critical of Kevin for that. But also, maybe I, Glen Taylor, who is supposed to know business, should have known better and gotten him more help. This is why Glen is not as critical of Kevin as others on the outside, because he has been all alone. Rob Babcock could have stayed here probably, but I helped Rob get the [general manager's] job up in Toronto.
So things could be different a year or two from now. What we are doing with Freddie, number one, we have done a lot better job of giving responsibility to a number of people.
CP: So you are saying that there is more discussion and that Kevin is delegating more?
Taylor: Yup. So I am saying to our fans: Maybe it would feel good to some people to get rid of Kevin. I don't personally believe it would have made that much difference to our team. I think we could have brought in another GM and he could have changed and rearranged our whole team and then we'd have to go through three or four years of building. Kevin McHale said we should try and build a good team around Garnett and put forth the money and the resources to do that, and I agreed with him. And we are doing that. He laid out a plan, and what he said was, "It's the guard, it's the guard, it's the guard." We had Banks. We didn't think we were going to get [Mike] James. We put him on our map, but we thought he was going to go to the [Houston] Rockets. Garnett got involved in that, the best he ever has. I got involved, and I am more involved now in recruiting.
CP: Garnett's involvement in getting Mike James was the best he's ever put forth for this team?
Taylor: Yes. But we talked. We handled it a little differently. I told him beforehand what the plan was, and you can see that Garnett is different this year. He's come in and he's very positive. He said, what's the plan? And I said this is the plan. And after I got done talking to Mike James, I went to Kevin [Garnett] and said Kevin, would you call him and see what you think? I want to make sure because this is what I hear and this is what I think. And he came back [after talking to James] and said, "Geez, this is good." We're not talking about basketball so much as the ability to lead, confidence, and some of the other things Kevin wants out of the team.
And that's what he was afraid of about Banks. He knew Banks was athletic, but he was saying, "When we get to the end of the game, it is going to be me. But with James, he can probably get the ball into my hands or into Ricky's hands, or most likely he'll take the shot just like Sam took the shot. I liked those days when I had three options." And so he has confidence that James will take the shot if he's open, he has confidence that James will get him the ball into his hands, and he has confidence that James can get the ball into Ricky's hands. So Kevin [Garnett] helped on getting James.
And then we ended up with Randy Foye [in the college draft], and that's who the guys really wanted. So then the Banks deal wasn't really needed. McHale had talked to Garnett and said, what do you really want? And Garnett said, I want an experienced guard. I have done the best when Sam was here, and with an experienced guard, I am a better player.
CP: Are you involving Garnett more? Because one of the things Garnett used to say that puzzled me was, "They don't talk to me."
Taylor: I and Kevin have both involved him more. I have always talked to him. But the relationship has changed. In the past, he wanted a lot of times to be in the conversation and wanted the information, but he didn't feel confident enough to say, this is what I want.
CP: So he didn't want the responsibility?
Taylor: Well, it just didn't go that way. I don't know what his reasons were. But this year was different. There was no question: He was very clear on what he thought he could do and what he could do. And he took way more time and was way more patient in listening to McHale, because I sat in on that. He listened to McHale, he heard McHale and what the plan was, and his questions were different, they were more directed. I just saw him as more deeply involved in the plan. And because of that, we got him more involved. He made the commitment that, okay I will get into doing certain things this year. I will take the guys out for lunch [on a regular basis during off season workouts], I will bring the guys into practice. But you've got to get a guard then. Get me the guard. And he also wanted a strong [big] guy. And I'm not sure we got that. He wanted two things; the guard and the strong guy, the banger. And we may have the strong guy in [second round draft pick] Craig Smith, but we didn't get the veteran guy.
We are trying to put all the tools together. We've asked Ricky [Davis] defensively—he has got to be better at that. The coaches are seeing to that, and that is the coach's responsibility, not Kevin's. And so far Ricky is giving all the right answers, but we'll see. He hasn't always been the best defensive guy for us. But I also see that Garnett has gotten himself way closer to Ricky, and I think that peer pressures are probably as good as any for players.
CP: Let's back up a little. Kevin Garnett has always been regarded as a great team player. But there have been situations when a hard decision was required, and the franchise player—who is obviously a compelling force in the whole equation—would say, "It doesn't involve me," or "I am not involved in that decision." What I am hearing you say now is that Kevin has a more tangible leadership responsibility.
Taylor: Yeah, I'd really prefer that you ask that question of him. But that's my observation of him.
CP: But you guys have always been close.
Taylor: Yes, and so let me see if I can address why I am saying that. The meetings that we had with McHale and with the coach that I sat in on, I've seen it there. What he has done and communicated this summer, and how he has communicated back after the James thing. He not only talked to James but called me back right after talking to James and told me what he thought. He said he was happy with James. So there have been those little extra things he is doing. I think part of that is just recognition. I think Kevin has always wanted to be a leader and has been a leader. But I think the recognition of how to be a leader has been growing with him. It is maturity. If you ask me, it is age, being married, that kind of characteristics of maturity that you see happen in other people is happening to him.
I think we saw it in the camp. We had our own [off-season training] camp, and Kevin spoke to the team. He did it differently than I have seen him do it before, what he said and how he said it. It certainly was different than last year, way different than last year.
CP: The Cassell and Sprewell situation still left a bad taste in his mouth.
Taylor: Last year, yes. And then last year, I think if Kevin had had his druthers, I think he would have liked if we had gotten a coach—he didn't have a name in mind—who maybe had coached ten years, a coach he had confidence in. He didn't know Casey, he didn't know what to expect. He had always had Flip, and he was thinking, gosh, what is he going to do? I can see this year that he knows Casey, and Kevin has always reacted with more comfort to stuff that he knows. This year I see him asking Casey all kinds of questions: We did it this way last year, why are we doing it this way this year? That kind of stuff. And he used to do that stuff with Flip. So there was a lot of new stuff and a lot of the guys were gone last year. All of a sudden he was the leader, and what does that all mean?
CP: If Kevin ever decided he wanted to leave, would you try and make that happen? Or, if despite the best efforts of you, Kevin, and Kevin McHale, this team is not performing well with the core you have, would you ever consider moving Kevin without his asking?
Taylor: I don't think it will happen either of those ways. I think the way it would happen is more like the second thing: We have surrounded Kevin with players we want and that he thinks he wants—not 100 percent, but as much as we can—and for some reason, it doesn't work. That's how I think it would come, and I think then we would come to a mutual conclusion.
I don't know who would come to the other first. But let's say I went and said, Kevin, we are not doing well. I think Kevin would then say, Well, with my salary and my deal we are not going to win here. I want to go where I have a chance to win. Would you trade me? Or I might say to Kevin, Kevin, you can stay here, but I've got to bring in young guys. Do you want to stay here? And my guess would be that he wouldn't really want to go through that.
But I think it is a mutual thing. We've been together so long that I don't think he is going to independently come to me and say, Glen I want to leave. I think he would have done it by now if he wanted to do that, and he has never done that. He has always said, and we have said, I want to play with you my whole life and I hope we are together and we have a good team. And we both have said, Yeah, but that means we both have to believe we are going to win. So I think there could be a scenario [where he leaves], but I don't think it will be because Kevin puts pressure on me or that I would blindside him. If it happens, it will be because we talk to each other and say, you know, it isn't going so good this year. I think we need to sit down at the end of the year and talk. And I think we would both know what we are going to talk about. That is how my relationship works with him.
People say, "Just trade Kevin." But the possibility of trading him to a team that could win is not easy. He knows that, too. If he became a free agent, the only teams he could sign up with are very poor teams, probably not as good as the Timberwolves. So it has to be a thing that is good for him and good for me. You'd have to sit down together and he would have to say, Yes I am willing to do it. I will give you time to negotiate a deal. These are the teams I would go to. And that list couldn't be too limited, and would have to be very private, or we wouldn't be able to negotiate a good deal. Then we would have to negotiate a deal that was good for us—a couple of young players and a couple of draft picks, so we could build a team around [that trade].
Right now we've got Shaddy [Rashad McCants] and we've got Foye, and they are players you could potentially build a team around, depending on how they develop.
CP: How crucial is this season for this franchise? You guys have been on a path. Almost since you took over ownership of the team, it has been the three of you—you, Kevin McHale and Kevin Garnett. And you have hit some highs, nearly making it to the NBA Finals one year. But the last two seasons have been two steps back. A third step back this year, and one would assume that something more drastic needs to happen.
Taylor: I think that is fair. Because I will say that I do not anticipate that we are going to take a step back this year. My anticipation is that we will play better. My goal is that we win our division. I really believe that is possible. And because of that, we probably would end up with home court advantage, and then, placing us against certain other teams, if certain things happen on our team, I think we could beat any of those teams.
But quite frankly, a number of things would have to happen. I will say to you that that means guys like Marko, Trenton, Ricky and probably Hudson—let's take those four. One or two of those guys, something dynamic has to happen. They have to be way better than people expect in order to make us a much better team. You could put Eddie [Griffin] down as another player-at a different level, but if Eddie would do that and be much improved. [WHAT THE FUCK DOES HE MEAN TO SAY IN THAT PREVIOUS SENTENCE?] That's how I think this year will be measured. I don't think it is on a Randy Foye.
CP: Last question. When you hired Dwane Casey last year, you said you were taking a risk, getting an inexperienced guy. There are some really positive things about him personally. But in terms of results, he didn't have a good year.
Taylor: No. When I talk to Dwane, I still like Dwane and believe in him. But I think Dwane knows himself that he has to improve. I have got to ask Dwane—which I haven't done yet, but I will before the season starts—what do you anticipate out of this team? So we will get that set that, and that is how he will be measured.
I haven't asked Dwane that question yet. In fairness to Dwane, I want him to see what James is like. He wanted James and thinks he is good, and I want him to have the entire preseason to work with the team and see what he's got. Before the season starts, I will have that conversation with Dwane and the other coaches, and ask, what do you think you can deliver? They are going to set a realistic goal. But if for some reason they don't believe in the team, then I have a serious problem.
I've talked with him a lot, and he likes the team. Now it's more a matter of, let's go through the teams [in the league] and see how many you think you might win or lose against them. From that, you would think, do I want to go to the end of the year if things are not going well? In the worst of all cases, if you are halfway through the season and it isn't going the way you think it should be going, do you wait or not wait?
Let me just speak to the Flip thing a little bit. I am not likely to change coaches. That would not be my preference, because what I went through with Flip was a lot of bad things. What happened on Flip, basically, he came to us and said, I'm thinking about quitting. Kevin and I talked him into not quitting, saying "Don't give up. Let's do this and let's do that." Kevin is really good about stuff like that: "Just try this. Or play some other guys." I told him, "Just take Sprewell out and sit him on the bench. I'm not going to holler at you because he isn't going to be around next year anyway."
He didn't do that, but Flip kind of came to us and said he was going to quit. We talked him out of it, but before long we were seeing the players quit on Flip. Now that is another whole issue. And when we went to Flip and said the players are quitting on you, you need to step aside, he initially said okay. Our initial thing was, take two weeks off to rest and let us evaluate this.
CP: So you are saying that Flip had ample warning? He said he was blindsided.
Taylor: I am saying Kevin did not do that. He came to McHale first, and asked McHale if he should step down. And McHale didn't have an answer. He didn't necessarily think Randy would do better and still thought Flip was a pretty good coach. So instead he said, here are some suggestions, try them and do all this stuff. Then, after we saw the team quitting on Flip, Kevin came to him and said, Okay, I'm going to have you stop.
CP: Was it supposed to be couched as a leave of absence at the time?
Taylor: Whatever Kevin said. I talked to Flip then, not Kevin, and said, I know this is a tough thing. We are not kicking you off the team. Just take a little time and let us evaluate this thing. He said, good, thank you, that kind of thing. [I said] let's not call it a firing, let's not call it anything.
He agreed, and that's what I thought we had. About four days or five days after that, he said we fired him. Well, I don't know what Kevin said exactly. Yes, Kevin said [Flip] was done. And maybe Flip was truthful in that Kevin did say, "you are not coaching tomorrow night; I have taken over." Kevin did come to me and say, "I'm not going to turn it over to the assistant coaches. It is such a mess, and it's my responsibility."
CP: So before Flip said anything about being fired, you still felt in your mind that there was a possibility that he would return?
Taylor: Yup. And I had that conversation with him later on, and asked him if he wanted to come back. Before we hired Casey. I said, "I told you the door was open. Nobody had ever said you were fired, even after you said it. I am saying to you, I have not come to that conclusion." Now I knew that he still might come to me and say, well you've got to fire McHale before I come back because I don't like the guy now, or something like that.
CP: And that's wouldn't have been an option, would it?
Taylor: I am just telling you what I said to Flip. I asked, Do you want to come back? And he said, I just think too many things have happened now. Thank you for asking. No, I will not come back under any circumstances. That has never been reported, and I just wanted to say that.
So, getting back to Casey. Firing a coach is not an easy thing for me, and it is consistent with me on all my businesses. Good people go through difficult things from time to time, and they make mistakes. But I don't give up on good people. Now I realize that, like politics, this business is a little different. If players give up on somebody, you have to do something. But I know in my businesses, if I have to give up on my leader, that is a very difficult time. When Kevin replaced Flip, that wasn't just a snap decision or one conversation. We talked to the players and talked to different people.
I am not mad at Flip. Things worked out. He got a really good job in Detroit. Now when you are asking about Dwane, if it goes that way, it will start quietly with conversations. Flip acted like it was a surprise and I was like, Flip how can you act like that? It wasn't a surprise. And I don't think I would do it that way to Dwane either. If it really goes bad, it is going to be a mutual thing. And then we will be in a predicament, because Randy said he didn't want to come here if it was to replace Dwane. If we ever had to fire Dwane, does that mean we couldn't replace him with Randy?
None of that stuff has been talked about. We don't have a [contingency] plan at all in that way. We are really pleased that he brought some other assistants in, and we are confident that he can do the job. But he has to prove it. I told him last year I was disappointed. And he is man enough to say he got too much under pressure and should have taken more risks.
With Flip, we never really asked what he was going to do and what he expected, because he always was doing pretty well. But publicly I just want to defend Kevin a little bit when it comes to Flip. Kevin did not run the team and tell Flip to do this or that. As a matter of fact, Kevin backed off a little bit. Early on, Kevin was really involved in running the team. But he and Flip were so close that every night at half time, those guys would sit down and talk. It became more difficult as it went along and Kevin gave him suggestions. Flip felt more confident as the coach and Kevin backed off.
But I don't think it got better for Flip when Kevin backed off. I heard conversations where Kevin would say, "But Flip, that team had you figured out, and they were doing this and this." Later Flip would usually say, "we watched the film and Kevin was right." And sometimes Kevin would say, I never would have done what Flip did during that game, but it worked. They were pretty honest even when they disagreed, is what I am saying.
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