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Trouble at the top

McHale's work as GM the real problem in Minnesota

Posted: Thursday January 25, 2007 4:00PM; Updated: Saturday January 27, 2007 7:36PM
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Kevin McHale (left) has turned to Randy Wittman to coach a Timberwolves team that Dwane Casey guided into playoff position.
Kevin McHale (left) has turned to Randy Wittman to coach a Timberwolves team that Dwane Casey guided into playoff position.
David Sherman/Getty Images
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The coach is always the fall guy.

It's true. The problem with professional sports is that you can't fire the players. Megadollars and guaranteed contracts have taken care of that. But the coach? Heck, he's dispensable. Why pay off 12 guys to go away when you can lay the blame at the foot of one and ship him out of town?

I don't necessarily disagree with that. I just think in the case of the Minnesota Timberwolves, when they fired Dwane Casey, they whacked the wrong guy.

Here is what Casey had to deal with when he showed up for work every day:

• An occasionally cantankerous superstar, Kevin Garnett, who slowly has begun to deteriorate both physically and in terms of his skills. That's not to say Garnett isn't still playing at a high level; he's just no longer playing at an MVP level.

• A point guard (OK, let's just call him a guard), Marko Jaric, who took his frustrations over lack of playing time first to the owner, then to the press.

• A patchwork roster that features the (semi) good (Mark Blount), the (really) bad (Ricky Davis) and the (incredibly) ugly (Eddie Griffin).

James Naismith couldn't have done anything with that.

The real fault in Minnesota lies with general manager Kevin McHale, who in his tenure has either signed or acquired Davis ($6.4 million this season), Blount ($7.3 million, with three years to go after this one), Mike James ($5.2 million) and Troy Hudson ($5.6 million). The franchise is capped out to the tune of $67.5 million, with $70.6 million already committed to next season's payroll.

McHale has failed miserably to acquire high-caliber talent (save for the 2003-2004 season) to play alongside Garnett, instead attempting to appease his superstar by bringing in one-dimensional role players who are better served as third or fourth options than first or second. When the Timberwolves had draft picks -- which wasn't often, a result of the botched Joe Smith transaction -- they produced first-round duds like Ndudi Ebi, William Avery and Paul Grant.

McHale leveled the roster in the middle of last season, sending Wally Szczerbiak to Boston and forcing first-year coach Casey to start three players (Blount, Davis and Marcus Banks) from a Celtics team that was 17-25 at the time of the trade. Casey, however, had begun to develop some chemistry this season -- evidenced by a 7-1 start to January -- and had Minnesota, which has no business in the playoffs, battling for the seventh and eighth spots.

"I feel sorry for him," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's like they said, 'OK, Dwane, great job up and down, we'll take it from here.' You can't get any continuity [with those changes]. And the reason you have turnover is because something is already not going right. So you are in trouble anyway."

The Timberwolves now turn to Randy Wittman, a three-time Minnesota assistant who went 62-102 as Cleveland coach from 1999-2001. Wittman wasn't even the Timberwolves' first choice; according to a league source, Minnesota reached out to former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy as recently as a month ago.

"But why would Stan take that job?" one NBA personnel man said. "It's a horrible situation."

McHale has run out of lifelines with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and the next time the ax falls in Minnesota -- and that could be as early as June -- it will likely be his head on the chopping block. At this point, he is probably the only one who deserves it.