McHale: Love's the one he's with
MINNEAPOLIS -- One o'clock came and went, and for the weary media folks waiting until the wee hours Friday morning at Target Center for the official team announcement, the news already was becoming obvious: The Timberwolves were going to fire Mets manager Willie Randolph all over again.
How else to explain an NBA draft that was pushing well into the witching hour, some 57 picks and a second work shift since the Wolves grabbed USC guard O.J. Mayo with the third selection, back around the time commissioner and first-round emcee David Stern first cleared his throat?
Twenty-four more minutes passed before Kevin McHale, Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations, appeared, trailed by general manager Jim Stack and assistant GM Fred Hoiberg. All three of them had bleary but satisfied looks on their faces, like a surgical team that had just snapped off the latex gloves and shed the scrubs after an around-the-clock ordeal in which the patient, happily, survived.
Hold up, though. These were the Timberwolves. This was McHale. And this was draft night, an out-of-season Halloween for most of the franchise's checkered existence when it comes to identifying, selecting and retaining the right pro prospect. Draft Brandon Roy, trade him immediately for Randy Foye, then watch Roy assert his future stardom as the league's best rookie. Draft Ray Allen, trade him immediately for Stephon Marbury, then watch Allen celebrate an NBA title 12 years later for some other team with the cornerstone player (Kevin Garnett) Marbury was supposed to sidekick. Draft William Avery. Draft Paul Grant. Draft Ndudi Ebi. Draft Rashad McCants. And then, of course, keep each of those guys, at least long enough to expose their limitations.
So you started to scan for the blood stains and wonder what sort of Frankenstein's monster, what horrific two-headed devil dog, McHale and his cohorts had concocted in their loony laboratory this time.
That's when the word came: Mayo had been traded to Memphis, in essence, for No. 5 pick Kevin Love and Grizzlies swingman Mike Miller. There were other pieces involved -- veterans Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner leaving Minnesota, Jason Collins and Brian Cardinal coming back -- that enticed the Wolves for a net slashing of payroll and contract duration. But the success or failure of this deal will be dictated by how good Mayo becomes, how good UCLA's Love maybe doesn't become and whether the Wolves are positioned to do anything tangible as a team by the time Miller, who turned 29 in February, is ready to retire.
"In the deal, we get the best big man in the draft, I felt, and we get a knock-down shooter in Mike Miller,'' McHale said. "Very seldom do you see a guy [Love] come into the Pac-10, which is a rough, tough conference, and not only be Freshman of the Year but Player of the Year. So we couldn't be happier.''
The modest crowd assembled in Minnesota's practice gym for its draft "party'' sounded plenty happy when Mayo -- a Pac-10 freshman rival of Love's -- was announced and the highlight reel unspooled. By the time Hoiberg spoke to the fans, talking of his Iowa State and Chicago ties with current USC coach Tim Floyd, people were sold. Extra Mayo, please!
Besides, at that moment, there was no trade in the works. Minnesota had laid some groundwork with Memphis in the days preceding the draft and made a couple of phone calls early Thursday evening. But once the Grizzlies took Love, McHale said, it all went on "shutdown mode'' for the next 90 minutes. Finally, at the end of the first round, Memphis called back.
Now, right there, that might have raised some red flags for some execs. Not so much that the Grizzlies learned something about Love that worried them ("I don't think they had that much time to really take him in the gym and work him out," McHale scoffed). But rather, maybe Memphis GM Chris Wallace or someone else in their front office suddenly realized, "Hey, no one has snookered McHale yet this year! What's that area code again, 6-1-2?''
"No,'' McHale said. "I never felt that way anyway.''
From the Wolves' perspective, they got a swell "locker room guy'' in Cardinal, and a legitimate 7-foot center in Collins who can spare Al Jefferson minutes at a position he doesn't enjoy. They also got Miller, a career 40 percent shooter from three-point range who can make foes pay for sagging on Big Al. And they also got Love, a player who flattered McHale with stories about his dad, former pro Stan Love, showing the kid footage of the longtime Celtics power forward.