June 19, 2009
A good chunk of analysis that will follow Kevin McHale's dismissal from the Minnesota Timberwolves will likely include the following chortle -- "and he gift-wrapped a title for his former team in Boston by sending them Kevin Garnett(notes)." Actually, I just read the chortle. I used to have to write those captions, at SI.com. It wasn't easy. You fall into cliché in an instant.
The point is, we shouldn't chortle. We should blame, we should discuss, and we should learn from McHale's time with the Timberwolves; but that one point, that supposed "point?" It's nonsense.
I'm not going to get into whether or not McHale should have been kept on as Timberwolves coach. Yes, the players run this league, so you want to keep those players happy, but players also have goldfish memories that are usually only enough to send them back to the Cheesecake Factory for their third meal there that particular day. They may rue his dismissal now, but all is forgotten by October if the new guy is at least somewhat palatable.
We know why he was dumped. He had one great month with a healthy Timberwolves team, watched as they competed hard for him in the months following, but we also know why they competed so hard for the man.
He brought the guys in, they knew they were probably a bit overpaid/overvalued by McHale, and they wanted to reward a guy that they liked. I'd work hard for an NBA coach if he gave me a roster spot. Doesn't mean I deserve the spot, or that the coach deserves to coach. And new GM David Kahn wanted a clean slate. Understandable.
We're not going to get too deep into McHale shooting his mouth off as he left the Timberwolves. Or, to quote Canis Hoopus, the distasteful way he was "willing to use his players' likes and dislikes as leverage against his boss."
We know why McHale would do this, but it doesn't make it right. And we know why Wolves fans wanted him gone. As wrong as it is to allow for a person's past work as a GM to color your evaluation of this person as a coach, you have to allow for the human element. Doesn't make it right, but we know, we know, we know ...
And, going back to last winter, we know why he was fired as GM. He was awful. At one point during his run, I had him ranked 30th out of 30 NBA GMs. He deserved the placement.
But the Kevin Garnett deal? Rarely has a GM, so bad at everything else, pulled off something as brilliant as this. Actually, he had a few brilliant strikes, here and there.
Drafting Garnett, for one. That was the first strike. Then eight years of nonsense (as in, "league's worst GM" nonsense) before turning Joe Smith(notes) and Terrell Brandon into Sam Cassell(notes) (owner of possibly the most underappreciated and misunderstood season in NBA history, his 2003-04 run) and Latrell Sprewell. Of course, McHale can't make that trade had he not completely gone overboard in overestimating Brandon and Smith.
But we won't get into that. Just say, "he was awful," and kindly move on to his second big strike. The Cassell deal turned the Wolves into championship contenders in 2004, a championship I still say they would have won if Cassell had been healthy in the Conference finals (look at Minnesota's regular season record against the Lakers, the Pistons, and Kevin Garnett's work on Rasheed Wallace(notes) that season).
Then more "awful," then you have KG crying on national TV, then more awful, then turning down Tyson Chandler(notes), Luol Deng(notes), and the pick that could have been Brandon Roy(notes) for KG, and then, in the summer of 2007, the KG deal.
And it's at this point that I start acting like Mike Zarren, a significant part of Boston's front office, yelling "what offer did Kevin get that was better than [Boston's]?", about 38 minutes into this video.
It's the trade that won't leave him alone. It's the trade that invites all sorts of criticism and smartass'ry, because of McHale's turn as a Celtic player, and his ongoing relationship with Danny Ainge. And it's also the best thing McHale has done for the Timberwolves since drafting Kevin Garnett in 1995.
Should he have pulled the trigger sooner, like, for the Chicago deal? Of course. Should he have even been in that situation, with a talent like Garnett, having to save the franchise by trading its best player? Of course not.
But the deal itself? It was fantastic. Possibly the best franchise-talent trade in NBA history.
Seriously. Think of all the junk teams got back for Wilt or Kareem or Shaquille. What other team, with all that leverage against it, did any better? The Lakers, getting Lamar Odom(notes)? Love LO, but come on.
What other deals were out there? Was he supposed to trade for Shawn Marion(notes), instead, because mainstream scribes and national columnists had at least heard of him, and not Al Jefferson(notes)? Josh Howard(notes)? Golden State's trade exception? Lamar Odom (because Andrew Bynum(notes) was never on the table)? There was nothing out there that would have actually helped Minnesota, much less help them in a way that Jefferson will be helping them for the next decade.
Now, a lot of what I'm banging on about has already been discussed in this post, but it needs to be repeated, especially as McHale ambles off into the sunset. The guy made a hell of a deal with the Celtics, was lucky to get as much as he did in return for Garnett, and shaped Minnesota's playing future in a good way (cap space, Al Jefferson) in one much-ridiculed move.
And we're mocking him for this?
Mock him for wasting Garnett's prime. Mock him for offering Latrell Sprewell a ridiculous contract (that would have just expired next month) that Sprewell was too ridiculous to even sign. Mock him for Joe Smith. Mock him for Ndudi Ebi.
But this deal? Credit the man.
Then say "goodbye."