Minnesota con continues for Taylor, McHale

Adrian Wojnarowski
The Vertical

The William Clay Ford of the NBA just sent his Matt Millen downstairs to the court, an incompetent owner betraying the Minnesota Timberwolves faithful again. Together, Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale conspired to carry out one of the worst cases of fraud in NBA history seven years ago. They cheated the salary cap and it cost them a chance to construct a contender around Kevin Garnett. The franchise never recovered, and the con has never ended.

With or without NBA probation, the Wolves would still be a failed franchise. McHale has a list of first-round picks this decade that defies reason – Paul Grant, William Avery, Ndudi Ebi and Corey Brewer. He turned draft-day choices of Ray Allen, Brandon Roy and O.J. Mayo into Stephon Marbury, Randy Foye and Kevin Love.

McHale's record of failure is so staggering, it almost makes you wonder whether the Detroit Lions gave Millen enough time on the job.

Bad picks. Bad contracts. Bad trades. Blatant cheating. The Wolves have been a study in how to take vibrant NBA markets and drain the life out of them.

McHale confessed on Monday that at Wolves games this season "the only enjoyment" has been "cat-calling" the players. This will change soon. Come on down, McHale and take your seat in the dunk booth. The Target Center has its true target now.

Yes, Taylor insults everyone with this embarrassing shell game. McHale loses his GM duties, but becomes coach. A poor man's James Dolan, Taylor gave McHale the Isiah Thomas treatment: You've hired and fired coaches. You've mismanaged trades, picks and signings. Get out of your sweaters and press some suits. Chrysler sending its CEO to the assembly line makes more sense than McHale staying and replacing Randy Wittman.

Taylor stripped McHale of his GM title, but left no one in command. He has three front-office middle-managers running the franchise. Taylor talked about a committee of decision-makers. It shouldn't be possible, but this structure has a chance to work out even worse than McHale's complete autonomy.

"We have cap room and multiple picks and nothing is going to change," McHale said.

There's a reassuring notion for Wolves fans: All this cap space, multiple first-round picks in 2009 and '10 and McHale suggesting that this is still business as usual. They had a plan of grooming the respected Fred Hoiberg for the GM job, but they should allow his apprenticeship to take place with a good GM.

This is the second time that McHale has coached the franchise, only this time he doesn't have Garnett on his side. McHale didn't do this enthusiastically. It's hard to believe he makes it to next season, but you never know with Taylor. If McHale tells his owner he's doing a good job, it won't matter the Wolves' record. Taylor believes everything McHale ever tells him. After 13 years, how else is he still on the job?

To listen to Taylor go on Monday about getting the most of that talent McHale has assembled, it left you incredulous. This team hasn't underachieved. It's terrible. Yes, Al Jefferson is a cornerstone, but he's surrounded with too little talent to be competitive. The Wolves are years away from the playoffs. There's no plan, no vision, no identity.

McHale had a star, Garnett, who loved Minneapolis. He never wanted to leave. He never pined for a bigger market. He played every night. McHale failed him. Just once did Garnett get past the first round in the Western Conference playoffs. McHale could've drafted well and packaged young players and picks for a supporting cast, but he never had the parts to trade good young talent for established stars.

After the trade to Boston 16 months ago, Taylor suggested that Garnett hadn't played hard in his final Minnesota season. This was a pure cop-out from the Minnesota owner. Taylor has never had the guts to tell this truth: McHale took off more days in a week than Garnett did in his career there. Executives and scouts courtside with McHale would watch him spend too much of his time texting, too little watching the players on the floor. Of course, there were times McHale had instead gone fishing. Witnesses say McHale grew to understand in recent years that he had to work harder, but there's little to suggest it's made a difference.

All told, this is how franchises die in the NBA, how cities become apathetic, how the league runs out markets. Only thing worse for the Wolves than losing three first-round picks this decade as punishment for cheating the salary cap? Perhaps, it had to be McHale using those picks to make more mistakes. Across the past decade, McHale has missed on several future All-Stars on draft day. The list is staggering.

Yes, you can play this game with every GM, but no one has been this wrong for this long and kept a job. Taylor loves him. He's a Minnesota legend, a three-time Boston Celtics NBA champion and one of the greatest low-post players in history. Maybe that gets you the Timberwolves job, but does it get you 13 years?

McHale is a deserving, easy target, but this kind of dysfunction always begins and ends with ownership. Over the summer, the Chicago Bulls wanted to hire Timberwolves assistant coach Bob Ociepka for Vinny Del Negro's staff. Ociepka had been raised in Chicago, had been a successful high school coach and had family there. He wanted to take the Bulls job. For low-level assistants, this is a common transaction. Everyone expected the Wolves to give the blessing and let Ociepka go. It was common courtesy.

Well, the Wolves were willing, but there was one condition, two league sources said: Management wanted five airline tickets as compensation. This way, the Wolves could interview replacements. No one had ever heard of such a low-rent, cheap move, but whatever. This is how Minnesota runs its operation. At all the wrong times the Wolves drive tough bargains.

Now, Glen Taylor plays one more shell game on the Timberwolves fans. He sends Kevin McHale downstairs to coach this flawed creation, insisting that prosperity is just around the corner with all those picks and salary-cap space. Taylor just shuffled a losing deck. This operation is going nowhere, and the sooner the owner stops his hero worship of an NBA legend, the sooner his franchise can begin to restore its respectability. He ought to take one of those plane tickets and fly an accomplished NBA executive into Minneapolis and clean house on that dysfunctional mess.