Jim Souhan: As hard as it is to admit, McHale probably got this one right

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 28, 2008 - 10:24 AM

The only way this deal backfires is if O.J. Mayo plays like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Love plays like Paul Grant.

Assumptions rule our lives. You have to assume that the car with the right-turn signal blinking will turn right, that you'll have heat and shelter tomorrow, that your kids will be safe at school.

These things are not guaranteed, and yet you couldn't function without assuming that they are true.

Assumptions don't work very well in the sports world, though. Around the turn of the century, you could have assumed that the Yankees would keep winning World Series, that Bill Belichick would never be more than the guy who couldn't win in Cleveland, that the Red Sox would remain forever cursed.

You would have been wrong, maybe just as wrong as most Minnesotans are about the Timberwolves trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love and Mike Miller, with the Wolves also dumping three worthless players.

The average angry sports-talk caller is ranting that the deal stinks. That's because the average angry sports-talk caller assumes that Mayo is a dynamic talent, that Kevin Love is just another unathletic white guy, and that if Kevin McHale does a deal, it must be doomed.

All three assumptions are probably wrong.

Mayo is a wonderful shooter and he's strong enough to be a good NBA defender, but let's not mistake him for Kobe Bryant. He won zero NCAA tournament games, and he is not known for his ability to beat defenders off the dribble, get to the rim or draw fouls. In other words, the Love stereotype -- skilled, hard-nosed but not dynamic -- might fit Mayo better than it fits Love.

Love, as the Wolves' personnel gurus attested on Friday, is about as athletically gifted as the Hawks' Al Horford, who should have been the NBA rookie of the year last year. Love might actually compare better athletically with players at his position than Mayo does at his.

And just because McHale already has retired the lifetime achievement award for malpractice as an NBA general manager doesn't mean that every deal he does is wrongheaded. It doesn't work that way. Terry Ryan was an acclaimed general manager, and yet he released David Ortiz. Stereotypes don't always fit.

This time around, McHale got it right. He accomplished his primary goal of improving the roster by adding Miller, a great shooter and a good rebounder, and he took a reasonable roll of the dice that Love will be about as good an NBA player as Mayo, and might fit the Wolves' roster better.

The only way this deal backfires is if Mayo does become Kobe and Love becomes Paul Grant. I can't see either happening.

McHale also continued to clean up his own mess. This is an unpopular notion, but the Garnett deal was necessary, and he picked up Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and a first-round pick. He dealt Mark Blount and Ricky Davis, two of his biggest mistakes (and that's saying something), to the Heat. And now he has ditched Jaric (one of the worst acquisitions of all time), Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner for Jason Collins and Brian Cardinal. Collins and Cardinal could remind you of Ndudi Ebi and that still would be a good trade.

Ripping McHale in this town has become a cottage industry in which I sometimes gleefully participate, but this deal is a good one, especially since he brought two important players who might actually want to stay in Minnesota.

I do have one impertinent question, though: When was the last time an NBA team traded for three American-born white guys? That doesn't even happen in hockey.

Another trade like this and the Wolves will look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

That's the only aspect of this deal that's worrisome -- that McHale has developed an irrational love for players that remind him of himself. That would include Love's fundamentals, Jefferson's low-post game, and Cardinal's cornea-blinding whiteness.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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