Sid Hartman: Taylor upbeat in face of his team's travails

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2009 - 9:45 PM

Seats are vacant and victories are hard to come by, but the owner sees hope in the draft and Kevin McHale.

While the Timberwolves are having a hard time winning and attendance is at an all-time low, owner Glen Taylor sees a lot of things going on this year that will bring many positives in the future.

"I am really pleased with the change [Kevin] McHale has brought to this team," Taylor said of the team's coach and former vice president. "The team is playing a lot more competitively. It's a tough thing when you lose [Corey] Brewer and Al Jefferson.

"But on the positive side, this allows some of our other players to play more time and show us what they can do, preparing us for next year. I am pleased with how we have set ourselves up."

Taylor was asked about McHale's future -- it's unknown if he still wants to coach after primarily being an executive.

"I would rather you ask Kevin that. Just by watching him, he seems very excited and positive," Taylor said. "He certainly enjoys working with these young men. I said to him, 'Let's wait until the end of the year and see how it goes.'"

Asked if he wanted McHale to remain coach, Taylor said: "I think he's a very good coach. Hopefully, he'll want to continue in the future."

About the salary cap, Taylor said: "We have positioned ourselves pretty well, so we can re-sign our players or get new players. We signed the three guys from Boston [acquired in the Kevin Garnett trade] we wanted to keep [Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair]. We signed them to extended contracts, so that is all done. If we can be a little lucky in the draft, and pick up one or two players in the first round that help us next year and maybe go out and sign a free agent, hopefully we'll be very competitive next year."

The Wolves have stockpiled first-round draft picks for this summer's draft, and Taylor is not concerned about the potential cost. "We have positioned ourselves really well that way with contracts. [Jason] Collins is coming off his contract, and that is a big contract," Taylor said. "So, we have money there to sign three. I think the reason you might not want three, I'm not sure we need that many young guys on our team."

There is also cap room to sign free agents, Taylor said. "We'll be under it, but I don't think there are going to be that many free agents [this offseason]. [It] is not a good year for that," he said. "We'll probably look more at a trade or something like that to get a player we want. Certainly we'll look at free agents, but I'm not optimistic on that."

Taylor concedes low attendance is hurting.

"There is more reason for people to buy tickets next year than there was this year," he said. "The reasons are, No. 1, we are going to be a better team. No. 2, I understand the economic issues around here in Minnesota and in the United States. We have to come out with some packages for some people that will be very competitive so they can bring their families to a lot of games."

Taylor says he enjoys owning the team, no stockholders have sold their shares and he is determined to do what is needed to win an NBA title.

Jackson fooled Fitch

The appearance of the Lakers here tonight reminded me of one of my favorite people in Bill Fitch, who coached Lakers coach Phil Jackson at North Dakota for four years after recruiting him the day that Jackson's Williston High School team won the state championship in 1964.

Fitch, who coached the Gophers and then five NBA teams, said he visualized Jackson as a great scholar after he graduated from college, and the last thing he thought he would be was a coach.

"I thought he was too smart for that," Fitch said.

As a coach, Jackson is the NBA's career leader in playoff victories and playoff winning percentage and has nine league championships, equaling all-time leader Red Auerbach, the Celtics legend.

Maybe Fitch was on to something in assessing Jackson's mind despite the misjudgment: Jackson's mental approach to the game, and his ability to adapt to the talents of his star and supporting players, is what has made him a success.

Fitch talked about the unusual circumstances in recruiting Jackson. "I was working on the side as a baseball scout for the Braves," Fitch said. "I was told to go to Williston and check on this tall high school pitcher who somebody reported had a great future as a baseball pitcher.

"Well, it turned out this guy couldn't get the ball over the plate under no circumstances. But basketball was different. He was a great one. So we had dinner one night and I recruited him as a basketball player, so the trip was worthwhile. He could have played for anybody."

Jottings

Twins fans continue to wonder why a roof can't be put on the new baseball stadium. Sure, the cost is a problem, but even if the money was available, the size of the lot is the issue because there is not enough room to store a roof. The only hope for a roof is if someday the nearby Hennepin County garbage burner is moved.

My reaction regarding new Twins third baseman Joe Crede is that by deciding not to re-sign him, the White Sox instead allowed one of their division rivals to obtain him. Crede beat the Twins many times during his six seasons with the White Sox. In order to make room for Crede, the Twins put pitcher Pat Neshek on the 60-day disabled list. Neshek wasn't going to pitch this season under any circumstances, and he is going to spend the entire season rehabbing in Fort Myers.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi says one reason the athletic department will finish in the black is that the men's basketball team will have a much larger attendance than was anticipated in the budget.

There are only 600 tickets left for tonight's Lakers game against the Timberwolves, showing the drawing power of Kobe Bryant and Co., and the Gophers face Northwestern at the same time before a sellout crowd. So more than 35,000 fans will watch NBA and Big Ten basketball tonight in Minneapolis. ... Kevin Payton, the Gophers basketball player who had been suspended because of academic problems, has another year of competition, but he has indicated he will spend his final year somewhere else.

This will be the 25th Dairy Queen Classic that starts Friday at the Metrodome with the Gophers baseball team hosting California-Santa Barbara.

Georgia Military College cornerback Taikwon Paige had planned to follow defensive coordinator Ted Roof to Minnesota, until Roof moved to Auburn. Now Paige is joining the Tigers. ... Look for an announcement that the Gophers will play their spring football game at the University of St. Thomas.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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