Sadly, this isn't the Kevin McHale we used to know

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2009 - 1:32 PM

All these up-and-down years with the Wolves have taken an emotional toll on one of this state's basketball greats.

Kevin McHale was the assistant general manager for the Timberwolves in 1994-95. The tall man from Hibbing was such a popular figure in Minnesota basketball that he was honored that winter as the Gophers' Player of the Century.

This came from fan voting held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Gophers basketball. The votes were based on McHale's NBA success with the Boston Celtics and his winning personality, since there were a minimum of a half-dozen other Gophers from the 1950s to the 1990s who had more impact as college players.

McHale received the U of M honor in mid-February, and two months later he became the replacement for Jack McCloskey as the Wolves' vice president for basketball operations.

His first important personnel move was to select high schooler Kevin Garnett at No. 5 in the NBA draft. A year later, again with the fifth pick, he took Ray Allen and then traded him to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury, the fourth choice.

We had seen enough from Garnett during the second half of his rookie season to become optimistic. And teaming him with Marbury, the point guard with one dynamic season at Georgia Tech, gave fans a vision of a long-running combination that would rival Karl Malone and John Stockton in Utah.

This was June 1996, McHale had been in charge for 13 months, and it appeared he had the same genius for personnel as he had playing for the Celtics.

Thirteen years later, that opinion has changed. McHale has gone from a hero to a culprit with Minnesota's sporting public. Another vote on the Gophers' greatest player might have McHale running neck-and-neck with Zebedee Howell to land in the top 50.

There was a litany of personnel blunders that became incomprehensible. Finally, in early December, owner Glen Taylor gave McHale the option of becoming the coach -- and coach only -- or leaving the organization.

There were 63 games remaining. McHale lost his first eight, then the Wolves went 13-9 through January and into February. Everything came crashing back down on Feb. 8 when Al Jefferson injured a knee in a loss at New Orleans.

There were now 32 left. The television view of McHale on the sideline made it appear that each game was adding a month of wear-and-tear. He was hobbling on a damaged knee and the dark circles around his eyes seemed permanent.

You would watch as many minutes of a Wolves game as could be tolerated, and see the shots of McHale and say to yourself: "He shouldn't be doing this to himself. He should be hanging out in Scottsdale in the winter, playing golf."

A few months of sun and golf, maybe McHale could regain that former personality and start getting some TNT time as a fun-loving fill-in for Charles Barkley.

I haven't been able to muster proper enthusiasm for bashing McHale, because there were so many years when he was a man filled with wonderful mischief and not the obvious resentment of recent seasons.

McHale was a freshman at Minnesota when Sid Hartman was proudly escorting Chuck Foreman around the Gophers locker room after a victory. When Sid made the introduction to McHale, Kevin responded: "Nice to meet you, Mr. Foreman. What do you do for a living?"

It took Hartman and Foreman several seconds to realize they were being agitated, Iron Range-style.

Later, McHale's nickname with the Celtics beat reporters was "411," since he was the player they went to for information.

Kevin retired after 13 seasons, came back to Minnesota, worked the Wolves' telecasts and was fabulous. Sadly, the word association is now "futile" when McHale is mentioned to today's lost legion of Wolves fans.

The Wolves finished with a 97-90 loss to Sacramento that put the final record at 24-58. There have been five seasons without the playoffs -- costing McHale his position as the basketball boss and making his future as the coach uncertain.

"We'll see," was all McHale had to offer again Wednesday when asked if he would like to be back as coach.

Either way, what you would hope for with McHale would be a return of his former personality.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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