Wild nails GM choice; Timberwolves? Ouch

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2009 - 12:08 PM

The hockey team got its No. 1 choice while the basketball team had to settle for its fourth.

Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher of the Pittsburgh Penguins poses for a portrait at the Mellon Arena on September, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Today, the Timberwolves will hold a news conference to announce the hiring of David Kahn as their new basketball boss, and the Wild, a few hours later, will hold a news conference to announce the hiring of Chuck Fletcher as general manager.

An old poet once wrote that all comparisons are odious. He was obviously anticipating this comparison, which stinks for the Wolves.

The Wild's owner, Craig Leipold, took a hard look at his organization during a troubling season and, without hinting at his intentions or flogging anyone publicly, decided it was time to fire general manager Doug Risebrough. He did so, and immediately conducted a hiring process that proved exhaustive, logical and decisive.

He interviewed the best up-and-coming GM candidates in the NHL, as well as a few old heads. He narrowed his search to the most outstanding candidates, and finally chose Fletcher, who possesses an impressive résumé, has worked with many of the best brains in the business, and is a cog in a championship-caliber franchise.

Compare that process to what we've seen out of Target Center. Wolves owner Glen Taylor decided to remove Kevin McHale from the front office, but let him take over as coach, primarily to save money on a new hire. Taylor tried to run the team by listening to Jim Stack, Fred Hoiberg, Rob Moor and any family member with free time and a random opinion.

He vacillated over McHale's future role, and whether McHale would get to decide his own fate as coach.

Taylor, like Leipold, identified the best up-and-coming minds in the league. Three of them pulled out of consideration after either getting a good look at the Wolves' dysfunction, or using the Wolves to extract a better deal from their current employers.

Then Taylor hired Kahn, who has not worked for an NBA team for seven years.

It is possible that Kahn will revive the Wolves and Fletcher will fail the Wild. That, however, is not the way to bet.

No, you would be better off betting on the owner who moves quickly, decisively and rationally instead of the owner who has presided over the most dysfunctional organization this side of Van Halen.

Fletcher brings hope to a franchise in need of fresh eyes, a franchise that has succeeded in building a brand and a fan base, a franchise that should be a good coaching hire and an aggressive free-agent signing away from returning to the playoffs.

Kahn brings ... what? A close, personal relationship with commissioner David Stern?

Kahn is blessed to be joining an organization that has little choice but to grant him the power to effect change. There are two problems with this: 1) We don't know if Taylor is capable of backing away and letting his new hire operate, and 2) We don't know if Kahn is capable of rebuilding a dysfunctional franchise.

Had Taylor hired a dynamic candidate from a successful franchise, such as Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey, he would have had to agree to keep his meddling fingers to himself. Had he hired a big name, he might have been forced aside by sheer force of personality.

Kahn is expected to be given full authority to make decisions, including whether McHale will remain. Those who have watched Taylor over the past five years will believe that when we see it.

We have no such worries about the operation in St. Paul. Leipold culminated an impressive search with an impressive hire.

Maybe that's why you'll have to pay full price to get into a Wild game this winter, while the Wolves will sell tickets for whatever you have in your pocket, whether it's small change or lint.

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

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