Patrick Reusse: A tactical decision

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2007 - 10:18 PM

Dwane Casey is out because he wasn't the strategist Kevin McHale wanted him to be, not because of his team's erratic play.

Kevin McHale decided on a theme to explain Dwane Casey's firing on Tuesday and he did not vary from it. Casey was dropped as Timberwolves coach because of his team's inconsistency, said McHale, again and again.

He said this during a conference call with beat reporters late in the afternoon, and repeated it perhaps a dozen times during a 40-minute session with reporters and in front of TV cameras at Target Center.

When it was pointed out to McHale that teams of marginal talent are inconsistent by definition, he went into a comparison of shooting 68 one day and 78 the next on the PGA Tour.

"We go out and play at a high level one night, and I don't look at that as us playing over our heads," McHale said. "I look at it as a level we should be able to replicate every night."

Yet, when McHale was asked about the enigmatic Ricky Davis, he talked about a night Larry Bird was so out of things that he threw a pass to a player checking into the game.

"Some nights, the ball is square for everyone," McHale said. "If Larry Bird can have a game like that, Ricky Davis sure can have that kind of game."

All of which left at least one member of McHale's media audience with this reaction: Huh?

Inconsistent play from a team with a roster far removed from the league's elite can't be explained, but inconsistent play from the team's second-most talented player can be dismissed as part of the NBA grind.

Here's the reality:

McHale chose the Wolves' inconsistency as his explanation for firing Casey because he has a fondness for him as a person. The other option was full candor -- that McHale did not believe Casey was up to NBA standards as a tactician.

It was clear that McHale came to that conclusion during the 2005-06 season, when the Wolves went 33-49 with Casey as a rookie coach.

Yet, it would have been beyond outrageous to fire Casey after last season, particularly when he was made to tank the last few games (and play without Kevin Garnett) to guarantee the Wolves would land in the NBA lottery.

What McHale did was bring in two veteran coaches, Randy Wittman and Bob Ociepka, to give Casey assistance with X's and O's and practice preparation. McHale didn't flat-out mention those aspects Tuesday, but he did admit he brought in veteran coaches "to give Dwane some help."

The popular reaction will be that McHale fired Casey because he's delusional over the quality of his team. This delusion was on display when McHale was asked:

"What's accomplished by finishing eighth in the West and getting Phoenix or Dallas in the first round?"

McHale's response was, "I think we can be better than a No. 8 seed."

This would require a surge -- to surpass teams as talented as Houston and Denver -- and there's only one fellow we all know willing to attach such outlandish hope to a surge.

Bottom line: It's not complete delusion about his flawed roster that led McHale to make this move. He fired Casey because he doesn't think he is a good coach.

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