Midseason misgivings: Casey fired by Wolves

  • Article by: STEVE ASCHBURNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2007 - 10:54 PM

Despite a .500 record this season, the second-year coach was sacked by VP Kevin McHale.

view larger photos

  

PORTLAND, ORE. - In a literal moment of 20-20 hindsight -- that was the Timberwolves' won-lost record at the time -- the team fired head coach Dwane Casey on Tuesday, replacing him with assistant Randy Wittman.

Kevin McHale, the Wolves' vice president of basketball operations, looked back at what the club had accomplished so far in 2006-07 and, with a current four-game losing streak, looked forward to where it might be headed -- with three stops left on a rough West Coast trip -- and removed Casey 1½ seasons after hiring him.

Inconsistency, McHale said, was what ultimately drove his decision -- not an unusual one in the Twin Cities, where the University of Minnesota has recently fired its men's basketball and football coaches.

"We were at a point as a team where we were just treading water," McHale said in a conference phone call with Wolves beat writers.

"The ups and downs, we just couldn't find any consistency. After 40 games we were in another of our inconsistent times.

"There was no huge watershed moment where 'this' happened or 'that' happened. It was your basic two steps up the hill and two steps down. We were never able the entire year to establish a style of play we could bank on. We'd get close, you saw signs, and we'd backslide."

The Wolves won seven of their first eight games in January, were entertaining and resilient and even went 4-0 in a flurry of overtime tests. They crept within three games of the Utah Jazz in the Northwest Division standings and looked primed for a strong second half.

But a disinterested performance in their 105-88 loss to Atlanta last Wednesday seemed to drain much of their momentum. During a double-overtime loss to Detroit two nights later, guard Ricky Davis walked off the court in a snit after being removed from the game, and All-Star forward Kevin Garnett was ejected after an altercation with the Pistons' Antonio McDyess.

Both players were suspended for one game, Davis by the team and Garnett by the NBA, which left the club undermanned for its 131-102 loss at Phoenix on Sunday. Then the Wolves fell behind by 13 points at halftime Monday against the Jazz and showed no defensive heart. The four-game skid is the third of that length this season.

"The next Timberwolves coach better look out when he goes to Utah," Flip Saunders, who previously held the job, joked in a telephone interview Tuesday. Saunders had lost a game in Salt Lake City on Feb. 11, 2005, then was fired the next day after 10 seasons and eight consecutive playoff appearances.

"I thought Dwane had grown a lot as a coach in the last year," said Saunders, now coaching the Pistons. "It's tough to come in as a [first-time] head coach when there are very high expectations. He basically has been a coach in flux. They had the trade [with Boston] last year, and they overhauled the team again in the summer."

Casey, 49, becomes the sixth Wolves coach to last less than two seasons; five were sacked, with McHale, who finished out the 2004-05 season, going back to his management role.

Signed in 2005 to a multi-year deal worth about $3 million per season, Casey's salary was guaranteed through 2007-08. A longtime assistant at Kentucky in college and at Seattle in the NBA, he learned of his firing from General Manager Jim Stack at the team's Portland hotel in the morning --McHale did not make the trip -- then drove to his home in Seattle for "a few days," he said by phone.

"I do appreciate Glen [Taylor, Wolves owner] and Kevin giving me the opportunity," said Casey, who had interviewed for three other NBA head coaching jobs. "We just didn't get it done. Were we inconsistent? Yes. That came from not being together a long time."

The Wolves made a major trade Jan. 26, 2006, revamping their roster by adding four Boston players while shipping out Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi at mid-season. They added three more regulars last summer -- rookies Randy Foye and Craig Smith, and free agent Mike James. And the roster still is unbalanced, with seven guards and five forwards or centers.

There's more: James' play has been less than anticipated. Guard Rashad McCants has been unavailable due to offseason knee surgery. Guard Marko Jaric was unhappy enough as a reserve to reportedly seek a trade. Forward Eddie Griffin, signed to a three-year, $8.1 million contract before Casey's first season, was allowed by management to play without getting needed eye surgery. Now, after a five-game suspension for violating the NBA anti-drug policy, he is on the verge of being released.

Last season, Casey never settled on a rotation of player use, which made it harder for some of them to relax in their roles. The Wolves frequently blew leads and found ways to lose close games (4-10 in games decided by three points or fewer, 1-5 in overtime). They missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year and, with position in the draft lottery at stake, backpedaled to a 33-49 record.

This season, Casey did establish a rotation. The team still can swoon -- three double-digit leads blown in a week in mid-December and a 25-point edge nearly squandered against Chicago -- but it began winning close games (4-4 by three points, 4-1 in OT). That made the current skid as stunning as the 7-1 start this month.

"We've got to come together," veteran guard Trenton Hassell said. "It's kind of obvious we haven't been playing together some games. When we play together, we're a great team. When we've got individuals going off in another direction, we're kind of easy to beat."

Said Casey: "But that's the business we're in. I accept that, and I have no hard feelings."

Wittman met with the players before practice Tuesday and will lead the Wolves against the Trail Blazers tonight at the Rose Garden. A member of Minnesota's staff for 10 of the past 13 seasons, Wittman begins his second stint as an NBA head coach; he steered Cleveland to a 62-102 mark from 1999-2001. He spent the 2005-06 season with Orlando.

"We're still sitting in a good situation at 20-20 and in the playoffs, to make something out of this," he said. "It's not like you're sitting there 8-32, with nothing to play for. Even with the ups and downs, we're in position to set ourselves up for the playoffs."

Garnett, getting his fifth head coach in 12 years, said: "The focus is us winning. Not taking steps back. Let this motivate us. Coaches get you ready, they set the game plan, but players win games.

"We feel a sense of responsibility in ourselves. When someone in the family leaves, it's not one person, it's on everybody."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland 1 Top 10th Inning
Kansas City 1
Detroit 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado 2 Bottom 9th Inning
Arizona 0
Chicago Cubs 1 Top 8th Inning
St. Louis 4
Los Angeles 1 Top 7th Inning
San Diego 1
Milwaukee 0 Bottom 5th Inning
San Francisco 3
Oakland 0 Bottom 4th Inning
LA Angels 0
Washington 3 Top 5th Inning
Seattle 0
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 10 4th Qtr 1:00
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 4th Qtr 1:00
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 4th Qtr 7:34
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 4th Qtr 7:51
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 24 4th Qtr 11:38
New Mexico 21
North Texas 0 4th Qtr 14:29
Texas 28
(1) Florida State 20 3rd Qtr 8:00
Oklahoma State 17
(14) Wisconsin 17 2nd Qtr 6:09
(13) LSU 7
Idaho 0 Delayed 14:50
Florida 0
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close