Sports fans tend to cling to long-held beliefs about their teams, for better or worse. This week, we are exploring five of them to determine whether fact or fiction rules the day. Today: Kevin McHale’s tenure with the Wolves.
Was Kevin McHale the general manager of the Wolves really that bad?
On the surface, defending his front office work seems as tough as guarding him in the low post in his playing days. There was the Joe Smith debacle. Repeated fruitless drafts. Questionable contracts and bewildering trades designed to correct those drafts. And only one playoff run past the first round in 13 seasons.
Each of McHale’s disastrous last few seasons combined to make the Timberwolves a rebuilding project, one the current front office still is working to solve. But the players leading Minnesota out of the abyss, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, are tied to the last of several solid moves McHale made during his tenure.
McHale’s decision to draft Kevin Garnett, who back in 1995 was only fifth high school senior trying to make the jump to the NBA, set the Wolves on their first successful path. They made seven consecutive trips to the playoffs from 1997 to 2003, though first-round losses each time marred the accomplishment.
In 2003-04, McHale dealt for Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Surrounded by the best cast of his career to date, Garnett realized his MVP potential and Minnesota reached the Western Conference Finals for its first and only time.
What followed — five seasons of folly during which Garnett was traded — cost McHale his job. But before leaving, McHale engineered a 2008 draft night steal, trading down to get Love, Mike Miller and two additional players while dumping millions in bad salaries from the roster. He also chose Nikola Pekovic in the second round of that draft.
Love already has become the second-best player in franchise history, earning McHale a reprieve from critics. McHale’s final big move included one more payoff. McHale’s successor, David Kahn, later traded Miller for the 2009 draft pick used on Rubio.
Love, a two-time All-Star at power forward who can be counted on for double-doubles each night, and Rubio, an emerging point guard, embody the Wolves’ chance for rejuvenation. What gets forgotten is that the standards they hope to reach — consistent playoff appearances and a Western Conference finals (or better) run — are ones McHale helped establish with some of his better basketball decisions.
David La Vaque