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Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Kevin McHale's Smashmouth Vision


Writer Britt Robson conducted an enlightening City Pages interview with 'Wolves owner Glen Taylor that was published in early 2006. As we have discussed before, we learned something that, to me, is troubling about how the franchise started. Taylor explains that he shoved the job on the big name in local sports, who was not thinking like a GM, nor prioritizing work all that highly compared to things like kids, hunting, and fishing. Taylor explains:

You have to remember it isn't like Kevin came and begged me for the job. I took over a franchise very quickly, and we had a problem with the team. I knew Kevin's name, didn't really know him personally. I came down and asked Kevin, could he help me in the basketball things? He said to me, Glen, that's not what I do. I don't even know if I could do that. And I said, well, but you do know how to play basketball, you've seen how to win, you knew those things. I know the business part, so let me try to help you with the business part.

But Kevin was very realistic up front in saying, "Okay, I'm growing a family. I earned my money already. I have some priorities, this isn't like I'm doing this for money now." So you understand, and he says, "You know, I love to hunt. I love to fish. I love some other things." I mean, he was always up front with all of those things. He didn't want to do basketball and give up those other things in his life. So it's not like he said, "I'm going to work 80 hours a week, or 70, or 45 hours a week."

Sometimes stuff like that just works out. But man, who had the vision of how the basketball team should work? Who was going to rally the troops? 

In any case, after interviews like that, I trust Robson to have deeper-than-normal NBA insight.

[Brace yourself for a hairpin left turn from my main point. Back in a moment.]

Robson also, I learned today, nobody told me -- has a great blog on the website of The Rake where you can learn stuff like how Sebastian Telfair is doing so far as a Minnesota starter:

Telfair has on balance been a pleasant eye-opener, especially compared to the prevailing opinion of his game when the Wolves first acquired him in the Garnett trade from Boston. On opening day, he did a decent job on Allen Iverson (albeit was less stellar when AI and Mike Wilks comprised a small backcourt tandem in the fourth quarter), coming up with three steals and registering a mere minus-1 in 35:17 of an eventual eight-point loss. Tonight agains the Knicks, it was seven assists and zero turnovers (for a composite 12/3 assist/turnover ratio thus far) and a nifty plus +5 in 36:58 of a four point loss.

But missed shots can be akin to turnovers, especially when you're the point guard assigned with the task of getting your more accurate shooting and advantageously matched-up teammates the rock. Telfair is a career .387 shooter who has never converted 40 percent of his heaves in any of his three NBA seasons. In the third quarter tonight he received a nice, creative feed from Al Jefferson (a rare occurrence), blew the layup, and then immaturely strained to atone by driving into traffic and hoisting an airball on the very next possession. For the season he is 8-27 FG, with no free throw attempts, in a combined 72:15 of action while Jefferson is 14-29 FG in 74:49. In other words, the bricklaying point guard is shooting at almost exactly the same frequency as the meat-and-potatoes franchise cornerstone who is supposed to be the focus, and primary locus, of the offense.

[End detour.] 

OK, so, Robson has recently written an article for Minneapolis St. Paul magazine called "Kevin McHale's Fall from Grace." I'll be darned if I can find it online. (Google, apparently, does not believe McHale has fallen from grace.) But I know it is chock-full of insight, because thanks to FreeDarko I have heard Robson talking about that article on KFAN AM 1130 with Dan Bareiro.  

After talking to McHale and several others at length, Robson understands that the franchise was not just hurt by the various missteps that have been discussed before (for instance, gambling and losing on Stephon Marbury, making several draft mistakes, giving long contracts to mediocre players, the Joe Smith fiasco, letting Kevin Garnett inspire bad personnel decisions, not embracing foreign players, etc.).

Another one to add to the list, it seems, is McHale's attachment to "smashmouth" basketball, which departed from the inclinations and abilities of Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale.

I'm torn here. Part of me wants to say: oh please. Another hindsight excuse. And in some fashion, the insinuation that Saunders and Garnett weren't macho enough seems to be the ultimate in mindless fourth-grade playground bullying. ("We didn't win because, because, because ... Jimmy's a pansy!") I mean, we all know that Saunders and Garnett have been/will be winning plenty post-Minnesota, right? Were they really the weak links?

Another part of me wants to state the obvious, which is that McHale may not have gotten everything he wanted from Glen Taylor, but it has been pretty darned close. Including Kevin Garnett. So who's to blame if McHale had the wrong personnel?

Another part of me wants to write 10,000 words on leadership, and how it is McHale's job to inspire people like Saunders and Garnett to adhere to a successful program.

But the last part of me thinks this: Kevin McHale, if you didn't have the players and coaches you thought could do your bidding well then go out and get some who will. Get your "smashmouth" players already.

And you know what? I think he did. He made one of the boldest trades in NBA history, and got himself an old-school smashmouth scorer in Al Jefferson. The roster is super-young. But this might be the first time in a long time that the roster, the coach, and front office are all roughly on the same page. It might not be nearly as fun as making the Western Conference Finals with Kevin Garnett. It might not even be smart. But at least it's somebody's vision, and not just Kevin Garnett and his ever-changing patchwork quilt of sidekicks.