TrueHoop: Glen Taylor

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Mark Madsen logged only 116 minutes for Minnesota last season, but was the longest-tenured T-Wolf, a presence on the bench for six seasons. He's also one of the league's most expressive players.

In his blog today, he said goodbye to his fans in the Twin Cities

I wanted to take a minute to tell the fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves a heart felt thank you for all of the support and enthusiasm for the team over the past few years.  Even though the past couple of years had been tough from a wins and losses perspective, when I will think of my time in Minneapolis, I will always think about that 2004 team that almost made it to the NBA Finals.  At that time, Kevin Garnett was the MVP of the entire league, Sam Cassell was an All-Star and Latrell Sprewell was one of our emotional leaders.  I remember during the playoff run that year how driving to and from games was absolutely crazy with part of downtown shut down so that cars could get through.  This was all possible because of you, the fans and your amazing support. 

From a different standpoint, Minneapolis has come to feel like an absolute second home for me personally.  Having grown up in Northern California, I never really knew much about Minnesota until Kevin McHale and Glen Taylor signed me to play for the Timberwolves.  Needless to say, the past several years have been some of the best years of my life and I am grateful for the opportunity, the support from the community and the fact that you truly made me feel at home in new place.  Thank you for your friendship and for the giving me the chance to play for the team.  When friends from out of town came to visit Minnesota I would always take them to the stone arch bridge downtown, the state Capital, or the Mill City Museum.  Exploring new parts of the Twin Cities became one of my passions while I was there.

After I learned of my trade to the LA Clippers, David Kahn left me a voicemail and it was great.  To you, the fans, David Kahn is going to do a great job as the General Manager.  He is going to tirelessly do everything in his power to return the team to the same form of that special 2004 season.  And to Glen Taylor, I express my thanks for allowing me to contribute to a great team.  I'm sure that you will get the team back to the high expectations that you and the community have for the team.  It has been an honor to play for the team over the past number of years and to be part of your organization.

But above all, I want to thank you the fans.  I wish all of you the best and I hope that I will see you down the road and perhaps at a Timberwolves vs. LA Clippers game in the future!

A letter from the team makes the case that owner Glen Taylor's comments about Kevin Garnett "tanking" were taken out of context. Not entirely unconvincing, although without having been there it's hard to say who's telling the truthiest version of the truth.

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.