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Friday, May 15, 2009
Sources: Wolves eyeing Penn as GM

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

As the Minnesota Timberwolves move closer to hiring Portland's Tom Penn as their new front-office chief, signals are growing stronger that Kevin McHale will retain the right to decide whether he stays on as the Wolves' coach.

NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that Wolves owner Glen Taylor -- after initially saying that the new general manager would make the final call on Minnesota's coach -- has mandated that his next head of basketball operations make it McHale's choice to keep coaching or leave the organization.

Yet it remains to be seen if McHale and Taylor can agree on contract terms. McHale has not spoken publicly since the end of the regular season, but it's believed he wants no less than a two-year deal to continue coaching. Sources close to the situation say Taylor prefers to commit to McHale only for next season and then re-evaluate.

Kevin McHale
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has mandated that his next GM make it Kevin McHale's choice to keep coaching or leave the organization.

Either way, Penn's apparent willingness to keep McHale as coach and team with Wolves assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg on personnel matters -- combined with Penn's solid reputation after working for Jerry West in Memphis and helping the Trail Blazers rise to prominence in the Western Conference -- has established him as the heavy favorite to replace McHale as Minnesota's lead decision-maker on personnel matters.

Sources say that the Wolves' GM search is strictly focused on Penn at this point, with one source saying Friday that Penn is already mulling over Minnesota's offer. The expectation in Portland, another source added, is that Penn will accept the offer and soon join the Wolves.

San Antonio's Dennis Lindsey, widely billed as Minnesota's initial No. 1 target for its GM opening, withdrew from consideration on May 1. The other known candidates besides Penn include ex-Indiana Pacers executive David Kahn and former Miami Heat general manager Randy Pfund, but Pfund has informed the team that he is withdrawing from the process.

"Have a couple other things I want to explore at this point," Pfund said Friday.

It's believed that both Lindsey and Pfund wanted the freedom to make sweeping changes to the organization if they wished -- including the right to dismiss McHale and hire their own coach -- with Taylor reluctant to give it.

With no formal GM hiring expected before next week, Minnesota is sending rookie forward Kevin Love to New Jersey to represent the club during Tuesday's draft lottery, when the Wolves will learn the placement of the highest of their three first-round picks in the June 25 draft, along with No. 18 and No. 28.

With one of the youngest teams in the league, one of the first chores for the new GM is deciding whether to shop one or more of those picks in an attempt to inject some veteran savvy into the roster.

Love and fellow franchise cornerstone Al Jefferson have lobbied the Wolves to keep McHale on the bench. The Wolves went 20-43 after McHale replaced Randy Wittman in December, but they posted a 10-4 record in January before losing Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 8.

"It's a little weird, not knowing who we turn to next year to make the decisions," Love said Friday on a conference call with Minneapolis-based reporters to discuss his participation on the lottery dais.

As for the prospect of McHale's return, Love said: "I think the consensus is everybody likes him and would love to play for him again."

Asked if he had any feel for how McHale was leaning, Love said: "I'm not really sure. Seems to me he's still up in the air on it, [it's] still a big question mark. I hope he comes back. If there's anything I can say or Big Al can say& I think the consensus is everybody likes him and would love to play for him again."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.