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December 5, 12:18 PM ET
Chat with Marc Stein

Marc Stein
  (5:30 PM)

Hello, all.

Marc Stein
  (5:30 PM)

Pretty monumental day in 'Sota.

Marc Stein
  (5:31 PM)

The Wolves did exactly what we expected by firing Randy Wittman and still managed to give us a bit of a surprise by announcing that McHale is no longer running the front office . . . although in practice I suspect that his influence within the organization (or at least his voice on personnel moves) hasn't changed much in the short term.

Marc Stein
  (5:32 PM)

Still . . . given all the emails I've received over the years complaining about the Wolves' moves in recent years, I'm actually somewhat surprised that there aren't move 'Sota questions in the queue.

Marc Stein
  (5:32 PM)

We proceed nonetheless.

Fitzy (Boston, MA)

Hey Marc, love the Power Rankings. That said, how bad a GM is Kevin McHale and how could he possibly help the Wolves on the bench after Wittman was fired?

Marc Stein
  (5:33 PM)

I'd say this is the place he can most help them. Beyond all the obvious jokes about how coaching the team means he's no longer GM'ing the team, McHale is still the biggest presence in that organization and has the best chance of getting a response from an impressionable group of youngsters. By all accounts, McHale has always been a good one-on-one teacher. I will not be surprised if the Wolves play a lot harder for him, which is Step 1.

David (Brooklyn)

Is it possible that the T-Wolves' owner is dumber than the Dolans? Seriously, McHale as coach?

Marc Stein
  (5:35 PM)

THIS is the problem in Minnesota and always has been. Everyone wants to blame the GM and call him McFail, but McHale has been empowered to make all of his mistakes by Glen Taylor's unbelievably mismanaged ownership of this franchise, which is why Taylor is now being subjected to James Dolan/Isiah Thomas comparisons.

Marc Stein
  (5:35 PM)

I don't normally do this in a chat, but in the interest of time I'm going to re-submit a link to what I wrote right after Garnett was traded in the summer of 2007. http://beta.espn.go.com/nba/columns/story?columnist=stein_marc&id=2956950

Marc Stein
  (5:37 PM)

In short: Taylor has let the Wolves sink to this point more than anyone. He has the financial resources -- or at least had them in years past; can't assume he's been impervious to the global economic crisis -- to throw big money at some of the brighter minds in the game (like R.C. Buford in San Antonio) to come in and completely overhaul how the Wolves have been doing business.

Marc Stein
  (5:38 PM)

After firing Wittman, which installs McHale as coach only and doesn't officially elevate anyone to take his place, Minnesota is again set up for an overhaul at season's end. But Taylor doesn?t do overhauls. That's not his style. Instead he rehires every ex-Wolf he can find. Examples: Taylor brought back Rob Babcock almost as soon as the Raptors let Babcock go and tried to re-hire Flip Saunders within a year of firing him. This team, as much as any team in the league, needs a completely new perspective. Especially when it might have as many as four first-round picks in June . . . and especially when you consider the Wolves' dreadful drafting history (especially recently) that we covered in last week's Weekend Dime. Yet as McHale noted in his coaching press conference, he'll always have Taylor's ear . . . and probably will long after he's gone from the day-to-day operations. The Wolves make a lot of their decisions by committee anyway and I presume McHale is always going to be the most persuasive guy in the room. I know it's been suggested that general manager Jim Stack is now the point man of the Wolves' front office, with assistant Freddy Hoiberg widely expected to take charge in the near future dating back to KG's last days as a Wolf, but numerous teams have pointed out to me that Stack was already Minnesota's point man for most of the calls coming in, mainly because McHale never liked dealing with agents or doing the GM grunt work. We could go on and on here but my stance hasn't changed in the year-plus since Garnett left 'Sota: I'm convinced that nothing substantial will change with the Wolves until Taylor brings in someone from the outside or sells the team. Sorry.

Roncag, Cal State

Should the Blazers move Raef's expiring contract and say Travis Outlaw for a high-priced veteran such as Jamison or a Carter to make a serious push this year? Or just let the kiddies figure it out? Thanks!

Marc Stein
  (5:41 PM)

If they do something like that, their A scenario is getting a vet PG like Kidd or Bibby so they can maintain future flexibility. But since neither Dallas nor Atlanta is making those guys available, it gets trickier. I'm quite sure Portland wants a veteran who knows to win, but taking back a long-term deal gives them pause because of the extensions that all their young stars will be eligible for soon. You could also ask this: What's the rush? Is there a move that the Blazers could make to legitimately move into the Celtics-Lakers-Cavs tier? Don't see that as a possibility this season.

Yosi (HUGE but realistic Lakers fan)

I'm as big a Lakers fan as they come but I've watched enough basketball over the years to know that not only do I agree that the Celtics should be No. 1 in your rankings (significantly tougher schedule), but also that it's the Cavaliers and not the Lakers who should be No. 2. The facts are the facts. While Cleveland's defense has been amazing lately, the same definitely cannot be said about the Lakers' D. Notwithstanding last night's game, it seems to me that Lakers are still trying to figure things out on that side of the court.

Marc Stein
  (5:46 PM)

Ma nishma, Yosi. Appreciate your understanding nature but I can't put the Cavs ahead of the Lakers just yet. Average victory margin is only one thing out of 10 that I consider in the "human" rankings. It plays a bigger part in Hollinger's system, but ours, for example, always keeps the big picture in mind to some degree, since championship potential (for us) factors into a team's POWER ranking as well as injuries, locker-room issues, etc. The Cavs have indeed been a wrecking ball in this eight-game stretch, but I can't ignore the fact that Cleveland is just 2-2 against top-10 teams. The Lakers are 7-0 against top-10 teams. There are circumstances at work that factor into both of those records, but that was part of our equation as well.

Ken (Fredricksburg)

Steiner: Very disappointed at how you change the rules. The Cavs do not have control of their schedule at this point but they are penalized, despite manhandling their competition. You even admit that the Lakers barely escaped a "humbling road loss" to the Wizards. LAL are still one of the best but right now the Cavs are playing better ball. Up for debate? Consider looking at the Hollinger ratings.

Marc Stein
  (5:47 PM)

Ken: I honestly don't think I could be more consistent here.

Marc Stein
  (5:48 PM)

The Celts had to wait to rise to No. 1 last season when they had a cake schedule early. The Lakers have been living by the same standards this season. And now it's the Cavs' turn.

Marc Stein
  (5:49 PM)

Have to say how amused I am by all the e-mails and notes I get about average victory margin now. This is all Hollinger's fault. Before his system was invented, I never heard a word about average victory margin from readers. I get countless e-mails a day about it now.

Marc Stein
  (5:51 PM)

Here's the thing: If scoring margin is your thing, you're in luck, because there are rankings on this Web site that reward it more than my rankings. But it seems to me that, if you've got an easy chunk of schedule, it's easier to win games by double-digits.

Marc Stein
  (5:52 PM)

Which brings me to my last soapbox item of the day: SOS is not the only way to rate a team's schedule. Being on the road, to me, means as much or more than the opponent's winning percentage, as the Lakers were just reminded last week when they swung through a few Eastern Conference cities and -- voila -- encountered some tougher games. Road games, back-to-backs . . . can't focus completely on opponent winning percentage. In my view.

Marc Stein
  (5:53 PM)

OK. I think we've done enough rankings chatter for the day. Onto other matters . . .

Jason (Chicago)

"What's the rush? Is there a move that the Blazers could make to legitimately move into the Celtics-Lakers-Cavs tier?" Do you just want teams to give up because they're not in the top three? That's why they play the game, isn't it?

Marc Stein
  (5:54 PM)

Point I was trying to make: Rushing into a trade for someone else's long contract just because the team is ahead of schedule after one-fourth of this season isn't smart business. Which is probably why Portland is taking its time to sift through deals.

John (California)

Henry over at TrueHoop has a bullet today about KG and his taunting. It seems to me to be getting pretty bad. But what do you think will happen first: KG is ejected for taunting, or KG starts an "altercation" by taunting someone with a short fuse?

Marc Stein
  (5:56 PM)

I'm sure there will be a crackdown on the Celtics from the league office, either through more technicals or other means, because this is getting a lot of coverage now. When that happens, Le Commish reacts.

Statistics

Quit bashing Hollinger! He is all-knowing!

Marc Stein
  (5:58 PM)

Not bashing him at all. The Professor is one of my favorites. Plus I have tons of respect for someone good at math, because that's what my dad wanted me to be when I grew up. My only two real points of contention with him: His country (Switzerland) put a player in the NBA before mine (Israel) did and the increased spotlight he's given point margin, because that's the subject I read about in one out of every three chat questions and e-mails.

Spencer (SLC)

Stein: You have now taken over for Hollinger as the Jazz's biggest hater. On that note, what do the Jazz have to do to climb the ranks in your eyes?

Marc Stein
  (6:00 PM)

They have to A) get healthy and B) return to their usual home dominance when healthy. The real reason I ran this question, though, is because Hollinger picked the Jazz to win the West, if memory serves. So how was he ever a Jazz hater? I gotta come up with some software that wipes the word HATER out of the chat system completely.

Troy (Richmond,VA)

How many games does Marc Iavaroni have left to coach in Memphis. Also do you think O.J. Mayo will get Rookie of the Year?

Marc Stein
  (6:04 PM)

By all accounts, Iavaroni had to beat the Clips on Friday to hang on. The Grizz won that game, yet it remains to be seen how much cushion that really gave him. As for Mayo . . . you have to think Memphis' record is going to be a factor. I'm also rooting -- there, I admitted it -- for Oden to keep doing what he's doing because it would just be nice to see him get through a whole season. And if he does, he'll be in the race to some degree, although probably in the second tier behind Rose and Mayo.

Charlie (Bored at Work)

Over/Under: Two more coaches fired during this season?

Marc Stein
  (6:05 PM)

You have to take the over, given the heat being applied to Iavaroni and Theus right now.

Dave (Tustin, CA)

If the writing is on the wall and a coach knows his firing is imminent, why hang in instead of just stepping down? Aren't their salaries guaranteed at least for the season they are coaching in?

Marc Stein
  (6:07 PM)

No. Quit and they forfeit the money.

Mike Dunleavy (Los Angeles, CA)

With all these coaches getting fired, how much time do I have and am I going to lose both positions?

Marc Stein
  (6:10 PM)

Dunleavy is going nowhere. I suppose in the most extreme scenario, if the Clips lose another 16 out of 20, it's not inconceivable that Dunleavy could hand the coaching duties to assistant coach Kim Hughes and focus strictly on personnel. But he has TONS of security, with a big contract and no one else there at his authority level after Elgin Baylor's departure.

Brian (Phoenix, AZ)

Steve Kerr has not done a great job as GM. The Shaq trade was a big mistake because it is limiting Amare's potential. My question is if you think Amare will bolt the Suns in 2K10?

Marc Stein
  (6:16 PM)

The Shaq trade was Kerr's, but with input from D'Antoni and even Nash. Almost every other move the Suns have made during Kerr's tenure was a business decision, not a basketball decision. I'm fairly sure he didn't want to sell off draft picks. As for Stoudemire leaving, there's a more pertinent question: Do the Suns trade him before Amare hits free agency to start the rebuilding process? I don't think they know the answer yet, but one of our scouts surveyed in the Weekend Dime said it well: Shaq and Nash, for a variety of reasons, are super hard to move. Amare is the guy Phoenix trades if they want to do something drastic.

Marc Stein
  (6:18 PM)

PS: The Shaq trade might look shaky now, but they were playing well with him until the Game 1 disaster in San Antonio that seemed to unravel the whole franchise. Since it's highly doubtful that the Suns were big enough to compete with the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, etc., in the West had they kept Marion, our question becomes: Is there a different (better?) trade Phoenix could have made with Marion? Not so easy to answer in hindsight.

Raptors Nation

How about some Raps love? Is it time for a big move? What can Bargs and expiring contracts get us?

Marc Stein
  (6:19 PM)

Really don't see the Raps parting with Bargnani this quickly. Especially now that Colangelo has a coach who will use Bargnani differently.

John (Ny)

Sorry, Marc. Love your chats, but after we saw Kidd getting traded last year, I'm not buying Nash is hard to move. Cheers

Marc Stein
  (6:21 PM)

Didn't express myself well there. Nash is hard to move because trading him is a tough sell to a community that loves him. Not hard as in a lack of interested trade partners. It wouldn't go over well with Suns fans, that's why.

Brian (Plano, Texas)

Marc! I saw you on the floor at the Mavs-Clippers game the other night! Do you really think that the Mavericks can silence some critics and move up in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference now that they may have some of their swagger back, with JJ Barea playing a pivotal role in their recent success?

Marc Stein
  (6:25 PM)

How'd my J look? The Mavs are still one dependable player away -- preferably someone who can score and supply some athleticism off the bench -- before returning to West contention. I give them props for the recent run, because they've pulled out a lot of games when they haven't played well and after their confidence was dented by the 2-7 start, but it'd be a stretch to describe them as a top-four seed.

Shawn (Irvine, CA)

Go UCI!!! Didnt CSU Fullerton lose on Saturday Night?

Marc Stein
  (6:29 PM)

Don't they teach you guys how to read at UC Irving? I'm fairly sure that the Titans spanked Dan Majerle's Central Michigan on Saturday night; ask someone to go on the Internet and check for you.

Marc Stein
  (6:29 PM)

Thanks for all the questions, everyone. Will be traveling next Monday so back on Dec. 22. Until then . . .