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Why Minnesota Turned Toxic

May 16, 2009 – 11:30 AM
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Tom Ziller

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News this week that Randy Pfund, the former Heat GM who publicly announced his interest in the Timberwolves job, had withdrawn his name from consideration drew raised eyebrows at the least. Pfund, after all, has few front office prospects -- the market is just dry for personnel bosses right now. And just weeks ago he really pushed for consideration in Minnesota. What gives?

Marc Stein of ESPN.com has a clue. And that clue's name is Kevin McHale.

Stein reports this morning that Wolves owner Glen Taylor will force his new general manager to keep McHale as coach, should McHale desire the job. When the season ended, Taylor said the opposite, refusing to guarantee McHale his job as head coach with the new GM being allowed final say. It's a pretty remarkable turn-around, and one which obviously has sent prospective candidates fleeing. Pfund is the second candidate to withdraw consideration; Spurs assistant GM (and long-time Rockets exec) Dennis Lindsey pulled his name out after his first interview with Taylor.

The most popular rumor of recent times had been that Taylor had mandated that franchise golden boy Fred Hoiberg stay in a leadership role in the front office. You can see why this might give pause to serious candidates -- it's difficult to remake a team when you have to keep the old regime in certain important roles. (Assistant general managers are really important in today's NBA.)

But the McHale issue is a bit of a different beast, and honestly more benign. Many, many teams hire coaches before general managers. At some point you'll hear the ol' "he wants his own coach" thing, but incumbent coaches and new GMs can last a while. (See: Eddie Jordan, Ernie Grunfeld.) The bigger worry with Stein's report is that Taylor doesn't have a clue what he wants, and for all his talk about rebuilding he stills holds on to these reminders of the lean years ... in powerful positions.

Regardless, it appears Taylor does have his man, a GM willing to keep McHale (if McHale wants) and Hoiberg: Tom Penn, Portland's cap expert. Stein reports that Penn may already be considering an offer from Taylor, and could be installed soon. Some have questioned whether Penn has the requisite experience to do a good job in Minnesota. I'd argue that learning at the foot of Jerry West and Kevin Pritchard ain't a bad pedigree.
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