Few remember the post-Cassell/Sprewell Timberwolves teams fondly, but they really weren't that bad. In 2004-05, Flip Saunders' last season at the helm, the Wolves finished one game out of the eighth seed. That summer, Kevin McHale traded Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric and Latrell Sprewell decided $7 million a year wasn't enough cash for his services.
Casey took over for '05-06, and the Wolves regressed to 33-49. But that overstates the problem: as I've noted before, Minnesota actually had a better record than Sacramento at the time of the Peja Stojakovic-Ron Artest trade. The Kings took a chance on the trade market, and ended up with the eighth seed (and a thrilling six-game series with San Antonio). The Wolves decided to blatantly tank -- this is the season of the infamous Mark Madsen game, in which Mad Dog took seven threes in Minnesota's final game -- and ended up hanging Casey with a really bad record.
But the following season, the Wolves improved. Casey had that bizarre roster -- the four players receiving the most minutes other than Kevin Garnett were Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Trenton Hassell and Mike James -- at 20-20, threatening for the eighth seed and holding the league's No. 9 defense. (Yes. Mark Blount the starting center and Mike James the starting point guard on a top 10 defense. Boggles the mind.) And McHale canned Casey for ... Randy Wittman. And what was McHale's reasoning?
In announcing the dismissal and the promotion of assistant coach Randy Wittman to the head job, the team president, Kevin McHale, said he felt the team's talent level was consistent with the 2004 squad, which won 58 games.For those scoring at home, Ricky Davis is no Latrell Sprewell, Mike James is no Sam Cassell, Trenton Hassell is no Wally Szczerbiak, and Mark Blount is no ... well, OK. Mark Blount compares with Ervin Johnson and Michael Olowokandi pretty fairly. I'll give you that one, McHale.
The firing was dumb, but NBA execs dumbly fire coaches all the time. But saying that Casey had underperformed with the team would be enough. Trying to reason that the team should have been expected to win something like 58 games is just stupid, and insulting. I mean, the Spurs won 58 games in 2006-07. Maybe Tim Duncan and Garnett match up evenly, but Ricky Davis + Mike James aren't quite Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, you know?
This is all a really long-winded, unnecessarily detailed reasoning of why I'm glad Casey is getting a hard look from Philadelphia. Many fired NBA coaches do not deserve another chance. Casey clearly does, and I think he'd be a good fit for a 76er team that will clearly bake their bread with defense.