McHale Reflects on History With Garnett
McHale was the Minnesota executive in 1995 who took a chance and selected Garnett directly out of high school with the draft's No. 5 pick. Garnett ended up changing the NBA with the opening of the floodgates for players entering the league directly from high school until an age limit was established in 2005, and later due to the massive six-year, $126 million contract extension he signed in 1997.
On Tuesday night, Garnett, his Celtics leading 3-2 in the NBA Finals, was trying to win his second title in three years since the Timberwolves shipped the star forward to Boston in the summer of 2007. And McHale, who was let go by Minnesota last summer after moving from executive to coach, was on hand as an analyst for NBA TV.
"It's always a risk because you don't know truly at the end of the day,'' McHale said in an interview with FanHouse about the selection of Garnett as the first player drafted by the NBA directly out of high school in 20 years. "If the draft was a science, (New England quarterback) Tom Brady wouldn't go until the sixth round. Karl Malone wouldn't be the 13th pick (in 1985).
"(Garnett) had just a love for the game. He really wanted to play, wanted to be really good. ... If you had looked at Kevin, I would have told you I would have been surprised when we drafted him he was as durable as he's been because he was as skinny as a rail.''
Before coming to Boston in 2007, Garnett didn't miss more than six games in any of his 12 Minnesota seasons. He has missed 48 the past three regular-seasons and sat out the entire 2009 playoffs due to a knee injury, but don't think for a picosecond Garnett has any regrets about having agreed to the blockbuster 2007 deal.
"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can't get youth back,'' Garnett said last month about wishing he had pushed earlier to be dealt from a mediocre Minnesota team. "I can honestly say that if I could go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I'd have done it a little sooner."
McHale heard Garnett make those comments. He said the huge contract extension Garnett signed in 1997, which played a key role in there being a lockout in 1988-99 and the NBA eventually instituting maximum salaries, hampered Minnesota's ability to improve.
"That's always a tough thing,'' said McHale, who starred with the Celtics from 1980-93 and admits he's rooting for them in the Finals but that it doesn't affect his on-air objectivity. "He signed that huge contract, and that huge contract was somewhat prohibiting the team from going out and finding other people (due to Garnett eating up so much of the salary cap). So it was a two-way street. He did the right thing. The money was offered. He took it. It was right before the new collective bargaining agreement."
Had Garnett signed to the maximum salaries that are now in place, McHale agreed it could have led to "three or four players" being added to the mix to help Garnett and the Timberwolves. McHale talked about how money ultimately played a role in the decision to trade Garnett after the Timberwolves had missed the playoffs three straight seasons.
"Kevin wanted a contract extension,'' McHale said of Garnett, whose contract then ran through 2009 with the ability to opt out in the summer of 2008 and leave. "I brought what his agent (Andy Miller) had said that he wanted for three years, and our owner (Glen Taylor) said, 'Well, we're not going to do that, and then we're going to trade him.'''
McHale said there were "only three or four teams in that sweepstakes'' for Garnett because many other teams learned about Garnett's money demands and said "that's going to be too rich for our blood.'' When the trade got done with Boston, Garnett also agreed to sign a three-year, $60 million contract extension that began this season and runs through 2011-12.
Nearly three years has passed since the deal, and McHale still hears cracks alleging he traded Garnett to the Celtics because he once starred for them and because Boston general manager Danny Ainge is his former teammate and a good friend. Even before the start of these Finals, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "Kevin McHale gave them Kevin Garnett.''
Asked about Jackson's comment, McHale said, "It doesn't bother me.'' He said Garnett went to Boston because the Timberwolves were able to get a top player in forward Al Jefferson, some other young players, draft picks and financial relief.
Regardless, Garnett has been a boon for the Celtics. After winning just two playoff series in 12 years in Minnesota, Garnett is close to his second ring in three Boston seasons.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson