After a franchise record of 58 wins, a division title and getting past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history a year ago, it seemed like the Minnesota Timberwolves were on the right track. Then came this season, when things totally changed.
After a 100-82 setback on Friday night to the Utah Jazz on the road, the T’Wolves, who lost in six games to the Los Angles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale fired head coach and friend Flip Saunders.
McHale called his long-time friend and teammate from their collegiate days with the Minnesota Golden Golfers basketball team on Saturday morning to break the news to him.
“It was very, very hard,” said McHale to reporters at a press conference that day. “I’ve known Flip for a long, long time and it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing at all. You don’t want to go through those things. That’s for sure.”
Saunders who took over the team half way through the 1995-96 season, will be reassigned within the T’Wolves organization.
The main reason behind the coaching change according to McHale is that the team in their last 32 games has gone 12-20 and lost seven of their last eight games going into Sunday’s game versus the Chicago Bulls.
“Were just not playing at a level that’s acceptable energy-wise,” said McHale, who will be coaching the team the remainder of this season.
There are a number of other reasons why Minnesota has not played up to par this season. For starters, guard Sam Cassell who had a averaged career-highs of 19.8 points per game, shot 48.8 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from three-point ranged reported late to training camp, missed the first day of training camp because of injury and unhappiness with his contract.
Latrell Sprewell, the team’s third leading scorer a year ago (16.8 ppg) has not fit in as well along side super star forward Kevin Garnett as he did a year ago. On top of that, he had the opportunity to get a huge contract extension, but turned it down on Nov. 4 making the comment claiming he needed to “feed my family.”
The question now is, will the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had the best record and home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs last season, even make the playoffs?
ESPN NBA analyst Mark Jackson believes they will not. “The reason being is because you have one superstar surrounded by a bunch of role players, that had their best possible season last year. This is Kevin McHale trying to play trump card. Coming down, trying to cry out to his players, ‘Please give me something.’ ”
With all the turmoil that the T’Wolves are trying to get resolved right now, their only concern is the health of their superstar forward Kevin Garnett.
ESPN Analyst Marc Stein reported on the Saturday night edition of Sportscenter, Kevin Garnett, last season’s Most Valuable Player has been playing with some very serious pain in his knee.
“To have any chance any chance to get back in the playoff race, they need Kevin Garnett at full strength,” said Stein. Meaning that they need the “MVP KG” who last season ranked 3rd in the NBA in scoring at 24.2 ppg and 1st in rebounding at 13.9 according to nba.com.