An NBA basketball team finally got fed up with its overpaid, underperforming players and lackluster record.
The Minnesota Timberwolves decided to take action, forcing out veteran coach Flip Saunders and "reassigning" him within their organization. It was the fifth coaching change in the NBA this year.
Saunders wasn’t a terrible coach, either. In nine-plus seasons Saunders led Minnesota to a 411-326 record, including a franchise best 58-24 high water mark last season.
However, the Wolves were 25-26 at the time of his firing and had slid into an abyss of low energy performances and contract bickering. Besides superstar and MVP Kevin Garnett (who has been playing with a sore knee all season), not a single player has lived up to expectations, including disgruntled guard/forward Latrell Sprewell, who claimed at the beginning of the year that his $8 million a year contract wasn’t enough to "feed [his] family."
In a surprise move, Vice President of Basketball Operations and former Celtic great Kevin McHale decided to take on head coaching duties for the rest of the season. Though he has said in multiple interviews that being a head coach of an NBA team isn’t desirable, McHale is one of the few voices in the franchise that commands enough respect to motivate a very bored, unconfident team.
McHale’s new role will only be on an interim basis until a proper search can be conducted at season’s end. After losing to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, it seems as if even the legendary Kevin McHale might not be able to stop the freefall this year.
The lackluster play of the Timberwolves has more to do with their aging, grumpy backcourt combo of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell than any coaching deficiencies. It was an intrusive, angry owner that forced Kevin McHale to fire his longtime friend and step into a job he never really sought.
In a freefall of their own, the Blazers suits may face a similar situation, but they would do well to examine the mess in Minneapolis before making too many moves.
The Blazers’ poor play of late is indicative of franchise wide problems, from the ownership on down to the water boy. Mo Cheeks’ job has been in jeopardy since basically the start of the season, and now that the Blazers have dropped their second straight decision (an 80-81 failure in Houston Sunday) to move to 20-29 on the year, there will be voices calling for his head again.
Those voices will say he has lost his players. Perhaps he never even had them to begin with. Unlike Minnesota, a franchise that refused to extend the contracts of archaic former stars Sprewell and Cassell, the Blazers were their usual foolish selves.
At the beginning of the season, Blazer management signed both Zach Randolph and Darius Miles to expensive, multiyear contracts. Both of those players have had long stretches of injury and are currently both languishing on the bench, making them two of the most costly backups in the League (and causing friction about playing time).
There is no light at the end of the tunnel for either franchise. The Timberwolves’ hands were forced and they had to make a hard decision that ended up costing them a talented and loyal employee and probably the rest of the season and a playoff run.
The Blazers’ season is lost without a doubt, and they will most likely find themselves in another PR mess when they have to make the inevitable call to Mo telling him that it’s his time to go, too. It will be just another in a long line of failures, and it won’t even be Cheeks’ fault.