Minny minus the Big Ticket is mostly owner's fault

12/30/2009 - NBA

It's a trade so big that the NBA's 2007-08 schedule, which was due to be released Tuesday, had to be recalled and revised for reissue later this week to make sure the league's new hot team gets more national TV time.

It's a trade so big that the BREAKING NEWS box in the bottom-right corner of your ESPNEWS screen, on baseball's trade deadline day, mostly belonged to the basketball wheeler-dealers.

It's a trade so big that David Stern might actually be half-smiling somewhere, knowing that his broken-down Eastern Conference and a long-suffering signature franchise have suddenly been lifted … temporarily shoving Stern's nightmarish referee scandal to the background as a bonus.

Big Ticket to Boston?

It's so huge and electric that you can barely get the breathless masses to pause and consider what happens to the poor, little Timberwolves from here. No one outside of the Twin Cities, anyway.

Well …

If it makes you feel any better, 'Sota: I care.

OK, OK. I know that doesn't make you feel any better, but something has to be said about Kevin McHale at a time when fans who've been baying for his ouster for months are shrieking louder than ever.

Something like: It's not McHale's fault.

Correction: It's not all McHale's fault.

There really is a bigger culprit in Minnesota than the guy who's been branded McFail. Try Wolves owner Glen Taylor.

Taylor is the enabler who has kept the overmatched McHale in the job for so long.

Taylor is the confrontation-fearing boss who, according to some team insiders, doesn't keep close enough tabs on his ballclub to understand how big the mess is.

Taylor is the final-say decision maker who waited and waited and waited for a Trade Me demand from Garnett that was never going to come, refusing to take the initiative when it became clear that moving KG and starting over was in the Wolves' best interests at least a year ago. All because he was hoping Minnesota's favorite son would bail him PR-wise by asking out first.

A big part of Garnett still wanted to retire a Timberwolf in spite of his growing frustration with his bosses. He couldn't even imagine anything else until June, when Taylor, according to club sources, went to Garnett and informed his stunned franchise player that Garnett's ongoing contractual presence was stunting the club's progress as much (or more) than any of management's many mistakes.

That's undoubtedly why you heard all those thinly veiled swipes at Taylor from the normally restrained Garnett at Tuesday night's press conference in Boston, including this surprise amendment to KG's legendary loyalty: "I guess at the end of the day, I'm loyal to a point where I feel if someone's loyal to me, then I have no problem with that. But when that changes, it's pretty easy for me [to move on]."

There was nothing easy about what the Wolves had to do in the past 72 hours, given Garnett's iconic status around town. But I'm fairly certain that it would have worked out better for them if Taylor had seen what he's now describing as obvious when the same signs were there 12 months ago, after Minnesota had missed the playoffs for a second straight season.

In June 2006, as my Chicago Tribune colleague Sam Smith has repeatedly noted, Minnesota could have swapped Garnett for Luol Deng, Tyson Chandler and the No. 2 overall pick in the '06 draft. Taylor instead preferred to hold off -- even though everyone was projecting the Wolves to miss the playoffs again -- and then authorize McHale a year later to make a trade with his old Celtics buddy Danny Ainge. The deal netted five players and two first-round picks in exchange for Garnett … but only one guaranteed starter in Al Jefferson.

That's one out of seven players.

Yet holding onto KG until they almost had to beg for a package featuring the still-developing Jefferson, cap relief in the form of Theo Ratliff's contract and a couple of so-so draft picks might not even be the Wolves' worst misstep in this whole saga.

What I've never understood, given that the Wolves' unraveling began all the way back in the fall of 2004, is why a businessman as successful outside of basketball as Taylor hasn't realized that he might want to use his considerable resources to make a big-bucks run at an executive like San Antonio's R.C. Buford or Dallas' Donnie Nelson. Someone from a successful organization to come in, supplant McHale and really tear this one down after years of decay.

Taylor, to his credit, has resources and has always been willing to spend them on the Wolves, committing $226 million on Garnett's last two contracts alone. He also sanctioned the expensive and gutsy acquisitions of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to speed Minnesota's recovery from the crippling Joe Smith affair.

The Wolves, though, have been desperate since their breakthrough 2003-04 season for a winner from the outside to sweep through and infuse the executive suite with a totally new mind-set. For a project as monumental as moving Garnett, they needed a point man who, unlike McHale, hasn't been moaning for years about how much he dreads dealing with agents and fellow executives and everything else connected to the business of basketball. They probably need that fresh (but proven) voice now more than ever, with Garnett gone and a raft of generally unwanted Celtics castoffs on the roster around the real prospects: Jefferson, Randy Foye and Corey Brewer.

But that's not the Taylor Way. That would be letting McHale stay as long as he likes, stalling when the hole grows deeper and deeper and refusing to reach beyond a circle of thinkers mired in a lengthy personnel slump, as evidenced by Taylor's almost immediate rehiring of Rob Babcock after Babcock flamed out in Toronto.

The Taylor Way? That would be consenting to fire Flip Saunders halfway through the 2004-05 season, as Taylor did, and then trying to bring him back as coach a few months later. As Taylor did.

None of this is meant to suggest that Garnett can leave the only NBA town he's ever known without taking some blame with him. A player of his stature simply doesn't miss the playoffs for three successive seasons, no matter what's around him and not even in the ridiculously competitive West.

But the biggest slice of scorn has to be thrust onto Taylor, before either of the Kevins. Yes, McHale included.

Deals of this magnitude, remember, always play out at the ownership level. Garnett was traded when and for whom he was because Taylor decided it would be so.

Fact is, McHale probably fared better in this trade than skeptics around the league expected. (Or have you forgotten Sam Cassell and a first-round pick going to the Clippers in a sign-and-trade for Marko Jaric?)

Four young players, Ratliff's cap-friendly deal and two first-round picks even start to sound pretty good when you compare that to what the Philadelphia 76ers got for Charles Barkley in 1993: Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.

For history to show McHale any level of kindness, mind you, that one guaranteed starter Minnesota received in return -- Jefferson -- will have to become a regular All-Star and an undeniable building block.
In the ultra-competitive ridiculous West.

Yet not even the rumblings from other teams about McHale only wanting to talk trade with "former Celtics," as one peer puts it, bother me as much as the Wolves' huge -- H-U-G-E -- waste of having the wherewithal to spend until Jerry West would say yes, and still never refurnishing the office.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.