McHale: 'We have a long way to go'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin McHale moved in for a closer look at the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves, knowing full well that his new title will not, by any means, guarantee a quick fix.

"Lots and lots and lots of stuff to clean up," McHale said Sunday after his debut as Minnesota's coach, an 87-83 loss to Chicago.

The Timberwolves (25-27), expected to build off their appearance in last season's Western Conference finals and contend for an NBA title, have been perhaps the league's most disappointing team.

With no signs of consistency or improvement, McHale -- the team's vice president of basketball operations -- was forced to fire his longtime friend Flip Saunders. Since Minnesota remains only 1½ games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the West's final playoff spot, there's still time to salvage something from this season.

Of course, not too many teams with championship aspirations change coaches in February.

Is it too late?

"We can't think like that," point guard Troy Hudson said. "We're definitely off the track as far as where we want to be, but we still have a lot of games left."

McHale, who has no coaching experience, was on the sideline for the first time since his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics ended in 1993. He looked a little out of his element, wearing a long gray sport coat over a black mock turtleneck -- occasionally leaving his chair to talk to a player on the court.

Shouting from the bench, he was mostly encouraging -- though clearly frustrated by the outcome. The energy level was acceptable, but this team is still not functioning properly. Not rebounding well enough, not running the fast break enough.

"We have a long way to go," McHale said.

His first priority, however, is to reinstill a consistent fire in this bunch that has looked listless on several occasions.

"I just want guys that will play hard and compete," McHale said. "If you compete and fight, good things will happen."

Assistants Randy Wittman and Sidney Lowe have been head coaches before, but Taylor and McHale both felt the team needed a different voice.

"That's management, so we just do our part," Hudson said. "We go out on the court and try to play hard every night. If that's his assessment of it, I guess that's how he feels and that's his decision."

Since McHale already spends a significant amount of time with the team in the gym, especially with the post players, it shouldn't be that sharp of a transition.

"He knows the team," guard Fred Hoiberg said. "He's at practice every day. I think maybe he's a more hands-on (executive) than most.

"He sees what he thinks should be done, and he's going to demand that. That's the kind of coach I think he's going to be. He was a no-nonsense player, and I think he's going to be a no-nonsense coach," he said.

Owner Glen Taylor was sorry to see Saunders go after 10 seasons.

"Is this really all Flip's fault?" Taylor said. "It certainly isn't. But who can you change? And what changes can you make?"

The Timberwolves have been trying to make a trade and still might do that before the league's Feb. 24 deadline, but nothing was panning out in that area -- and a switch on the sideline became their best option.

"If I would see our players out there working as hard as they could and we lost," Taylor said, "I wouldn't be so disappointed."

Bulls coach Scott Skiles was also a midseason replacement, in 1993.

"These are difficult jobs no matter when you start," Skiles said, "but I don't think it would be anyone's preference to come in now."