Struggling Wolves fire Casey, promote Wittman

Updated: January 25, 2007, 2:27 AM ET news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin McHale thought long and hard about firing Dwane Casey on several occasions this season.

Every time he was about to pull the trigger, the Minnesota Timberwolves would reel off several victories in a row, leading McHale to believe that they were on the right track.

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After the latest roller coaster ride -- a 7-1 start to 2007 followed by four straight losses -- McHale decided he could wait no longer.

Minnesota's basketball boss called Casey on Tuesday afternoon while the team was in Portland, Ore., and delivered the news.

Casey is out. Assistant Randy Wittman is in.

"I've been in basketball 29 years, and this is going to be my first time out of basketball," Casey told ESPN Insider's Chris Sheridan. "But you understand what you're getting into when you enter this business."

ESPN's Ric Bucher first reported the firing earlier Tuesday.

A classy and soft-spoken personality, Casey was given just 1 seasons in his first head coaching job. He went 33-49 in his first year, a season made more difficult by an eight-player trade in midseason that upset team chemistry.

"Every time you thought, 'I just don't know how this is going to go,' we'd turn around and win three or four in a row," McHale said. "With 42 games left to go, we wanted to make sure Randy had the time to get things going."

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After a 106-91 loss to Utah on Monday night, the Timberwolves were 20-20 and in eighth place in the competitive Western Conference.

"Case is a tremendous guy," McHale said. "I couldn't find a negative thing to say about him."

That didn't stop McHale from turning to a longtime acquaintance to try and instill the consistency in effort and playing style that Casey never could.

"I'm not bitter," Casey told Sheridan. "It's a situation where today we're in the playoffs. I'm proud that I've given them a lot of hard days' work and never shortchanged them."

Wittman has spent nearly 10 seasons as an assistant in Minnesota during three different stints, including the last 31 games of the 2004-05 season under McHale, who took over after firing longtime coach Flip Saunders.

McHale said he was asked to take the job again this time, presumably by owner Glen Taylor, but declined. He said having Wittman already on staff, who was brought on as an assistant from Orlando before the season to help Casey with X's and O's and game management, made it easier to fire Casey.

Picking Their Poison?
Dwane Casey
Randy Wittman
The Timberwolves fired Dwane Casey (left) on Tuesday and Randy Wittman was named the team's new coach. Neither has had a sterling record in their brief NBA head-coaching stints.
Dwane Casey
Randy Wittman

Wittman has been a head coach before. He went 62-102 at the helm of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1999-2001.

"We all feel part of the problem, and we all are," Wittman said after practice Tuesday in Portland. "Now we have to rectify why is it. I'm going to try to figure that out."

Taylor did not return phone messages left by The Associated Press.

Ultimately it's the players who have to perform better, McHale said. The ups and downs have been too drastic this season for a former Boston Celtics great who epitomized hard work.

"I've seen us play and beat some of the best teams in the league and I've seen us play and lose to some of the worst teams in the league," McHale said. "I just don't know."

A perfect example came last week, when the Wolves started the week with an impressive victory at Detroit, then followed it up with an ugly 105-88 loss at home to lowly Atlanta.

Those kinds of swings were commonplace in Casey's tenure, and now it's up to Wittman to try and smooth out that erratic play.

"The coach can only do so much," swingman Ricky Davis said. "A lot of it had to do with our not being together."

The Timberwolves are seven games behind Utah in the Northwest Division, but if the season ended Tuesday, they would make the playoff field in the eighth and final spot.

"I've seen us play and beat some of the best teams in the league and I've seen us play and lose to some of the worst teams in the league. I just don't know."
--Timberwolves VP of basketball operations Kevin McHale

That's not enough for Taylor, who knows the Timberwolves have to show much more improvement to placate star Kevin Garnett, who is growing increasingly impatient with the mediocrity.

Garnett said everybody in basketball knows the coach "is the captain of the boat. Now Randy has the chance to voice his opinion, and he did that today."

The changes started Tuesday, and more might be on the way.

McHale said he is looking at some trades to even out the team's guard-heavy roster and bring a boost to the front court.

"We don't want to be the eighth seed," McHale said. "I think we're better than the eighth seed."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.