Rockets head coach Kevin McHale was fired by the Timberwolves after the 2008-09 season.
Benny Sieu/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS — Another return. Another slew of Kevin McHale one-liners in regard to his 15 years in the Timberwolves’ front office.
The latest exchange, following Houston’s shootaround Monday morning:
Reporter 1: "Is it special when you come back here, or have you been back here enough?" McHale: "I’ve been back here enough. It’s cold. I know that much. It hasn’t warmed up much."
Reporter 2: "Going back to 2003 . . ."
(McHale rolls his eyes.)
Reporter 2 continues: ". . . it’s the 10th anniversary of that season (Minnesota’s last playoff appearance, when McHale was vice president of basketball operations and in charge of assembling the roster). When you go back there –"
McHale cuts him off. "I’m not going back to 2003. I forgot 2003. Next question."
Reporter 3: "What are some of your best memories here?"
McHale: "Fishing, being with my dad hunting in woods. Those are my best memories of Minnesota."
And roughly two hours before Monday night’s game against the Timberwolves, when asked about his relationship with former coach Flip Saunders, McHale said "I’m in Houston. He’s in Minneapolis."
Each year, it becomes more apparent McHale has little interest in reminiscing about the place he spent most of his post-playing days.
Not with the way things ended — McHale first fired Saunders, now the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations, in 2005, then was canned himself following the 2008-09 season.
Not so far removed from his time here — McHale currently oversees a squad led by Dwight Howard and James Harden that’s currently in the Western Conference’s fifth playoff spot and won five straight games and eight of its past 10 heading into Monday night’s matchup at the Target Center.
But it won’t be just some bitter, bristly former employee pacing in front of the visitors’ bench Monday night. Outside of the media scrums, McHale maintains his reputation as one of the league’s best storytellers. After shaking hands and chatting with Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Rob Babcock, McHale vindicated it with a tale about longtime Minnesota equipment manager Clayton Wilson, chatting with reporters as they exited the Target Center.
Their recorders and cameras were either turned off or packed away.
Harden said he’s grown fond of his coach’s ability to tie the past with the present when communicating with his players.
"He cuts off the old cloth," the Rockets shooting guard said. "He’s gonna tell you stories about what you should do and how he played, how we need to be more physical, and he’s just gonna give it to you straight-up. That’s the kind of leadership we need, especially as young guys, and not sugarcoat anything to make us go out there and get it done."
Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, who played for McHale during part of his rookie season, drew comparisons to current coach Rick Adelman.
"Kevin was a lot like Rick: a players’ coach," Love said. "I loved playing for him. He’s a great guy to know on and off the floor, and I learned a lot from him."
Some of the success stories have to come from McHale’s time as Minnesota’s general manager, when he drafted Kevin Garnett and oversaw eight straight playoff teams culminating with a Western Conference finals trip in 2004 — that season McHale "forgot" about.
Easier to actually move on from, though, are the Timberwolves’ seven straight first-round postseason defeats under him, a secret under-the-table deal with Joe Smith that saw five first-round draft picks stripped and David Kahn’s announcement that McHale had been let go, among other gaffes that resonate from McHale’s tenure here.
Those years here were a time of great achievement and failure. Anymore, McHale isn’t all that wont to let you know what he thinks about either of them.
Harden here?: Harden allows himself to consider what might have been.
The day before the 2009 NBA Draft, he flew to the Twin Cities and worked out for the Timberwolves. But before they could snag him with one of their two top-six selections, Oklahoma City jumped in and took the Arizona State product third overall.
Minnesota ended up with Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the draft’s fifth and sixth picks.
"It is what it is," Harden said after recounting the story. "It turned out well."
The Thunder and Rockets have to agree. In three years with Oklahoma City, Harden averaged 12.7 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting, won the 2011-12 NBA sixth man of the year award and helped the Thunder to the NBA Finals that same season. Since being traded to Houston, he’s blossomed into one of the league’s premier shooting guards, averaging 25.2 points and 5.3 assists per contest.
His 23.7 points per game rank eighth in the NBA.
Morning off: Even after having the day off Sunday, the Timberwolves opted not to hold a morning shootaround Monday.
From Wednesday to Saturday of last week, they played four games in five nights, and Adelman thought his team could use the extra rest. That allowed Love to return from a one-game absence due to a left-quad contusion, while Nikola Pekovic (right-ankle bursitis) and Kevin Martin (left thumb fracture) remained out of the lineup.
All three players missed Saturday’s home loss to Portland, and both Pekovic and Martin are expected to be out until after the All-Star break.