Zach Harper is the host of ESPN.com’s Daily Dime Live and a contributor to numerous TrueHoop Network blogs. He is also a Timberwolves fan.
Rahat: To begin, was there any one thing, in your mind, that characterized Kevin McHale’s coaching stints with the Wolves?
Zach: One thing that characterized McHale’s coaching stint with the Wolves is failure. It’s not that he was bad as a coach; it’s just that he decided to step in to take the responsibility of having a bad team. When he first took over the coaching position, he pulled a team from being a game under .500 and made them a winner for the season. He got guys to be competitive. In the second stint, he made a really awful team competitive, despite Randy Foye being the second best player on the team. So while I’d like to say that McHale’s stint was characterized by making teams competitive, I think it’s too mired in the failure before it to ignore that aspect.
Rahat: You mention that he made bad teams competitive. Was that achieved through motivational charm or is he better with x’s and o’s than he is given credit for?
Zach: I think players, especially when KG and Cassell were in the mix during his first coaching stint, respect the pedigree. I know that sounds cliché but these guys know and respect what McHale has done in the league. And with him being such a smart and dangerous player, along with having a reputation of being tough (Rambis clothesline), guys are going to take his word on basketball related matters. However, that can only take you so far. He basically ran the same sets in his first stint as Flip was doing because he didn’t want to change the system too much. The second time around, it was a bit more chaotic because the team had gone through so much turnover with the roster from the previous season and they just didn’t have a lot of talent.
I think Kevin has a very good idea on the basics of X’s and O’s. I think he knows where guys should be both offensively and defensively in basic defenses and quick hitting plays. But it’s not a terribly elaborate scheme overall and his staff of assistants are going to be extremely influential on what exactly they run and how they gameplan and attack each opponent.
Rahat: You mention his assistants and their likely level of influence. Theres a thinking that the front office will have quite a bit of say into game decisions. Does Kevin strike you as someone open to new ideas and collaboration?
Zach: I think Kevin is definitely open to new ideas. He’s able to joke about and recognize that his time building the Timberwolves was not really a success. Sure, they made the playoffs a bunch of years in a row, had multiple All-Stars and one of the best players of the decade. But they were constantly scrambling to add players, drafted horribly and gave out a big contract to Troy Hudson. Kevin recognizes that his views on the team might not always be the right way to go, so I think when you’re talking about assistant coaches (especially ones that are probably more well versed in X’s and O’s) giving input, he would absolutely be open and willing to implement their thoughts into his overall philosophy.
Rahat: While there may not be many expectations as almost everyone expects them to fail, it would certainly be nice for the Rockets if 7-footers Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill became consistent contributors. The amount of work McHale put in with Kevin Garnett has been well-documented. Can you speak to his eagerness in developing young big men and how much time he sets aside for that apart from actual team coaching?
Zach: I don’t really know how much time he set apart from actual team coaching while he was the coach, but when he was making the decisions as the Wolves head guy, he loved working with Kevin Garnett. KG was a special brand of intense and competitive, which McHale could really identify with. If you have guys willing to put in the work, you’ve got a coach willing to teach them the ways of the post move. There has never been a better teacher for teaching post moves. He knows every counter to every defensive positioning, and he can get your skilled big men to be more than adequate with this process. But they’re going to have to be willing to listen and more willing to learn.
Rahat: Zach, finally, I wanted to get your take on Jonny Flynn who the Rockets acquired on draft night. He’s a former high lottery pick but has been, for the most part, terrible thus far. Is there any hope there?
Zach: Jonny is not the lost cause we make him out to be. But he’s also probably not capable of justifying his draft position. Jonny is quick but not quick enough. Jonny can score but not score well enough. I made the remark that Houston fans should expect to get Aaron Brooks back, only if Brooks had his powers taken away by the MonStars. Throw Jonny into a pick-and-roll heavy system and you’ll see him thrive a bit. He still is questionable at running a team and his defense will probably never be good. But he could be a spark off the bench if he buys into the system and gets some confidence back.
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