McHale patiently awaiting Timberwolves#039; arrival

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin McHale has more patience than most Minnesota fans can handle.

McHale, the vice president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, is willing to wait and see what the current team will develop into. He feels the T'wolves -- fresh off the best regular season in franchise history (51-31) -- have already closed the gap considerably on the leaders of the Western Conference despite losing their seventh straight postseason playoff.

McHale knows what it takes to achieve greatness in the NBA. The Hibbing native and University of Minnesota graduate was a part of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won three championships in the 1980s.

Email newsletter signup

Securing free agents such as starting center Radoslav "Rasho" Nesterovic, swingman Kendall Gill and power forward Gary Trent seem the obvious way to start spending owner Glen Taylor's money, but the pocketbook will need to run pretty deep if the Timberwolves intend to dip into the free agent pool.

Unrestricted free agents Gary Payton in Milwaukee and NBA Finalist Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets head a short list of available top-tier point guards, and the upcoming draft (June 26) has a considerable list of impact players at the position. McHale is not allowed to comment on free agents until July 1, and no offers can be made until July 15.

Minnesota is already talking contract extension with All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, but McHale refused to go into details while speaking at Wednesday's annual meeting of the Minnesota Associated Press Sports Association. Garnett has one year remaining on his $126 million contract.

Re-signing Garnett is obviously the only choice the T'wolves have, as McHale offered, "unless you can tell me someone else we can build around.

"You make contract offers and hope he takes it," McHale said. "You can't chain him up. You do everything you can and hope it's a good situation and he wants to be here."

Brandon for bait

With injury-riddled point guard Terrell Brandon soaking up $23.2 million dollars over the next two years, the Timberwolves will likely try to strike up a deal to get rid of him and clear up some cash. And despite Taylor's stingy history, McHale has faith that the bankroll will open up when the right deal is on the line.

"Everybody is going out there for the same couple guys," McHale said of the free agent market. "He's willing to spend money to improve the team, but he's a businessman.

"We'd like to add a couple guys to the mix we have, get over the hump and try to become a better team. You've got to have patience."

McHale insists that the squad currently assembled in the Twin Cities is just now coming into its own and will only improve. Wally Szczerbiak, 26, is signed through 2009 and Troy Hudson, 27, has another year left on his deal. Garnett, Nesterovic and Joe Smith are just 27 as well.

The Timberwolves will also have a first-round draft pick for the first time since 1999. Minnesota took Marcus Taylor in the second round (52nd overall) last year, but cut the Michigan State guard before the season started.

McHale fully expects to get a competitor with the 26th pick of this year's draft. Minnesota took Szczerbiak as the sixth pick in 1999, and Duke guard William Avery has since moved on to Philadelphia since being the 14th overall selection by the T'wolves in the same draft.

McHale rates Rickert

University of Minnesota sophomore Rick Rickert recently signed himself to an agent and will no longer be eligible to return to the Gophers. Rickert, a 6-11 forward, averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in Minneapolis this season -- his last collegiately.

"He needed to stay in school, that's my opinion," McHale said. "The one thing that's probably a little disconcerting is that they have such a false sense of security that they belong in the NBA. I think you're a lot better off if you have a healthy fear of who you're playing against."

Rickert has been projected to go as early as a late first-round selection, but McHale sees his mirror image slipping into the second round.

"I think you develop a lot more playing in college against guys your size," McHale said. "He does have something to work with, but the NBA is a different league."

Rickert, like McHale, went to the University of Minnesota and was an All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer. Rickert won Freshman of the Year honors two seasons ago and got wide-eyed with the opportunity of the NBA youth movement staring him in the face. McHale and Rickert were both named Mr. Basketball while leading their high school teams to state runner-up in their senior seasons.

"College is a lot different than the NBA," McHale said. "Your best college team put together couldn't beat the worst team in the NBA."

High schooler LeBron James is almost assured to be Cleveland's top pick in this year's draft.

King James

James will have difficulty living up to all the hype this season, according to McHale, but admits the high schooler will likely carry a young Cavaliers squad on his back in the near future.

"He still is a young kid, but he knows how to play basketball," McHale said. "The pressure on him is too much, it's not even fair. But he's one of those guys who don't come along very often."

Skeptics wonder if NCAA champion Carmelo Anthony, a Syracuse freshman, would be a better No. 1 pick in the NBA because of his year of experience at the collegiate level, but McHale said James is still a no-brainer to be taken first.

"Whatever it is, LeBron James has it," McHale added. "I don't know that anybody in our league would think twice about that."