MINNEAPOLIS -- Randy Wittman learned one thing after taking
over as interim coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves midway through
"That I don't want to do it again," Wittman said Wednesday
after signing a multiyear contract that makes him the permanent
replacement for Dwane Casey in Minnesota. "That was a hard
situation. It's very hard to try to maintain and keep things
together when things all around you are falling apart."
To say things were falling apart puts it lightly. Vice president
of basketball operations Kevin McHale fired Casey in January,
looking for more consistency from a team that was 20-20 at that
McHale turned to Wittman to smooth things out, hoping his
experience running the Cleveland Cavaliers would serve him well in
his new job. But the Timberwolves were consistently bad under
Wittman, who spoke openly of a lack of team chemistry and poor
attitude from some players as things spun out of control. They
finished the season 12-30 with Wittman at the helm and missed the
playoffs for the third straight season.
Armed with a new contract that removes the "interim" tag from
his job title, and a full offseason and training camp to instill
his system, Wittman thinks things will be different next season.
"It does make a difference when you start from a situation
we're starting from now rather than an interim," Wittman said.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity to put my stamp on this
team and do it the way I think it needs to be done, and have a full
contract to do it."
The hard-nosed Wittman said the Timberwolves would focus more on
defense next season, and he promised to hold players accountable
for their actions on and off the court.
From the moment McHale named Wittman to succeed Casey, he made
it clear that he wanted Wittman around for the long term. Despite
the failures last season, McHale likes Wittman's "commanding
presence in our locker room" and no-nonsense attitude.
"He's the type of coach that is going to demand an effort,"
McHale said. "He's going to push the players and yet he's flexible
enough that they'll enjoy playing for him."
As things went from bad to worse last season, selfish play and
poor attitudes plagued the team.
"We're going to be active in looking to do what we can to
change this team and the culture of this team to get back to the
playoffs," Wittman said.
When the season ended, Wittman said there would need to be a
wholesale attitude adjustment for things to work and was blunt in
his assessment of the team.
"This team needs a shakeup," the coach said after the
Timberwolves lost the season finale to Memphis in April.
"We have to find guys that are caring for one another, playing
for one another," he said later. "I don't think we have that
Saddled with several long-term contracts that make moving
players like Mark Blount, Troy Hudson and Mike James exceedingly
difficult, the Timberwolves are hoping a full offseason for Wittman
at the helm will be enough to get the team back on the right track.
They could have used some luck in Tuesday night's draft lottery.
But they were stuck right where they were supposed to be, with the
No. 7 pick in June's draft.
Minnesota will get some help there from what is widely regarded
as a deep pool of players, but anything more will likely have to
come from a trade, considering the rather thin crop of free agents
and the Timberwolves' lack of room under the salary cap.
About the only significant move McHale can make would be to
trade star Kevin Garnett, who has an opt-out clause in his contract
after next season. But McHale said he has no plans to trade Garnett
and Wittman said he would like to have No. 21 back in Minnesota
next season as the veteran leader of a young group that includes
promising rookies Randy Foye and Craig Smith and second-year guard
"It's not a situation, with a guy like Kevin Garnett on your
team, where you're that far away from getting back into the
playoffs," Wittman said.