Introducing the "Bring Kevin McHale to DC" movement

BF's never been big on internet memes.  We have one big one currently running that strives to get Nick Young into a slam dunk contest (we tried for 2009, but started too late, so now we're going for 2010), but otherwise, we don't really have any mass movements that we're pushing.  Attempts to popularize Dominic McGuire's "Taser" nickname have not been as successful (which is mostly my fault since I never got a chance to tell him about the nickname while I was in Vegas).  JaVale McGee still doesn't have a nickname himself, and Truth's nickname for Antawn Jamison hasn't really caught on yet.

But here's a meme that can actually benefit the team itself in a big way.  This is not an idea that just came out of my head; several posters, most notably doclinkin, have been pushing this for a while.  But watching JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche in Summer League just drove home the point for me.

We need a hands-on big man coach that can work with our young bigs and teach them how to best use their considerable bag of talents.  We've invested so much in our two young bigs, so it only makes sense to give them the best teaching they can get.

Specifically, we need a guy who himself was a master in the low-post.  A guy who wasn't always the strongest, but was always the trickiest.  A guy who was so committed to detail that he had the best low post footwork in NBA history (save for possibly Hakeem Olajuwon).  A guy that young players will listen to and a guy who is patient enough to work with them.  A guy who is currently unemployed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kevin McHale.  Who better to be our big man coach than Kevin McHale?

The reasons below the jump:

1.  His role will be limited

The name "Kevin McHale" is currently synonymous with infamy in NBA circles, but that's simply from his workings as a GM.  Being a general manager was never the proper use for McHale's skills.  He didn't understand the cap, didn't evaluate prospects well and didn't cut bait on mistakes he made.  He overpaid for questionable players, drafted bad fits and hamstrung his team's prospects of improving.

But even while doing all of that, McHale did a pretty good job all things considering as a head coach.  His career winning percentage as a coach is just 41.5%, but that requires a deeper look.  In 2005, McHale took over an underachieving, veteran Timberwolves team that had major chemistry problems and had just fired Flip Saunders.  McHale led that team to a 19-12 finish, and they would have snuck into the playoffs if the West wasn't so strong.  Last season, McHale went 20-43, but that was a far better mark than the 4-15 record posted by Randy Wittman.  McHale also did it without his best player, Al Jefferson, for half the season.  

McHale's biggest strength as a head coach was his work in improving the production and confidence of the young players on the team.  Under McHale's watch, players like Kevin Love and Randy Foye dramatically improved their games.  Foye's move to shooting guard coincided with a major uptick in his percentages, particularly in January.  Love came along slowly, but by the end of the year, he was among the league's top rookies. McHale is patient and communicative while still being demanding, much like new Wizards assistant Sam Cassell.  Here's what Canis Hoopus said about McHale in June (emphasis mine):

On one hand, I think McHale has the goods to be an outstanding NBA coach.  He is, as Kahn mentioned several times during the press conference, a fantastic communicator and he seemingly has a wonderful way with NBA ego management.  We also know that he's a let's-take-care-of-it-in-practice kind of coach and I think that is the best way to handle things in a players' league.  Say what you will about the importance of January or whether or not the team he put together has any promise, but McHale got solid improvement out of Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, and Kevin Love during the time at the end of the bench.  There was promise there and it was a bird in the hand, not the bush.

Here's how Al Jefferson described McHale's communication skills:

Jefferson on whether they need a positive or tough coach:

"To me (McHale) was both of them. He was the type of guy who could communicate with you and if he was upset he would get in your face too. Most definitely, I think it’s always good to have a coach like that. Some of us players are knuckleheads and need a coach to really get down on them and get in their face. There’s also some time to sit down and communicate and talk to the player as a man. I think we need both of that."

The biggest weaknesses of McHale's coaching were of the in-game strategy type.  Substitution patterns were a bit erratic, and the Timberwolves didn't exactly run a complex system filled with brilliant xs and os.  Late-game plays were pretty all over the place as well.  But a big man coach need not worry about any of those shortcomings.  He just needs to work on developing players, and McHale's proven he can get the job done in that department.

2.  Dray and JaVale need to learn the skills McHale had

One of McHale's greatest strengths and weaknesses is his stubborness.  As a GM, this was a weakness because he kept drafting the same type of player (undersized shooting guard) and making the same type of free agent mistakes.  As a head coach, well, sometimes stubborness is good and sometimes it is bad.  

But in terms of teaching and executing specific skills, stubborness is an asset.  As a player, McHale made himself into possibly the most skilled big man of all time.  He had a ridiculous number of post moves and worked to have incredible touch for a big man.  Watching him play was like watching a craftsman.  His game was so refined.

In case you forgot or wasn't alive (like me), here's a reminder of McHale's ability.

Refined is the last thing you would call JaVale McGee's and Andray Blatche's games.  Skilled?  No doubt about it.  The common refrain against Andray Blatche, after all, is that he is too skilled for his own good.  The guy needs a big man coach that will refine his incredibly diverse array of skills.  McGee, meanwhile, just needs refinement.  He's so raw for a big man because he just grew into his body.  He has considerable natural talent and athleticism, but still doesn't understand the nuances of a defensive rotation, a drop step, etc.  McHale can be a big help in just providing McGee practice on the rudimentary skills all big men need.

3.  McHale's players love him

Nobody is going to badmouth a coach on his way out, but several Minnesota Timberwolves gave McHale a major ringing endorsement and openly lobbied to retain him.

Kevin Love on Twitter:

Today is a sad day...Kevin McHale will NOT be back as head coach next season.

Jefferson was reportedly "shocked, disappionted and hurt" when he heard the news.

Love in May:

If there's anything I can say or Big Al can say I think the consensus is everybody likes him and would love to play for him again."

Mark Madsen:

"Kevin McHale is a great coach," Madsen said in a phone interview from Salt Lake City. "I’m a little bit surprised by this news and I was hoping to play for him next season and I guess that’s not going to happen now."

It's possible McHale's style seemed better because it came after Wittman, a notorious drill seargent, but it's important to note how much the players really loved playing for him.  They seemed to listen to him too, as evidenced by their improved play.  I have no doubt Blatche and McGee will love McHale too.

4.  Cost

This section is somewhat mitigated by the addition of Fabricio Oberto, but bringing McHale aboard won't cost more than bringing a player aboard.  The Wizards still have $500,000 left from the cash prize they got for selling the DeJuan Blair pick (although you could look at it another way and say they're down $1.5 million because of the luxury tax hit).  McHale, despite hopes of going into television, probably won't cost too much more than that.  In fact, McHale may want a reduced role where he can simply do clinical work instead of having to deal with the pressures of being a head coach or a GM.

Even while in the front office, McHale loved to work with players — often staying late after practice to help post players from Garnett to Jefferson hone their inside games. He still enjoyed that aspect last season, though losing wore on him and he wasn’t fond of the rigors of travel.

McHale won't cost any more with the luxury tax, won't take up a roster spot and won't cost more than most players would.  What could be a better investment with limited funds?

5.  The Minnesota connection

Flip knows McHale.  Sam Cassell knows McHale.  Hell, Randy Foye knows McHale, and Foye's best stretch of his career (January 2009) came under McHale.  Even Randy Wittman knows McHale, though it was McHale that replaced Wittman.  The comforts of a Minnesota-like environment have to be a plus for McHale.  Remember, it was David Kahn that fired him, not any of these guys.

To review:

Why must Kevin McHale become the Wizards' new big man coach? 

  1. He's a great communicator
  2. He's well-suited to a limited role
  3. He was only the most skilled post player in NBA history
  4. Our young big men need a lot of skill work and refinement
  5. McHale's players love him and improve under him
  6. McHale won't cost us a roster spot or extra luxury tax payments
  7. McHale would be comfortable coaching with so many Minnesota comrades

It's a small move that could pay huge dividends.  Get it done, management!

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