Trash Talking with Fred Hoiberg and Shaq Talks Smack
By Stephen Litel
SL: This season has obviously not gone as planned. What are your thoughts on how the team got to this point?
FH: Well, it's been a disappointing season for all of us. You know, we expected more out of this season and what I've seen, especially, is our inconsistent play. We've had moments against the best teams in the league where we've looked like world beaters. You know, we come out, we play great basketball for 48 minutes and we beat the top teams. Houston, Chicago twice, we won at Detroit. I can't think of all of them right now, but we lost in Dallas by one possession twice, which not many teams have done. Then you look at the other part of our season where we've lost to the bottom teams in the league, so the biggest thing I have seen is our inconsistent play. Our job this summer is going to be to figure out why that happened and to make the necessary changes.
SL: Looking back, Coach Casey had this team playing 0.500 ball when he was let go. Coach Wittman has struggled to find ways to win games since he took over. Does the organization feel that the coaching change was indeed the right move to make?
FH: It's always tough when that kind of thing happens, but the big thing we were looking for was to do everything we possibly could to get everything we could out of the guys and get some consistent play going. We just wanted to try a new voice and we feel, in the long run, Randy Wittman will be a very good coach for this team. We feel that with a whole training camp with the guys, being able to put in his own philosophies... you know, he's got some that are the same as Dwane (Casey) and some that are different. We just felt that we wanted to give every opportunity we could to get this thing turned around. It hasn't worked out that way so far, but we're confident that giving Randy (Wittman) a full season, he'll do a good job with this team.
SL: Glen Taylor has all but said that Coach Wittman will return as coach next season and you also just alluded to that. What is it, specifically, about Coach Wittman that makes the organization believe that he is the right fit for this team?
FH: We just feel he will do a good job. He was a head coach once in this league and had some success with that team, but also had some disappointment with that team in Cleveland. He had some very untimely injuries after he got off to a great start one year that really turned around that season, so he's learned from his previous head coaching experience, he's learned from the coaches that he's coached under, including Dwane (Casey), who he coached under. He's a guy who has played for the best in the business. Bobby Knight as a player, he was a player in this league, he knows when to get on guys and when to back off. We also feel that he'll do a good job of holding guys accountable. It's going to be a tough job, but we hope he'll be around here for a long time.
SL: This past summer, Kevin Garnett did an interview with SLAM Magazine where he basically stated that this team needs to improve very quickly in order for him to want to remain in Minnesota. That has not been the case this season and he stated awhile back "Thank God for opt outs." Why should fans have any faith that Garnett will be here next season and beyond?
FH: I don't know. I mean, he's never come upstairs and said "Get me outta here." He's never done that once. You read what he said about "Thank God for opt outs" and the reporter asked him what he said and he said he didn't mean it that way. Kevin is frustrated like everybody else is. He wants to win and that's the best quality about Kevin is his desire to win games. When we're winning, he's happy and when we're losing, he's miserable. His big thing, like everybody else, is he wants to win.
SL: This team isn't accustomed to having good young players, due to the Joe Smith penalties. Can you speak on the young core of McCants, Foye and Smith?
FH: We feel very good about the young pieces on this team right now with Rashad coming back after being out of basketball for eight months. We feel that what he showed at the end of the season, he's still getting his legs back right now, but he's a piece that will be very good for this organization for a long time. We feel very good about the draft from last year with Randy (Foye) and with Craig (Smith). Randy has succeeded everybody's expectations with coming in and hitting game winners, playing big in fourth quarters and hitting tough shots in overtimes. He doesn't have any fear and that's the kind of guy that you can build around. Craig Smith, I think, has been a surprise for everybody with his rugged play down low. He gets in and gets offensive rebounds, takes charges and gets extra possessions. They're pieces that as they grow and mature will be very good players. It's going to be an important summer for them as far as getting better. You improve the most from your first year to your second year in the league, so it's going to be a big summer for those guys. Those are guys we feel we can build around. It's nice to have young players and have some hope for the future when in the past, there haven't been a lot of young guys where you can say that "this is the future of this team." You're starting to see that now and those are the guys that we really want to start building around.
SL: Last one for you, Fred. As of today, do you believe that Kevin Garnett retires as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves?
FH: I hope so. I hope so. He's meant the world to this city. He's the best teammate that I've ever had. He approaches the game like very few others with his passion, as far as bringing effort on a nightly basis, as far as being a great example in practice and as far as how he approaches the game. It's going to be up to us to find the right pieces to put around Kevin and to help this team to, hopefully, get to the next level. We want to get back to where it was three years ago, although it seems like a hundred years ago that we were in the Western Conference Finals, but, in reality, it's not that long ago. We need to realize what mistakes have been made to get to where we are right now, address those in the summer and try to get back to where we were a couple years ago.
Speaking of that great Western Conference Finals run, prior to the Wolves game against the Miami Heat on Friday, Shaquille O'Neal made mention of it as well.
Standing in the Heat locker room before the game as Shaq and Antoine Walker were watching film of the Wolves/Heat game in Miami earlier in the season, the big fella asked me, "So, what's it been? Five years since the Wolves have made the playoffs?"
I replied, "No, this will be the third. The last time they were in the playoffs was against you in the Western Conference Finals."
Shaq seemed surprised to hear my answer, grinned his goofy Shaquille O'Neal grin and said, "...and we all know what happened then! Boy, do we know what happened then."
By Stephen Litel