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June 17, 2005
Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) - Though Dwane Casey lacks NBA head coaching experience, he has the desire, discipline and defensive mind that the Minnesota Timberwolves were looking for in their next bench boss.
Introduced Friday as Minnesota's new coach, Casey takes over a team that wilted under high expectations following a Western Conference finals appearance, finished 44-38 and tumbled out of the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
But the 48-year-old Casey is confident the Timberwolves don't need an overhaul - just some tweaks, especially on the defensive end.
"They had a hiccup last season," he said. "It's not a team that's down."
Casey agreed to a five-year contract, with only three years guaranteed. Owner Glen Taylor declined to divulge specific terms, but he characterized the deal as "first-time coach money."
With Kevin Garnett, the league's MVP for 2003-04, still in the prime of his career, there should be a healthy chance for a bounce-back season.
"We could've found somebody with head coaching experience," Taylor said, "and that might've been a little safer. But I have never always taken the safest route."
After winning an NCAA championship as a player for Kentucky in 1978, Casey coached under Clem Haskins at Western Kentucky and under Eddie Sutton at his alma mater until leaving the school in 1989 following a scandal involving recruit Chris Mills. Casey coached in Japan for five years before arriving in Seattle to join George Karl's staff in 1994.
When Nate McMillan took over on the Sonics' bench in 2000, Casey was promoted to associate head coach.
"It's been a long time coming for me," said Casey, one of eight candidates formally interviewed by Taylor and vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale. The field included Wolves assistants Randy Wittman, Sidney Lowe and Jerry Sichting as well as San Antonio Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo and former NBA coach John Lucas.
Casey said he and McHale would choose the staff together, but his goal of getting a veteran as the top assistant backed by "young, energetic staff" suggests most of the current assistants won't be retained.
There's sure to be at least some turnover on the roster, too.
McHale fired Flip Saunders in February and took over as the interim coach, but the improvement - the team went 19-12 - wasn't significant enough to put Minnesota in the postseason.
The Wolves lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 conference finals, and they were considered one of the favorites in the West when last season started. But Garnett played with a sore knee for most of the season and didn't quite match his MVP level from the year before.
Point guard Sam Cassell missed extensive time with a bum hamstring after complaining about his lack of a contract extension - the same thing swingman Latrell Sprewell did before a not-so-productive season. Sprewell is a free agent and likely won't return.
Backup point guard Troy Hudson, returning from a serious ankle injury, also struggled - and the Wolves' backcourt was consistently picked apart on defense.
The biggest problem was a lack of intensity. Casey, who preaches defensive fundamentals, sharing the ball and thorough preparation, pledged to rekindle that.
He's also serious about re-establishing locker-room unity, something that helped the Sonics surpass expectations last season and win the Northwest Division with a 52-30 record.
"To win a championship, it takes a lot of togetherness," Casey said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)