(AP) - Randy Wittman was fired as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, two days after an embarrassing 23-point loss at home to the last-place Los Angeles Clippers. Kevin McHale, vice president of basketball operations, took over as coach.
The young team has a 4-15 record and has not responded to Wittman's demands for tough defense. The Timberwolves are in the midst of a five-game losing streak in which the average margin of defeat has been nearly 17 points.
"There were certain goals and expectations that we had for this team at the start of the season, and we have not lived up to them," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement.
"I am disappointed in our record, and believe that we have more talent than our record indicates. A change had to be made and with three-fourths of the season remaining, there is still time to make substantial progress this year," he added.
The team scheduled an afternoon news conference to discuss the change.
This was the fourth NBA coaching firing this season following P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington) and Sam Mitchell (Toronto).
Wittman was 38-105 since taking over for Dwane Casey in January 2007. McHale picked Wittman to preside over the team's rebuilding following the trade of Kevin Garnett, but the second year of the plan has not produced results.
After keeping things close early in the season, the Timberwolves lost by 29 points at New Jersey on Friday night, then were blown out by the Clippers on Saturday night to seal Wittman's fate. Wittman went 22-60 last year, his only full season in charge.
“I am disappointed in our record. ... A change had to be made.”Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor
"I want to thank Randy for all of his contributions to the Timberwolves through the years as both a head coach and an assistant coach, and wish him the best in the future," Taylor said.
Now it's up to McHale to try and turn things around, and he has experience in this kind of situation. He went 19-12 in the final 31 games of the 2004-05 season after firing coach Flip Saunders.
"Kevin has assembled the players on this team, and believes in their talent and skill level," Taylor said. "It is my expectation that Kevin will be able to get the most out of our team and our players in his new role as head coach."
While Wittman has been preaching energy and effort, the Timberwolves have been routinely outhustled. They were outrebounded 54-38 and outscored 20-7 in second-chance points against the Clippers, two telltale signs of lack of effort.
Wittman started this season with defense as the top priority, harping on it throughout training camp and urging his team to commit to it at all costs.
Yet the Wolves have allowed at least 100 points in seven straight games and constantly give up easy layups and wide-open jumpers. Whatever the coach was trying to teach, it either wasn't working or wasn't sinking in.
On countless occasions this season, Wittman has been reduced to stomping his feet on the sidelines and yelling, "What are we doing?" with his hands in the air in exasperation.
The players said the onus was on them to get things turned around.
"You are going to have bad shooting nights. You are going to have nights where you're not as effective as you want to be. But, the effort has to be there every night," forward Ryan Gomes said after the loss to the Clippers and before the decision was made.
"That's one thing. The hustle has to be there every night. Last two nights, it hasn't been there. You look at the games, look at the scores of these games and you can just tell by that, that something was wrong."
Five of the team's first eight losses were by six points or less, leaving hope that an adjustment here or there would get things on track.
But things went downhill last week. Losses at Charlotte, Orlando and New Jersey were ugly, but nothing in comparison to the drubbing delivered by the Clippers (4-16) in front of a home smattering of fans.
This season is starting to look a lot like last year, when the Timberwolves were 3-16 at this point in the season. After jettisoning malcontents Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker and acquiring Kevin Love and Mike Miller, the Wolves expected more this season.
"You look at our team and we have an improved roster, and we are still in the same predicament we were in last year," Gomes said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)