MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP)— Kevin McHale stood surrounded by a swarm of cameras and reporters on the Target Center court, surveying a familiar scene.
He wore a brown winter jacket, just like any other guy his age around Minnesota would.
There were plenty of hints, however, that McHale has moved on emotionally as well as physically from his home state.
McHale coached the Houston Rockets to a 107-92 victory over the Timberwolves on Monday night, his first time at Target Center since he was fired in June 2009 following a 15-year run with the franchise.
For better or worse, McHale has had as big a hand as anyone in leading the Timberwolves over their 23 seasons in the league.
“There’s only one guy left on that team, Kevin Love, from when I was here,” McHale said before the game. “I’ve been in the arena a million different times. Been here for a lot of good times and bad times.”
That was as deep into feelings as McHale was willing to go. He wore a Rockets shirt underneath the jacket, one of the many signs of this post-Minnesota stage in his life.
The Hall of Fame power forward — who grew into his 6-foot-10 frame in the mining town of Hibbing and used a standout career at the University of Minnesota as a springboard to the NBA with the Boston Celtics — paused for a few seconds when asked if he still considers the area home.
“Four of my five kids were born in New England. They were watching the Patriots yesterday. I’ll always have a lake home here I’m sure. I don’t know if the Twin Cities will always be home. Northern Minnesota will always be home for me. At the end of the day, I’m just an old country boy from northern Minnesota,” McHale said.
McHale’s youngest child, Tommy, is a senior on the Totino-Grace High School team this season.
McHale was able to stay at his family’s home in the northern Minneapolis suburbs, but morning snowfall turned his drive to the arena for the morning shootaround into a 2-hour commute. He sure wasn’t wistful about the January weather here, compared to living in Texas.
“When I left it was 80,” McHale said.
His competitive desire hasn’t dipped. Two years as a TV analyst on TNT merely stoked that inner fire.
“It’s fun to have a dog in the fight,” McHale said. “Every game I’ve ever played, I got butterflies before I walked out. If you don’t, quit. … When I don’t, I’ll go fishing. I don’t get butterflies when I’m fishing. I never catch anything.”
He still detests the frequent late-night travel around the country and all the nights away from home, his previously stated reluctance to coaching on a permanent basis.
Though he primarily served as the general manager and boss of basketball operations during his time with the Timberwolves, he had two stints as the head coach after midseason changes on the bench. That’s what he was doing most recently when he was dismissed nearly three years ago.
“Coaching is fun. I enjoy it. There’s highs and lows, just like playing. You’re really involved. After losses, you just feel terrible,” he said. “After wins, you’re exhilarated.”
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman, experiencing a reunion of his own on Monday, simply described the profession as “what we chose to do,” despite the built-in frustrations that come with the job.
“I think working with the players, working with the team, is special. If you can see success, you can see them growing as a team, I think that makes it worthwhile,” said Adelman, who coached the Rockets for the past four seasons.
McHale’s departure from Minnesota came too late as far as the majority of Timberwolves fans were concerned.
After drafting Kevin Garnett, hiring his college buddy Flip Saunders to be the head coach and building a team that made the playoffs eight straight times, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004, the franchise fell apart.
There were too many high draft picks who didn’t pan out, too many ill-conceived trades and too many expensive contracts that didn’t produce positive results, from Ndudi Ebi to Marko Jaric to Michael Olowokandi. When Garnett won an NBA title with the Celtics after the Wolves traded him, McHale’s status with the public was sealed.
But his last big move was the draft-night trade with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008 that brought Love to Minnesota. Now he’s a scoring, rebounding and even 3-point shooting machine.
“I’m thankful for what he did for me, bringing me in here and also working with me in my rookie year, giving me an opportunity to succeed and take my game to the next level,” Love said. “So he’s somebody that I really respect on and off the court.”
Even when he wasn’t the coach, McHale worked daily with the team’s big men, teaching them the art of the post move and pushing them after practice. But McHale, while praising Love’s development, wanted no part of any praise.
“It has nothing to do with me. He’s a hard-working guy. I’m happy for him,” McHale said.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)