Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said Tuesday night that he has agreed to be suspended by the NBA for his role in a secret deal with former player Joe Smith that violated salary cap rules.
Kevin McHale, vice president of basketball operations, agreed to take a leave of absence, Taylor said. Coach and general manager Flip Saunders will not be punished.
According to the agreement, Taylor and McHale will be unable to attend games, negotiate contracts or talk to reporters, the owner said.
Will Not Have to Attend Hearings
Taylor said his suspension would last until September. McHale’s leave of absence would last until August.
Taylor said he negotiated the agreement with NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik. The deal has not been signed, but Taylor said he expects it to become official next week. By reaching the agreement, Taylor said Wolves executives will not have to attend hearings in New York City scheduled for Dec. 12-13.
NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said the league had no comment.
Minnesota’s game Saturday at Target Center against the Los Angeles Clippers probably will be the last one this season that Taylor can attend.
“I’m not happy about this, but I accept it,” Taylor said. “I watch all the away games on television. Now I’ll watch all the games on television.”
Taylor revealed the suspension Tuesday during a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, saying he expected to agree in a few days to a deal that he called “basically a suspension.”
While he said he would cooperate with the NBA’s decision, Taylor believes the Wolves were perhaps being singled out by the league because Minneapolis is not a major market.
“We’re a little town, a little town out here in the prairie,” Taylor said. “And it isn’t quite as important to the NBA as the other towns.”
Saunders said the Wolves wouldn’t even be in Minnesota if not for Taylor.
“This team would be in New Orleans,” Saunders said. “It’s not a moneymaking venture for him. He does this because he loves the game.”
Chauncey Billups said the players will miss Taylor’s inspirational speeches.
“You hate to see good people go through times like that,” Billups said. “The guy’s got such a big heart.”
Smith, now a Detroit Piston, signed a free-agent contract with Minnesota in 1999, along with a secret promise of $86 million over seven years, a deal that violated the salary cap.
NBA commissioner David Stern punished the Wolves by taking away their next five first-round draft picks and fining them $3.5 million, a league record. Taylor would not comment on whether the draft picks were part of his negotiations with Granik.
Stern also voided Smith’s contract for this season and the previous two seasons, taking away the so-called Larry Bird rights that would have allowed the Wolves to sign Smith to a multimillion-dollar contract next season.
Taylor said the NBA has portrayed the Smith case as more severe than it really was.
Wouldn’t Change a Thing
“The truth is, I wouldn’t do anything different. On the first deal, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong,” he said. “My sense is, it happened. The rules are very clear, and we stepped over them. We’re guilty. We accept that.”
McHale was out of town on a hunting trip and unavailable for comment. Taylor said he believes McHale will remain in the organization. Saunders, who played with McHale at the University of Minnesota, agreed.
“Kevin’s not a quitter,” Saunders said. “He never has been, never will be. What you see on the outside is a happy-go-lucky guy who rolls with the punches. On the inside, he’s an unbelievable competitor.”
Saunders, director of player personnel Rob Babcock and assistant coach Jerry Sichting will share McHale’s duties during the leave of absence, Taylor said.
Saunders said he might have to send one of his four assistant coaches on the road to help scout college players.