MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The Minnesota Timberwolves hired longtime Seattle assistant Dwane Casey as their new coach on Friday.

Casey agreed to a five-year contract that only guarantees three years’ pay. He’ll be charged with turning around a team that tumbled out of the playoffs last season after making the Western Conference finals in 2004.

“The Timberwolves are not broke,” Casey said. “They had a hiccup last season. … It’s not a team that’s down. It just needs a little tweaking, especially on the defensive end.”

It’s the first NBA head coaching job for Casey, who served on the Seattle bench for the past 11 seasons and was promoted to associate head coach when Nate McMillan took over in 2000.

He replaces Kevin McHale, who served as interim coach for 31 games after firing Flip Saunders in February. McHale, the team’s vice president of basketball operations, always maintained that his coaching stint would be brief.

McHale also interviewed San Antonio assistant P.J. Carlesimo, former coach John Lucas and Wolves assistants Randy Wittman, Sidney Lowe and Jerry Sichting, among others.

The 48-year-old Casey’s coaching resume includes a stint in Japan and assistant jobs under Clem Haskins at Western Kentucky and Eddie Sutton at Kentucky.

Casey left Kentucky in 1989 after an envelope stuffed with $1,000 in cash was sent to recruit Chris Mills with Casey’s name on it. Casey coached in Japan before coming to the Sonics in 1994 to join George Karl’s staff.

Casey comes to a team that has considerable talent, including former MVP Kevin Garnett and forward Wally Szczerbiak, but is reeling after a disappointing season.

The Timberwolves lost to the Lakers in the 2004 Western Conference finals, and were considered one of the favorites in the West when the season started. But contract squabbles, age and injuries plagued them throughout the season.

Garnett was nagged by a sore knee for most of the season, point guard Sam Cassell dealt with multiple injuries and a bruised ego after not receiving a contract extension in the offseason, and swingman Latrell Sprewell vastly underperformed considering his $14 million salary.

A slow start, marked by a lack of intensity, prompted McHale to fire college buddy Saunders and take over on the bench.

The Timberwolves were 19-12 under McHale, but finished ninth in the West and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

Sprewell, who infamously turned down a three-year, $21 million offer before the season by saying he “had to feed my family,” is a free agent and could be headed elsewhere.

Point guard Troy Hudson is expected to be back healthy next season, but the Timberwolves will still need a significant upgrade in athleticism, most likely from the No. 14 pick in the NBA draft, if they hope to contend.

AP-ES-06-17-05 1902EDT


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