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Randy Wittman will remain head coach of the Timberwolves. ((Rick Bowmer/Associated Press) )

Randy Wittman learned one thing after taking over as interim coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves midway through last season.

"That I don't want to do it again," Wittman said Wednesday after signing a multi-year contract that makes him the permanent replacement for Dwane Casey in Minnesota.

"That was a hard situation. It's very hard to try to maintain and keep things together when things all around you are falling apart."

To say things were falling apart puts it lightly.

Timberwolves vice-president of basketball operations Kevin McHale fired Casey in January, looking for more consistency from a team that was 20-20 at that point.

McHale turned to Wittman to smooth things out, hoping his experience running the Cleveland Cavaliers would serve him well.

But the Timberwolves were consistently bad under Wittman, who spoke openly of a lack of team chemistry and poor attitude from some players as things spun out of control.

They finished the season 12-30 with Wittman at the helm and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

Armed with a new contract that removes the interim tag from his job title, and a full off-season and training camp to instill his system, Wittman thinks things will be different next season.

"It does make a difference when you start from a situation we're starting from now rather than an interim," Wittman said. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity to put my stamp on this team and do it the way I think it needs to be done, and have a full contract to do it."

The hard-nosed Wittman said the Timberwolves would focus more on defence next season and he promised to hold players accountable for their actions on and off the court.

McHale wanted Wittman long-term

From the moment McHale named Wittman to succeed Casey, he made it clear that he wanted Wittman around for the long term.

Despite the failures last season, McHale likes Wittman's "commanding presence in our locker room" and no-nonsense attitude.

"He is the type of coach that is going to demand an effort," McHale said. "He's going to push the players and yet he's flexible enough that they'll enjoy playing for him."

As things went from bad to worse last season, selfish play and poor attitudes plagued the team.

"We're going to be active in looking to do what we can to change this team and the culture of this team to get back to the playoffs," Wittman said.

When the season ended, Wittman said there would need to be a wholesale attitude adjustment for things to work and was blunt in his assessment of the team.

"This team needs a shakeup," the coach said after the Timberwolves lost the season finale to Memphis in April.

"We have to find guys that are caring for one another, playing for one another," he said later. "I don't think we have that right now."

Saddled with several long-term contracts that make moving players like Mark Blount, Troy Hudson and Mike James exceedingly difficult, the Timberwolves are hoping a full off-season for Wittman at the helm will be enough to get the team back on the right track.

They could have used some luck in Tuesday night's draft lottery.

But they were stuck right where they were supposed to be, with the No. 7 pick in June's draft.

Minnesota will get some help there from what is widely regarded as a deep pool of players, but anything more will likely have to come from a trade, considering the rather thin crop of free agents and the Timberwolves' lack of room under the salary cap.

About the only significant move McHale can make would be to trade star Kevin Garnett, who has an opt-out clause in his contract after next season.

But McHale said he has no plans to trade Garnett and Wittman said he would like to have No. 21 back in Minnesota next season as the veteran leader of a young group that includes promising rookies Randy Foye and Craig Smith and second-year guard Rashad McCants.

"It's not a situation, with a guy like Kevin Garnett on your team, where you're that far away from getting back into the playoffs," Wittman said.