Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Sources: Oden ready to declare

Announcement expected today

Ohio State freshman Greg Oden will make himself available for the NBA draft today, a family friend said last night.

"There will be a release in the morning from Ohio State. Greg Oden will be hiring an agent," said Al Powell, who has been a party to meetings between Oden and two other Buckeyes freshmen stars considering the draft.

As for the two others, Powell was less specific.

"Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook will not be hiring an agent at this time," said Powell, a paid assistant coach at Dayton's Dunbar High School who helped coach all three players when they played AAU ball.

If Conley and Cook do not hire agents, they'll retain the option of returning to school next fall. College underclassmen have until midnight April 29 to declare whether they intend to make themselves available for the draft.

The Columbus Dispatch and, citing unidentified sources, first reported that Oden, Conley, and Cook will issue a statement through the school today declaring their intention to enter the draft.

McHale staying put
Despite increasing fan displeasure over the state of the franchise, Kevin McHale said he will return as the Minnesota Timberwolves' vice president of basketball operations next season and plans on bringing star Kevin Garnett and coach Randy Wittman back as well.

"I don't want to walk away with the team in this state," said McHale, who said this year's team resembled the "dysfunctional" squad he inherited when he was named vice president in 1995.

In a season-ending news conference, McHale addressed a long, frustrating year in which his Wolves finished 32-50 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

"It was a bad season. There's no other way you can say it," McHale said. "It was a bad year and I did a bad job. That's the way it is."

Many fans have become frustrated with McHale for not surrounding Garnett with a more competitive team. Minnesota hasn't made the playoffs since 2004, and fans have grown impatient after watching McHale assemble a team filled with small guards and big contracts.

Problems started in January when McHale fired coach Dwane Casey with the Timberwolves at 20-20. Wittman took over in a move that McHale hoped would jump-start the lethargic team, but the Wolves went 12-30 with the taskmaster at the helm.

"I don't think it ever became an experiment," McHale said. "It became a disaster, but I don't think it became an experiment. It didn't work well."

The Bulls are happy to be headed to the playoffs, but there remains the hangover of Wednesday night's season-ending loss to New Jersey, which cost Chicago two goals -- finishing with 50 wins and gaining the second seed in the East. Instead, the Bulls are the fifth seed and open at defending champion Miami tomorrow. "We can't do anything about it now," said Luol Deng of the 106-97 loss to the Nets. "They played better, they got the win. We just can't hold onto it. That's just the regular season." Coach Scott Skiles said he had a "long night, personally" and was ready to move on. "We can't get caught up in that right now," he said. "If we do, that would be an even bigger mistake." . . . Nevada junior guards Marcelus Kemp and Ramon Sessions have declared for the NBA draft, but without agents, they'll retain the option of returning to school next fall, coach Mark Fox said. The players have until June 18 to withdraw from the draft . . . The NBA broke its attendance record for the third straight year, drawing more than 21.8 million fans during the 2006-07 season. The league also surpassed its previous best by averaging 17,757 fans. The top three teams in average attendance are all from the Central Division: Chicago (22,253), Detroit (22,076), and Cleveland (20,436).