Why the NBA is Wrong About David Kahn

I would like to begin by saying that I am not 100% sold on David Kahn. He has done things that have left me shaking my head (Beasley marijuana comment) and his common sense may not be as sharp as most executives. He seems to wear the same smirk on his face and rarely loses composure or shows emotions. Virtually every move he has made has not been without its critics. However, as we have seen over the years with Terry Ryan for the Twins, many great moves do not appear to be so at first and necessary time is required for things to come to fruition.

In order to properly judge Kahn, it is essential to correctly define what his job is. As general manager, is his job to create a team that is continually competitive on a year-by-year basis? Or is it to put the team in the best position for long-term, continued success, while sacrificing present success? I personally believe it is a combination of both, but with much more emphasis on the latter. At this point in Kahn’s tenure, this appears to be precisely his goal, and his vision is beginning to materialize.

No NBA executive had a tougher job ahead of them than Kahn after being hired during the summer of 2009. Kevin McHale, disregarding his trade for Kevin Love, completely and utterly left the Timberwolves in a miserable state with very few pieces to build on for the future. One could argue that outside of drafting Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, McHale did very few things right in his long tenure with the team. The other piece of the Kevin Love trade, Mike Miller, was a complete bust for the Wolves as he was acquired as a shooter but attempted to play outside of his skill set. Al Jefferson, the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett trade, proved himself to be no more than a 20-10 player on a team without affecting the wins column. His immobility and lack of intensity/effort on defense made him a liability on one half of the floor and it became evident he would never fill the void left by KG. The loss of Garnett meant the loss of the team’s leader in the locker room and on the court, and it helped to create the culture of losing that is still present in the team today.

Kahn’s decisions in the 2009 draft are probably the most questioned and criticized of all his moves. The draft led many people to automatically dismiss him and criticize his moves and decisions going forward. Although I believe that the results of the 2009 draft were marginal, I stand by the decisions that were made at draft time. To begin, one of the most underappreciated moves the Kahn made came when he was able to snag the 5th overall pick in the draft in exchange for draft-bust Randy “Fourth Quarter” Foye and Mike Miller. This trade led to the drafting of Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio, considered by many to be the best player in the 2009 draft and a future Steve Nash. Questions about his contract situation in Spain caused him to slip into the Wolves hands at 5. Knowing that the chances of Rubio being able to play in the NBA immediately were slim, Kahn took another point guard in Jonny Flynn with the Timberwolves own number 6 pick. The draft offered a weak group of shooting guards (Demar Derozan having many question marks) and a plethora of high potential, able point guards. A common misconception is that the Wolves reached for Flynn at 6, however he was projected by many mock drafts to be ahead of Curry and Jennings. Knowing he could use Flynn as a trade asset when the time for Rubio came while choosing to not reach for a SG instead, Kahn kept the future of the franchise as the top priority. The potential of Jonny Flynn was considered much higher than any of the shooting guards, so if Jonny could perform well in the time before Rubio came over, he could be a greater asset to the team when it came time to trade him, giving the Timberwolves the best value. With the 18th pick Kahn took the best player available in Ty Lawson, and traded him to Denver for a first round pick in the next draft. Again, by choosing not to reach in the present, Kahn got a first round pick in the next draft where there could be a player that filled a greater need. With the 28th pick Kahn took shooting guard Wayne Ellington. The natural reaction to the Timberwolves on draft night was one of laughter, but close analysis helps explain the decisions in sensible and rational terms.

The public reaction to Kahn’s drafting of 3 point guards in the first round caused an immediate uproar and a slew of jokes directed at the Timberwolves organization. Many Timberwolves fans dismissed their franchise, choosing ignorance to their team to avoid embarrassment by association. Kahn, hearing criticism from every angle, maintained his poise and confidence in his decisions, knowing that time was necessary and that his decisions put the franchise in the best position for long-term success. The rebuilding process was begun, and although the idea of more short-term failures angered many, only Kahn and few others saw that short-terms failures would be a necessary contributor to the long-term prospects of the franchise.

Kahn’s biggest mistake came in the hiring of Kurt Rambis. This is a decision I hate blaming Kahn for, because I believe that Glen Taylor may have had the biggest say in this signing. Wanting to hire a lower cost, unproven coach instead of spending big on a proven winner, Rambis was one of the hottest new coaching candidates on the scene after his involvement as lead assistant on the Lakers staff, long working with Phil Jackson. Rambis preached an overly complicated offense and lacked an ability to connect with players to get the most out of them, and his tenure is considered an absolute failure, although I think he was in a pretty tough spot his entire time with the team. The team simply did not have many weapons, but I firmly believe that the blame for the atrocious defense can be put on Rambis.

The Timberwolves bad luck in the NBA lottery continued in the 2010 draft, being possibly one of the worst drafts in the last ten years, and the Timberwolves picked 4th. The spot had a few possibilities, but Wesley Johnson made the most sense. Demarcus Cousins, having the highest body fat percentage in the entire draft class and an absolutely horrid attitude and questionable work ethic made no sense for a team in desperate need for a positive presence in both the locker room and on the court. Johnson, a very athletic and versatile wing scorer who could play multiple positions filled a large need for the team and was considered to be the most NBA-ready player in the draft.

One of Kahn’s legacies came out of thin air when the Miami Heat traded Michael Beasley to the Timberwolves for a measly pair of second round picks, which in this day and age is next to nothing. Beasley, having as high a ceiling as anyone in the league, was a great buy low sell high investment. Being purchased for the price of two second round picks, Beasley became a valuable asset with a good chance to improve his stock quickly. Beasley transitioned very well to the small forward position and his acquisition was largely considered a success.

During the season the Timberwolves gained another valuable young asset in the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade. The Timberwolves shipped free agent to-be Corey Brewer to New York for Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry, with cash to cover Curry’s buyout. Brewer, due a pay raise in free agency and no apparent future with the team, was swapped with a young, hyper-athletic prospect who, if developed, had incredible potential. He also possessed a very friendly contract situation and remained a valuable asset to the team going forward.

The 2010-11 season ended as a failure with the Timberwolves finishing last place in the NBA, despite scoring the sixth most points out of all teams. Rambis was eventually fired, and it didn’t appear evident that the Timberwolves would replace him with anyone of significance.

The Timberwolves drew the second pick in the 2011 draft, almost a gift in disguise as Ricky Rubio announced his decision to come to Minnesota. The Timberwolves grabbed arguably the best player in the draft in Derrick Williams, and although an obvious choice, Kahn did not trade the pick for a proven veteran as “expected,” taking an absolute stud that had a chance to completely change the culture of the team. Not having the first pick may end up being the best thing for the Timberwolves, because with the first pick the Timberwolves may have selected Kyrie Irving and traded Rubio, and as we have seen so far this year Rubio may end up being the better point guard between the two.

After a series of trades that gained the Timberwolves enough money to pay off the rest of Rambis’ contract, the Timberwolves ended up with the defensive-minded shooting guard Malcolm Lee of UCLA, getting him at great value in the second round. The Timberwolves roster now contained as much potential as any in the NBA, and optimism poured into the state and positive national media attention concerning the Wolves developed for the first time in years. Actual expectations were forming and ticket sales soared to levels not reached since 2004. Ricky Rubio’s arrival in Minnesota shocked the NBA community, and Kahn basked in contentment as he escorted Rubio through Minneapolis airport in front of hundreds of excited fans and reporters during his hyped arrival.

No one expected the Timberwolves to end up hiring a better coach in the same offseason than the Los Angeles Lakers, but the opportunity came available in Rick Adelman, who saw a gem of a situation with Minnesota. His personal relationship with Kevin Love and his past success winning with young teams contributed to his decision to coaching Minnesota, but ultimately it was Glen Taylor’s decision to hand out big money to a proven veteran coach that was the main reason for the hire. Kahn’s past connections to Adelman helped contribute to the hire, and the Timberwolves could not have won bigger as they snagged the top coach on the market.

The NBA lockout wasn’t enough to diminish the excitement over the Timberwolves as they have recorded their highest attendance to begin a season in the history of the franchise. Rubio’s dazzling passes and Kevin Love’s continued dominance have led Minnesota to believe they are the future of the NBA, and in that respect, I believe Kahn has done a wonderful thing. He has put this franchise, city, and state in a position they have never been before. Not only does the team have great building blocks for the future on their roster, but the amount of young talent, and the possession of many first and second round draft picks, gives the team the opportunity to acquire valuable players as they need. One thing is clear: we have way too many players and undefined roles right now, but too much talent is a great problem to have, especially with Rick Adelman at the reins. He has an excess of great materials to create what will likely be his final masterpiece.

Whether you like to believe it or not, Kahn has restored optimism and passion for the Timberwolves in Minnesota and no one can honestly deny that. He has taken a very different route to get us here, but nothing great is built through completely traditional or conventional means. It is the true geniuses that can see through the fire, and Kahn has put this team and himself in the position to be remembered in a completely honorable light.

Photo Credits: thesportsbank.net, ngngsports.com

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