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.
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