David Kahn, the enigma wrapped in a mystery sandwiched in a riddle with a side of conundrum…
Much has been written about the Timberwolves GM over the past year, particularly this summer. The general consensus in the media is that he’s a fool with all the charm and class of a used car salesman who’s in completely over his head. The general consensus among Wolves fans seems to be split between between the optimists who believe in his “plan” and, well, “KAAAAAAAAAAHHHHN!” So what is it about the Kahn Man that has everyone so fired up? When Kevin McHale was running the show, he clearly had less vision. For eleven years, he failed to build a winning team around a bonafide Top 5 talent. And while McHale wasn’t necessarily given a free pass, he was never met with the venom being spewed in Kahn’s direction. In all actuality, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Wolves fan who preferred McFail over the Kahnster. So what gives? Are we simply more frustrated six years into the re-re-re-re-re-rebuilding process than we were three years ago? Is it easier to to mock and degrade someone who looks like he probably got daily swirlies in high school than it is to rag on a legendary NBA World Champion?
I’ll admit, I’ve done my share of Kahn-bashing. I hated this year’s draft, I’m highly suspicious of the Big Al trade, and, there’s no way I could pass on the comedic potential of the David Kahn Interview (Part 1 and Part 2). However, I can’t say that I’ve lost all faith in the man. A lot of the things he does certainly make me scratch my head, but if you stop, take a step back, and look at the puzzle he’s piecing together, you can almost start to see something that resembles a legitimate NBA team.
So is David Kahn the idiot most people think he is? Is he the genius we all desperately hoped he would be when he first took this job? Or is he simply your prototypical NBA GM who tends to make dumb long-term moves to save his job in the short-term? That’s the question I’m going to attempt to answer as I review Kahn’s moves over the past 13 months.
Item #1 – The 2009 Draft
By far, the biggest rip on Kahn is his selection of Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn back-to-back in 2009. Here’s where I start to lie and say that I adamantly believed that Kahn should’ve drafted Curry at #6 when a look back through my archives clearly show that I wanted DeRozan at that pick. (Oh wait, I’m confusing myself with another Wolves blogger. Nevermind.) Actually, I’m not going to rip Kahn for the Flynn pick at all. Hindsight is 20/20 in the draft and you can always find a player that should have been drafted earlier. Honestly, Kahn should be praised for putting us in the position to draft Rubio in the first place. Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for the #5 pick was an absolute steal. As far as all the late-round shenanigans go, I’m going to put them on the back burner as well.
The bottom line is that in 2009, the #1 player that we as Wolves fans wanted was Ricky Rubio. We got him. Yes, we have to wait for him, and yes, it’s still possible that he decides to stay in Spain and never come to the NBA. However, chances are, he’ll be a Timberwolf at some point. In the NBA, you can make 50 good small moves and it won’t necessarily make you an “elite” team. It’s nailing the big moves that matter. Walking away from that draft with Ricky Rubio was something that we had no business doing, given our situation. David Kahn deserves a lot of credit for that.
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Item #2 – The 2010 Draft
This one is tough to judge because none of the players have even stepped on the floor yet. I wanted DeMarcus Cousins at #4 if we weren’t going to trade up or down. I felt that that the Wolves needed something BIG to change their fortunes and DMC was worth the risk. Kahn went with the safer (and more smiley) Wes Johnson. Who was right? Only time will tell on that one.
As far as the #16/Gomes for Webster deal goes, it probably wasn’t a smart financial move long-term. However, it’s not like the Wolves are setting the world on fire with their cap space and they still have plenty to spare. Picking up a flier on the 2005 #6 pick overall when we desperately needed a SG, isn’t the worst thing in the world. Has Webster not put up great numbers because he was buried on Portland’s bench or because he’s really not that good? Time will tell here as well.
As far as the late-round antics go, again, I think Kahn utterly dropped the ball just like he did in ’09. Trading the #23 all the way back to #30 and picking up yet another small forward in Lazar Hayward just seems stupid. It’s these kind of moves that tend to get people the most worked up, even though that pick is probably very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Had Kahn gone with the more conventional route and picked up a center like Hassan Whiteside, no one would have criticized. Instead, he does something completely inexplicable that undermines his basketball IQ and then brings rest of his decisions come into question. It’s hard to trust him on the Wes Johnson over DMC decision, when you see picks like Lazar Hayward at #30.
Overall, I hated this year’s draft. There wasn’t a single pick I agreed with. However, I can’t hand out any sort of real verdict here until we actually see Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, and DeMarcus Cousins on the court next season.
Item #3 – Free Agency
The Wolves were clearly in a bad spot heading into this year’s free agency. They had no shot at any of the big names. The next tier of guys like Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay were taken completely out of the mix due to the ridiculous contracts their own teams handed them. The Wolves flirted with David Lee, but nothing materialized there. I don’t know whether to give Kahn a thumbs up for not offering a ridiculous contract to Lee, or a thumbs down for even bringing him in in the first place.
At the end of the day, the Wolves “big” splash was resigning Darko to a respectable 4-year $20M deal. I know this has been a favorite signing for the media to mock, but Darko did show flashes of serviceability last season. The deal is certainly reasonable for a starting center. By comparison, the Hawks will waste far more money in the last year of a 35 year-old Joe Johnson’s deal than the Wolves will over the lifetime of Milicic’s, but few people are skewering Atlanta’s GM like they are Kahn.
Getting Pekovic officially inked will be another plus as fans have been waiting quite a while to see him in action. And Luke Ridnour… meh. Part of me believes that this signing falls on Rambis’ shoulders and not Kahn’s. I don’t see why Kahn would go out and make a deal like that unless Rambis specifically felt that Ramon Sessions wasn’t meeting his needs and a better shooter like Ridnour was necessary.
Overall, the Wolves didn’t make much noise on the market, but that was hardly Kahn’s fault. I guess we’ll give him credit for not going crazy like many other GM’s, although it’s hard to say if it’s because he’s fiscally responsible or just becauslae he didn’t have anybody to go crazy on.
Item #4 – Trades
It doesn’t get much better than Michael Beasley for a 2nd rounder. Like Rubio, Beasley was the player that had Wolves fans drooling in 2008. Granted, he hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding him in college, but there’s plenty of time for the young fella to develop into the player we all hoped he would be. I think the pairing of Beasley with Wade may have hurt his development as Wade’s a very ball-dominant player. As I suspect we’re about to find out in Miami, sometimes when you put two explosive scorer’s on the same team one of them is going to see a drop in productivity. There’s only one ball, and Beasley certainly didn’t have the free reign to score at will in Miami like he will in Minnesota.
As I said before, the Wolves need something BIG to change their direction. The 2008 #2 pick overall could be just that guy. Riley only gave him up because it was Beasley or LeBron. It’s hard to think of any player who wouldn’t be let go in that scenario. While it’s certianly too early to break out the crown just yet, it’s quite possible that Kahn may have been gifted with Minnesota’s newest franchise player.
And then there’s the Big Al trade. Taking two heavily-protected 1st rounders and tons of cap space in exchange for your team’s best player is a pretty big gamble. The Rogue Trader unquestionably needs to follow up Step 1 of this move with a very strong Step 2 or he’s going to have a mutiny on his hands. Heading into July, there were hopes of obtaining a player like Kevin Martin, Ben Gordon, or Danny Granger for the Big Alcoholic. Needless to say, when the expectation in a Jefferson trade was a player of that caliber and the actual result was Kosta Koufos, it’s not surprising that the deal was met with such harsh criticism from the fans. Still, the final chapter has yet to be written, as the Wolves could certainly turn their cap space into a star player over the course of this season or next summer.
So in summary…
Kahn deserves plenty of credit for obtaining the rights to Ricky Rubio last summer.
The 2010 draft may be a massive failure, but it’s far too early to tell.
Kahn played his cards in free-agency about as well as could be expected.
Big props to Kahn for obtaining Beasley. Even if it was “handed” to him, he managed to be the one of 28 other GM’s who ended up with Be-Easy.
The Jefferson trade really can’t be judged until we see what happens to the cap space.
So why does everyone hate Kahn?
If you look at that list above, there are a handful of things that he’s done really, really well. There’s a handful of things that are mind bogglingly stupid, but likely insignificant. Then, there are a fair amount of scenarios where things could completely blow up in his face or could end up also being really, really good, and we just have to wait and see. Overall, it doesn’t look like a resume that deserves the level of viciousness that Kahn gets on a daily basis. So what gives? Here’s my personal theory…
#1 – He tries a little too hard. For example, the words Darko Milicic and “manna from heaven” should never be used in the same sentence. Kahn tends to “over sell” his moves and players and ends up making himself look dumb. All GM’s need to learn to “paint a nice picture” of their players, but Kahn manages to do it in a way that makes him come off as a used-car salesman. On the flip side though, Kahn does give me the impression of some one who’s genuinely a nice guy and might actually even care about his players.
#2 – As I mentioned before, Kahn’s managed to pull off a couple of really, really dumb minor moves that completely undermine his larger deals even if they’re potentially good.
#3 – A lot of his big ticket moves like acquiring Rubio and trading Jefferson are ones that leave fans waiting and waiting for the payoff. I believe both drafting Ricky and trading Al will pay dividends, but after a while the waiting becomes tiresome. It makes it much harder to stomach Wes Johnson over DMC when Rubio is still in Spain.
#4 – He came into his job touting a 17 month plan. We’re currently in month #13 and the team looks like it may be the worst in the league. Kahn set the expectations very high for this summer and we’ve yet to see the fruit of his labor. In all honestly, a 30 month plan is probably closer to reality.
#5 – He’s been financially sound throughout his tenure, and that’s a good thing. However, he’s also been sooooooooo financially sound that one can’t help but wonder if the plan has actually been to save Taylor money and not win games.
So what do I think???
Look, I’ve been as frustrated with Kahn as anyone this summer. I was really hoping we’d get a top draft pick, and while the ping pong balls are not Kahn’s fault, it still didn’t happen. That lead to a massively underwhelming draft instead of the franchise-altering one we’d been hoping for. We then whiffed on anything remotely exciting in free agency, which again was probably not Kahn’s fault. Follow that up with a deflating “wait and see” Big Al trade, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.
Our hopes for this summer were to draft John Wall/Evan Turner, sign Joe Johnson/Rudy Gay, and trade Big Al for Granger/Iggy/Kevin Martin, etc. The reality was Wes Johnson, Darko, and cap space. Again, I don’t really know what David Kahn could’ve done to make our “dream scenario” come true, given the hand we were ultimately dealt. However, I think where he is to blame is that he sold us on “17 months” and caused us to think that something like the above scenario was remotely possible.
The reality is 30 months. In 30 months from when he took office, David Kahn could quite possibly have a very, very entertaining and exciting basketball team on his hands. In all reality, the Wolves could very well be the worst team in the league this season. Taking all lottery luck out of the equation, that’s a Top 4 pick at worst. Something will likely happen with the cap space from the Jefferson trade and the boatload of 1st round picks we now own. If it doesn’t, I’m blaming Taylor and not Kahn. Then you bring Rubio over, and suddenly you’ve got a lineup of…
#4 pick or better in 2011
Those players were all drafted in the Top 6 and are relatively young. A lot of them are cast-offs, but at some point, they had to do something spectacular with the basketball to get picked that high. At the end of the day, if you believe in Rambis as your coach and he believes those guys fit with his system, then you have to expect to see something out of a crop of young players like that. Then you can add to the mix whatever player we ultimately sign or trade for using our cap space. Now that’s a team that I can get excited about! That’s the type of team I’ve been waiting six years to see!
Is Kahn a good GM or not? I think the jury is still out. At some point, when you’re as bad for as long as the Wolves have been, you can’t help but accumulate some sort of assets. However, I do think that instead of accumulating young players without any sort of vision like we saw during the McHale regime, Kahn and Rambis at least have a (and I shudder to say this) blueprint. Is it a championship blueprint? Again, the jury is out, and will be out for a long time.
I started writing this article with the intention of “figuring out” exactly what I thought of Kahn. It’s too easy to get caught up in the wide-spread hate-fest currently going on. After looking at him more closely, I see both good and bad, and a whole lot of “wait and see”. However, while my mind isn’t completely made up regarding Kahn, this exercise has allowed me to a step back and really re-assess where the Wolves are headed. As much as I want to get my head checked for writing this, I do believe David Kahn can get us where I want us to be. All it takes is bringing Rubio over, sucking horribly this season, and pulling off a trade/signing that almost certainly will be available. I’m not asking him to work miracles.
So yes, things may not be as gloomy as we thought, and David Kahn may not be entirely incompetent, but no matter what the case, there is still going to be plenty more funny videos, T-Pain raps, and other whimsical non-sense on TWB. After all, comedy is comedy.