The other day, the Wolves traded Lazar Hayward to Oklahoma City for two 2nd round picks and the cap relief from his modest contract. A common refrain heard after this trade was, “Great! The Wolves acquired two 2nd round picks for a player who had no spot on the roster. Great value.” Or, “awesome! All Dallas was able to get for Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer was a single 2nd round pick!” Now, there is nothing untrue about the previous statements by any means, but to truly look at why this trade is bad, let’s take a 2008 Kevin Love-sized step back and examine the forest.
Before delving too deep into a futile issue here (a freaking Lazar Hayward trade), let’s spend some time chatting about a curse bestowed upon a sub-faction of Wolves fans ever since a fateful day that coincided with a major Minneapolis bridge collapsing into the Mississippi River: The Garnett trade on August 1st, 2007. I’m not sure whether it was former Wolves mastermind Kevin McHale’s mindless inability to make good use of a first round pick, but ever since this day a certain chunk of Wolves fans have become, to use Woj-like hyperbole, blindly obsessed with draft picks and potential over proven NBA talent. Every first round pick, whether the Wolves own one or four, is a ‘chance to add the next star.’
It is hard to really pinpoint the reason for this obsession, but it is there. As were a group of fans who, for various reasons, defended Kahn’s decision to trade Al Jefferson to the Utah Jazz for two poorly positioned first round picks, Kosta Koufos and cap relief that was eventually used on Anthony Randolph. “First round picks! Potential! Kobe and Malone were drafted in the mid-first round! Randolph was once drafted higher than Jefferson and compared to Lamar Odom on a draft website! We needed to get rid of Al Jefferson to make room for Love!” (Gee, you coulda tested the market and traded him for a solid wing instead of Kosta Koufos’ nose). Never-you-mind the Wolves had a coaching staff these past two years who couldn’t develop a case of syphilis at a ASU sorority house, not to mention basketball talent; but the mystique and allure that these imaginary planets would align in some form of anti-apocalyptic, one in four-hundred trillion manner was too exciting for a fan-base used to the same repeatable, predictable 5.5-month run of disappointment, shaken and stirred with sub-zero temperatures and snowdrifts the size of Oliver Miller’s annual Thanksgiving feast.
MUCH MORE Below the Jump:
David Kahn, to expand on a recent comment from forum regular Roundhouse, has the ear of a fan-base who place tremendous, often times irrational value in draft picks, regardless of range, and the potential of players who have about 300 ‘if statements’ attached to their names ‘if’ the Wolves are ever destined to compete in the Western Conference. As Roundhouse puts it, Kahn is the anchor of the “Wolves PR Machine” of selling players who just simply aren’t very good, but are labeled as such for various reasons. This is true in every sense. Now, don’t get me wrong for a second. Draft picks are important, useful, and absolutely crucial to fielding a winning team, but they are one small piece to a greater puzzle: quality use of assets. While David Kahn has made his fair share of solid moves, they generally fall into a good or a bad version of the following three transaction categories:
1. Trading existing players for draft picks and cap relief that goes unused
2. Trading those acquired draft picks for more picks in subsequent drafts…that go basically unused
3. Taking flyers on players devalued in the trade market by early-career disappointment or behavior reasons, but are ‘high in potential,’ regardless of fit or position.
Actually, let’s make it 4. Making horrible draft selections (statement added for nit-pickers: yes, with a few obvious exceptions. But even those picks were so obvious a prenatal child in its second trimester could have made the picks, now think of a different comment to add)
Kahn flat out takes the “I’m going to throw this bucket of fecal matter on the wall and see if anything sticks or averages over 10 a game.” Taking a look-see down Kahn’s track record, the man has not acquired a single, established, honest-to-goodness, high-quality impact NBA player via trade. But, yet, since he makes good on acquiring picks, taking flyers on guys who have ‘potential’ or were once drafted high, or simply makes moves in general (transactions are exciting) he generally gets a pass. This is flawed logic, and the team will without question maintain a losing record with this approach until we see a change in style. Kahn has put himself in a position where he absolutely needs to put multiple young pieces on the market in order to see what he can acquire in terms of established NBA players, who, heaven forbid, might actually fill a specific need or skillset the Wolves sorely lack. Kevin Martin. Andre Iguodala. Monta Ellis. Heck, even OJ Mayo if these other guys aren’t possible (which they absolutely are for the right price). All four of these guys could potentially be had. Kahn: call up the relevant team and ask them “what will it take?” The Wolves or its fans will simply not miss Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Pekovic and a set of draft picks if those players/assets were replaced by any of the above players. The team would be better immediately, may actually post a winning record, and will have finally made good on the assets Kahn has been blindly accumulating for over two years now. The Clippers called up New Orleans and asked the question, and maybe overpaid in the eyes of ‘potential-whores,’ but they acquired the best PG in basketball and are an immediate contender in the West while the Hornets are lottery bound indefinitely. The Clippers won the trade and there is no argument. Zero questions asked.
We are clearly getting way off track here.
Going back to the Hayward refrains as outlined above, the common idea is that because other teams have given away first round picks, or because Dallas gave away Brewer/Fernandez, that Kahn made a good move by nature of relativity. Simply false. If you and a buddy go into a gas station and you pay $15 for a Coke and he or she pays $20 for a Coke, the fact of the matter is you both are idiots. And while two second rounders sounds like a solid return for a former 16th-man, (it is, admittedly, a nice pickup if only considering Lazar’s position on the depth chart) let’s look closer at this trade:
1. In 2007, The Wolves used some cap room to absorb a giant, African American version of Nicolas Cage (Calvin Booth), Rodney Carney, and a first round pick from Philadelphia (via Utah) so the Sixers could sign Elton Brand. Awesome, can’t-lose trade for the Wolves. (LATE UPDATE, observe the uncanny resemblance:)
2. In 2010 this pick ended up being the 23rd overall selection, in a draft featuring quite a few solid role players available at that position, including Jordan Crawford, Trevor Booker (whom the Wolves selected), Hassan Whiteside, Grevis Vasquez, Dexter Pittman, among several others.
3. The Wolves take Booker at #23 and immediately trade him to Washington for pick #30 and pick #35, taking Lazar Hayward (why we chose him in the first place is still a big question) and underwhelming, already-kind-of-old Euro prospect, Nemanja Bjelica. As I like to often joke, it remains to be seen whether Bjelica is even aware the Wolves own his rights.
4. Hayward suits up for the Wolves, and averages a few points a game jacking up ill-advised threes and looking only partially smiley.
5. A few days ago, Hayward is traded to OKC for two 2nd rounders likely to be in the 50-55th overall range.
Final net gain – Pick 23 in the 2010 draft traded for the valueless rights to Nemanja Bjelica, who will never play here, and two second round picks that have a tiny chance of yielding a player who may one day play for the Wolves and/or who’s name someone can pronounce.
Does anyone else see the flaw here? You can wax on about how Dallas gave up this and that, but this is the kahnsistent pattern of behavior Kahn has shown throughout his tenure. He did it again in the 2011 draft, and many, including me, defended the moves! While he has made a few coups since his arrival, he is significantly lacking in two major areas. 1. The ability to acquire players for a specific need who aren’t castoffs (Barea may be among his larger wins but we had to wildly overpay, relative to his offers on table, to get him, and missed out on shot-creator Jamal Crawford). And, 2. The ability to consolidate assets into one major acquisition (what this team needs to make the jump, absolutely no question). Kahn getting Adelman is nice, but Adelman will never turn this into a contending team as it stands. He is great, but not that great. Until Kahn shows a major change in his GM-ing style, Wolves fans should expect only moderate improvement this year.
And it’s too bad history generally repeats itself.