Analyzing David Kahn's Master Plan for the Timberwolves
First off, let's get with it, Bleacher Report. David Kahn has been with the Timberwolves for over three months now and you don't have any pictures uploaded to use in our article photos? As someone who is literally the new head of an entire franchise, let's get with it, fellas!
The Timberwolves have had a very busy and exciting offseason, the most active in franchise history. Its been better than every one minus the Latrell Sprewell-Sam Cassell deals that everyone knew would work since veteran laden teams are the ones that win and they finally figured out the formula that it takes proven winners to, I don't know, win?
For a 24 win team, I challenge anyone to find me an equally weak team that had a more productive offseason to date. For comparison, 23 win Oklahoma basically got James Harden in the draft, got in on the Etan Thomas deal, and had another first round pick. The Clippers, win about 24 every year and do we read about them in the same capacity as the Wolves? No.
Here's a rundown of what they've done so far:
The (re)Making of a Franchise
- Fans always offer the simplest advice when their team is losing. "It isn't working, we should just blow the team up and start over." We'll that exactly what the Timberwolves finally did (thank God) on May 22, 2009 when he was introduced as new President of Basketball Operations (essentially the GM) and face of a struggling team.
Funny thing is, Kahn wasn't even the first choice.
That was Spurs Assistant GM Bill Lindsey who politely declined. He wasn't even the second choice. Nope, that went to former Heat GM Randy Pfund (my wish at the time) who also turned it down. Finally Wolves fans thought they had it nailed with Portland Asst GM Tom Penn who turned it down at the 11th hour instead to take a raise and a new do-nothing position for the same team.
I was against Kahn at the beginning due to his reputation as a shady businessman and a failure in Indiana as GM and assistant to Donnie Walsh. Sure, Kahn was respected in the NBA-DL (developmental league) as owner of four teams, but so what? He was out of basketball for seven years as far as anyone was concerned.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor finally realized he needed to bring someone from outside the organization who was neutral and didn't simply spit the company line nor see every failure through rose colored glasses.
- June 17, 2009 longtime embattled predecessor to Kahn, Kevin McHale was finally fired now serving as interim coach, by the Timberwolves and Kahn. This singular move alone reignited the pessimistic fan base and showed fans there indeed was a new sheriff in town.
- June 23, 2009 Two nights before the NBA draft, Kahn, barely a month on the job, continued to create buzz where there otherwise was none, when he shipped two disappointments to DC in the form of Mike Miller and Randy Foye. The loss of Foye officially closed the door on one of McHale most controversial and boneheaded trades in team history (even if he never had any intention of actually keeping Roy as some disagree). More importantly, the trade landed the Wolves with a valuable second pick in the lottery, one that they'd use to draft all-World PG Ricky Rubio and really create a buzz.
- June 25, 2009 Wolves draft Johnny Flynn and Ricky Rubio: While I was initally against the Rubio pick due to my Fran Vazquez fears of a foreign player refusing to come over to the U.S. thus wasting a pick, I realized the Wolves needed to do it even if it blows up in their faces as it still could. No matter what Rubio does, he'll be a marketing machine, and that alone is more valuable than any other reach the Wolves may have made. In addition, by Rubio staying in the news as he is, the Wolves continue to get publicity as a result. Finally, should the Wolves two-PG system ever materialize, it could have Wildcat-type effect seen in the NFL with Kahn as the crafty genius.
- Rubio and Spain ongoing negotiations. Again, every time Rubio is in the news, the lowly, perceived small market Timberwolves are to, and until Rubio comes out and says he'll never play in Minnesota, its all good publicity and it shows the base they are trying.
- July 21, 2009 Minnesota trades three bench players (and contracts) for one as Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, and Mark Madsen head to the Los Angeles Clippers for Quentin Richardson. Seen as a salary dump move, the Wolves acquire another very valuable expiring contract from Richardson not to mention SG depth and veteran experience should he actually stay (I have my doubts but he can't be traded for 60 days).
Wolves fans came to realize that Kahn evaluated these players and reached the conclusion, that while nice upstanding men, none will ever be more than nice role players that Kahn can't do anything with so he packaged them for one more manageable contract which will be valuable in the 2010 free agent shopping spree. This also opened up two more roster spots, one likely for Rubio and another for....
- July 27, 2009 Six days later, the Wolves send one of their now three expiring contracts in Etan Thomas to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins.
As soon as I heard this I questioned the move but not for reasons you might think. I figured Kahn was trading one very valuable expiring contract for two and that is exactly what he did. While smaller than Thomas's giant one, the two combined still continue to give the Wolves more cap space in 2010.
- Wolves have long drawn out, two month, fourteen candidate national coaching search. Like Rubio, the longer this takes, the more the Wolves are in the news. If you are thinking just local news, think again, as ESPN has been having Wolves stories up all summer with their activity.
- August 11, 2009 Kurt Rambis, formerly of the Champion Los Angeles Lakers is hired as Head Coach. This not only makes sense from an experience side—four rings as a player and four more as Phil Jackson's assistant—but it never hurts to pluck a proven winner from one of the most storied teams in all of sports and whom served under one of the most respected men in the league's history. The move should give the Wolves instant credibility and mutual league respect something they've always lacked from Day One. The Rambis hire is an A+. If not him, than who? Who would have been better?
- More trades? The fun thing about Kahn and the new-look Wolves is you never really know if or when they are done dealing. There is a recent report that perhaps by the end of this week Richardson will be gone for my guess—two more expiring contracts which will bring the Wolves $2-3 more million under the cap for 2010.
So, What's the Plan?
You're probably asking, "What good does all this cap space do if no one wants to come to cold, small market Minnesota? Just because you have money doesn't mean someone will take it."
That may be true. However, with Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Johnny Flynn, and presumably, Rubio, the cupboard is not empty. True the team won forty-six games over the past two years, but this is unlike the truly worthless Wolves teams of the early 1990's where you knew they were 15-win bad. This team has some pieces, they just didn't have any direction or leadership that they now do.
For those wondering, "Trades are nice, but it doesn't do any good if you are making moves, just to make moves."
That's true if you have no plan, but if your moves are purposeful and of quality, that's different as I believe these are.
As it currently stands the Wolves roster looks something like this:
PG Flynn, Atkins
SG Wilkins, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Brown
SF Ryan Gomes, Richardson, Corey Brewer
PF Love, Darius Songalia, Oleksiy Pecherov, Brain "$6.3M a year" Cardinal (fourth on depth!)
C Jefferson, Ryan Hollins, a 25-year-old upstart that never got to play much in Dallas
Of these players, I'd say only Jefferson, Flynn, and hopefully Love are safe, the rest, like Brewer are all worthless to expendable.
My personal bet as to who is next out of town? Gomes. Why? Because he's similar to the "nice player" role where he's solid, but not spectacular and I don't feel he's Kahn's type of player. He averages 13 points per game, but so what? Nice as that is, at that position you can do better, which I think Kahn will in free agency.
Step One: Trades
Kahn trades one or two more expiring contracts for more assets, i.e. first-round picks or future cap space. I would not be surprised to see a combination of Cardinal, Atkins, or Richardson go, something like Cardinal for two smaller expirings like the Thomas deal, or similar with Richardson.
Kahn has already publicly admitted that Love is the fourth best option on the team and Jefferson a "2" so what does that leave? A 1 and a 3. My guess is Rubio is the 3 leaving Kahn open to landing that one big fish like a Stoudemire or Bosh.
Step Two: Sign One or Two Big Free Agents Come 2010
SG Flynn, Ellington
SF Love or Bosh
C Stoudemire, Hollins
Kahn is going to make this team so solid, with a big splash that he's gonna set everything up for Rubio and dare him not to come over here and take the keys to this team. That is why he's working on the depth issue.
This is why he's getting so far under the cap, to offer Elton Brand type money to a player like Stoudemire who would fill a team need while still keeping the team young, or Bosh who having played in cold Canada already, would likely be more acclimated to the weather. These are just suggestions.
Kahn is setting himself up to not only be a major player, but perhaps the only player in some cases, making the offer hard for the free agent to refuse (whoever that may be). Money spends just as good as anyone else's, the only problem is trying to persuade someone to come here on the heels of what will likely be a thirty win season at best.
Maybe someone will buy into Kahn's vision, just like his rejuvenated fan base has.
Step Three: Strengthen the Bench
As nice as Flynn, Love, and Jefferson are the bench is paper thin beyond them. As every coach does, they have "their players."
Don't be surprised if the Lakers and Wolves get together on a few deals to bring some of Rambis' guys over like a Josh Powell or a Sasha Vujacic. Not only are the Lakers already way over the cap, they fit Minnesota's youth mold and neither have ever really been able to shine buried in L.A.'s bench.
Powell could serve to be another diamond, potentially like people believe Hollins to be. Minnesota has enticing options as already explained and like the Rambis addition, it never hurts to pluck players from winning teams.
Oh, and if this isn't encouraging enough—Minnesota owns up to three first-round picks next year, their own, Charlotte's (top 12 protected), Denver (top 16), and Boston's in addition to their own in 2011 so they won't be going away any time soon. Expect to continue to read all about their latest activity in the rumor mills with so many options, future cap space, and tradable assets to offer.
It's a fun time to be a Wolves fan—even if they won only 24 games last year. People who read my articles should know I'm as pessimistic as they come, but Kahn has yet to make a move that I really disagree with therefore he gets a A thus far.
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