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Ball Don't Lie

David Kahn ends his Minnesota Timberwolves career in a blaze of excuse-making glory

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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David Kahn at the 2010 NBA draft lottery (Getty Images)

When word filtered out on Thursday night that the long-rumored separation between David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves was nigh, many of us giddily rubbed our hands in anticipation of how the outgoing Wolves general manager would somehow make a bad situation worse by talking his way out of it. Kahn has made an NBA career out of insulting others’ intelligence, and in an interview with the Associated Press’ John Krawczynski, he got the ball rolling exactly as you’d expect:

Martyrdom … engaged!

Not content to sit on that potshot after a disastrous personnel choosing career that left the Timberwolves with the same top two assets (Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic, both drafted by Kevin McHale) that were on the team’s books when Kahn entered the fray, David took to the local Star Tribune for a massive four-part interview with Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda. The results are expected, sometimes infuriating, with the notable anecdotes too ridiculously to ably paraphrase.

Allow us to introduce you to some of Kahn’s finer, final, moments.

Q. What are your emotions, reactions? Did it catch you by surprise?

A. A little bit. I would say a mixture of disappointment, sadness and frankly a little bit of relief.

Completely understandable.

Q. Why relief?

A. I’ve been in a lot of hospital rooms the last 14 months.

Let the excuses begin!

It’s true that the Timberwolves were over .500 (by a game) when Ricky Rubio tore his ACL 14 months ago, and that the team would have had a shot at the playoffs this season even with Rubio returning midseason had Kevin Love been healthy and Brandon Roy panned out. The problem with that assumption is the ridiculous notion that Brandon Roy would ever return to even approximate his old form, as someone with a bone-on-bone knee condition cannot recover in the same way that someone who has torn a ligament or tendon can.

And it’s still an assumption. Would this Wolves team, even behind Rick Adelman, have won the necessary 45 or more games needed to make this year’s playoff bracket? Remember, the 2012-13 version of the Western Conference is far stronger than the conference that Minnesota ratcheted up that 20-19 record in last season.

Q. I heard a couple of your radio interviews today. How well positioned do you think you leave this team?

A. Highly well positioned. I think it’s a team that’s a force to be reckoned with the next seven to 10 years.

This is the man who also decided to give Kevin Love a contract that was only guaranteed for three years, allowing him to walk in the same summer that Ricky Rubio becomes a restricted free agent. If Rubio is unhappy with the Wolves but also aware that they’ll match any free agent offer for his services, he can simply play out the string and leave following the next season.

Q. You said next 7 to 10 years. So you’re convinced that, unlike many Wolves fans, Kevin Love doesn’t bolt in 2015 because of that opt out clause?

A. I don’t believe any player makes his mind up until he has to make his mind up. There is nothing that would suggest to me that Kevin is irrational.

This is why Kevin Love will strongly consider leaving the Timberwolves in 2015 unless new personnel chief Flip Saunders makes a series of excellent moves to surround him with healthier, more reliable talent. Kevin Love is not irrational.

Q. Did you handle the contract extension with him well?

A. We handled it the best way we can, and of course I handled it per instructions from the owner. Glen and I talked about it at length. I think it actually took me some time to tell Glen it was imperative he receive max money. The only issue, the only quibble came down to that last year and as I’ve said countless times, for us the danger was if you commit for five years, you’re really committed for six because of the lockout year, which he was playing. It’s an awfully long time to string a contract out with all the variables that can occur mostly due to injuries and oftentimes to big men. That was it. I think Kevin really had his heart set on a fifth year.

So, blame the owner first. Let’s get that out of the way.

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Kevin Love (Getty Images)

Lockout year nonsense aside, yes, handing someone the maximum amount of years and cash to play for your team is a gamble, unless you’re gambling on a player like Kevin Love. Love was beset by two freak injuries in 2009-10 and 2012-13 and a concussion late in 2011-12, but beyond that he’s done everything you’d ask as a franchise-level player that puts a team in a spot to win. Provided of course that you don’t initially hire a coach in Kurt Rambis that sees fit to play him around 27 minutes per game over the first two years of his career, despite All-Star level per-minute stats.

Q. Think his feeling toward that or his feeling towards you influence Glen’s decision?

A. I doubt it. You’d have to ask Glen, but I doubt it. And my feelings toward Kevin, frankly, I really like him. And we’ve had some really productive conversation about the steps he needs to take to win back the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches.

THANKS A LOT, WOJ. WE’VE GIVEN KAHN ANOTHER EXCUSE.

Q. But if he doesn’t have respect for the guy who runs the organization, that’s important isn’t it?

A. If you want to say it’s important, then you have to put it in context. If the person won’t let him have what he wants to have every time, you can make a counter-argument that that’s actually probably a healthy situation, too, that you don’t kind of cave to every desire.

A max-level player wanted to stay in a small market for as many years as possible, and David Kahn saw fit to not “cave to” that max player’s “every desire.” This is the context that David Kahn is speaking about.

Q. When you look back on the draft record – we don’t have to go through it line by line – Flynn, Wes, all that, what’s your opinion of it?

A. Let’s not do it line by line but year by year, OK?

2009, I’m hired on May 22, 2009. There are four GMs or assistant GMs who have been scouting the entire year and one of their complaints to me was that despite all their scouting work in the past, in the end nobody would listen to them and my predecessor would take who he wanted to take.

Heads-up, someone’s passing the buck around super-quickly and bucks can hurt if your hands aren’t ready for the dish.

In drafts, you can make a mistake or you can make a mistake you’ll never recover from. One can argue that the Trail Blazers in certain ways didn’t recover from the Jordan draft (in 1984). Our decision to take Jonny Flynn is not a decision we couldn’t recover from. Memphis is playing this week and if they win one more game, they advance to the second round and in that same draft, they took Hasheem Thabeet with the second pick.

Q: Why did you take Jonny Flynn?

A: [Names a bunch of other teams that drafted bad players.]

And the reason we deferred the other pick (18th overall, which they traded to Denver and took Ty Lawson for the Nuggets in exchange for a 2010 first rounder). The reason we deferred is we didn’t have a coach yet and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with making a lot of decisions with so little so much more work to do with who would be coaching these guys.

“I did keep Ty Lawson, who was immediately hailed as the steal of the draft on draft night, because I didn’t want to possibly upset an unnamed coach.”

This man is absolutely incapable of say, “my bad.”

Kahn goes on to talk up Wesley Johnson, weirdly:

And you should ask Rick about this: One of the selling points to Rick on this job when he was watching film of the team, he really liked Wes Johnson. And there was a lot to like about Wes. He was athletic. Even though he didn’t have a ball that had a lot of rotation on it, seemed to go in from a distance. You could really see him developing into an elite defender. I just think one of the things we missed was I’m not sure at the time his commitment was what was necessary. And I can’t speak for what he’s been like in Phoenix, but I’m noticing that it looks like they may be wanting to bring him back.

So drafting Wesley Johnson (since traded to Phoenix) fourth overall well before hiring Rick Adelman was cool because Adelman said nice things about him after you drafted him fourth overall while you were recruiting Rick several months after you drafted him fourth overall.

And Phoenix, a team that won 25 games this year with a since-fired GM, “may be wanting to bring him back!”

On Darko Milicic:

Darko, we played Darko.

No, Darko played you.

Kurt Rambis and Dave Wohl both were big proponents of making the trade. And once we obtained Darko, I could see what they were talking about. Darko has enormous skills. Both Kurt and Bill Laimbeer played the big-man position in the league and they felt if it ever worked out for him psychologically, he could be one of the top three or four centers in the league.

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Darko Milicic (Getty Images)

So, the same line of thinking that was in place for four other failed teams (Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York) spread out over the seven years prior to the offseason that saw you give Milicic a four-year, $20 million deal (with three years guaranteed) when nobody else was offering Darko anything more than a one-year exception.

Three years guaranteed for a player that you hope, just because you were nice to him with the money, would turn it around “psychologically.”

[Anthony] Randolph, Dave Wohl was very high on him. Our background research was that he could develop into somebody with some star potential. Again the price point was very low. It was Corey Brewer for the most part, who we knew we would probably not want to re-sign and allocate resources to. The risk reward was quite small.

Pass the buck, and make a point to reference a rotation member of a 57-win team on your way out as low “price point.”

On an attempt to sign David Lee in July of 2010, and his potential paring with Kevin Love:

Q. If you had been able to sign Lee, you would have kept both?

A. We would have had to, but I never thought when David visited that he would sign with us. The main purpose for his visit was, he was interested in us. One of the things I felt I needed to change these last four years was, the perception was that people didn’t want to come to Minnesota. And once they heard Minnesota, that was it. You had heard that four years ago, too. Having him to come in – it was a very serious visit – but I thought it was a highly unlikely we’d be able to come to a deal with David.

I’d venture to guess that the points won outside of the Timberwolves organization because a B-level free agent in David Lee merely visited Minnesota on a free agent trip were probably trumped by the points lost in the organization when you attempt to sign a lesser version of Kevin Love to a free agent deal to play Love’s position after two seasons of employing a bad coach that played Love just 26.6 minutes per game.

Q. You think you changed that image of Minnesota into a desirable destination?

A. Well, the word destination, I’ll let other people make the definition. But if four years I would have told you we would have Ricky Rubio, Rick Adelman, Kevin Love playing at his level, a starting center (Nikola Pekovic) who’s probably aiming for a double-digit salary, Andrei Kirilenko, J.J. Barea off a championship team in Dallas, I could keep going. I think you’d look at me like … So yes if there’s one thing I’m most proud of, I think we’ve changed the entire perception around what can occur here. And but for the injuries these last 14 months, I truly believe the results would have matched with that atmosphere. But I’m the first to acknowledge that because of the injuries they do not.

This is an organization that could not sign free agents for years because of Kevin Garnett’s cap-clogging contract. Kevin Garnett is the player that signed two contract extensions in Minnesota, mind you, and refused to ask for a trade while working through his prime even after three seasons in the lottery, because he was so loyal to Minnesota. He must have known David Lee was going to visit the Timberwolves someday.

Q. I know you thought Kurt Rambis was so ready for the coaching job in 2009. But after drafting two point guards back to back, did you know you were getting a coach who was running a system that didn’t maximize a point guard’s skills?

A. That’s a very good question and I want to be very careful. The last thing that Kurt deserves to be put in the middle of this.

Of course you wouldn’t want to put Kurt Rambis in the middle of this. You hired a coach that told you he was going to run the triangle offense (not very well, it turns out), and you drafted a bunch of point guards. This is the only thing that actually isn’t Rambis’ fault.

Two things: One is I think Kurt really prided himself on the team’s offense and thus we spent an extraordinary amount of time practicing that and not enough practicing defense. And to your point, he hoped over time the offense he put in would sink in and it’d make sense for everybody. You have to ask him but maybe if he had to do it over again, he would have started on a much more simplistic level for the benefit for some of the players so they would have had an easier time of it in that system. Those are the two things I’d say and I hope they’re said gently.

This quote comes DIRECTLY AFTER KAHN SAID THAT HE DIDN’T WANT TO BLAME KURT RAMBIS.

Q: Why did you draft players that didn’t fit your coach’s system?

A: I hired a bad coach.

Kahn goes on to talk about whiffing on Kenneth Faried in the 2011 draft because he didn’t have a reliable scouting infrastructure in place two years after he was hired, he discusses the hip injury that apparently prevented Jonny Flynn from turning into the next Isiah Thomas, and then he ends with this gem:

Q. Anything you’d do differently?

A. Oh, for sure. For me, important thing was if you made a mistake, understand why you made a mistake and change the behavior so next time you don’t make the same mistake.

OK, knowing this, can you give that interview all over again?

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