David Kahn out as Timberwolves boss, Flip Saunders set to take over, according to report

Kelly Dwyer
April 26, 2013
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David Kahn, to put it very mildly, has had more downs than ups in his time running the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since taking over the team in 2009, the ex-NBA journalist and former NBC Sports teaboy has presided over four losing seasons, while working with a roster whose two best players (Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic; apologies to Ricky Rubio fans, but Ricky’s not there yet) were drafted by the previous regime.

According to NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, a former longtime Timberwolves beat writer, Kahn himself is soon to be “the previous regime.” Flip Saunders, the longtime Timberwolves coach and second-hand man to personnel chief Kevin McHale, could be set to take over the Wolves. Here’s the report:

Former NBA head coach Flip Saunders is expected to return to the Minnesota Timberwolves as the team’s next president of basketball operations, NBA.com has learned.

Saunders, 58, has been negotiating a contract that, with option years, could run through the 2017-18 season and could be worth more than $9 million over the full five years, according to league sources who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the hiring.

The move, which could become official as soon as next week, would end David Kahn‘s controversial tenure after four seasons and an 89-223 record during which the Timberwolves’ failure to reach the playoffs stretched to nine consecutive seasons. Kahn’s contract includes a team option for 2013-14 that will not be exercised.

Aschburner reached out to Saunders on Thursday, but the former Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards coach neither confirmed nor denied the report.

The report went on to mention that Saunders apparently has no designs on the Timberwolves coaching job, currently held by the damn-good Rick Adelman. Aschburner credits Adelman’s front office influence for aiding in acquisitions that brought in players like Chase Budinger, while clearing some of Kahn’s rehab failures like Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, and bust lottery pick Wesley Johnson.

Those were good moves, for the current Timberwolves coach. But can the former Timberwolves coach — or any NBA coach — hack it as a full-time personnel boss?

Saunders had his say in the old Timberwolves front office aside McHale, technically starting out as the team’s genearl manager under the former Boston Celtics All-Star while ex-coach Bill Blair roamed the Minnesota sidelines. Though the team did fantastic work in making the playoffs every year between 1997 and 2004, there were worrying signs along the edges when it came to the team’s personnel choices, and endless attempts to fill both the center and shooting guard position. Saunders and McHale seemed to show a preference for inefficient players who failed the Timberwolves as Garnett-helpers during KG’s Minnesota years, additions that would receive extreme scrutiny in 2013.

Garnett’s 1997 contract extension was signed before the idea of a maximum contract was bargained into the NBA’s salary cap law, and he was grandfathered into his next, massive contract extension. As a result, the team was always over the cap and forced to work around the edges in order to secure talent to support KG with. McHale and Saunders’ choices looked like good helpers, a series of smooth long-range 2-point shooters bent on utilizing Saunders’ endless array of guard-around screens at the elbow-extended part of the floor.

This offense looked great, it should be told, constantly ranking amongst the top of the league in assists per game while tossing up plenty of pretty 20-footers. It also never got to the free-throw line and rarely poured in 3-pointers. As a result, what we loved watching in 2001 has now been revealed as completely useless in 2013. Saunders’ offense was like our bad high school poetry.

Perhaps this was either a sign of the times, a result of limited airspace around KG’s contract, mostly McHale’s fault, or something Saunders has learned from. There’s no telling on any of those fronts until Saunders’ starts to make his moves.

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As we talked about earlier this month, the initial offseasons concerns for the Timberwolves are pretty easy to suss out — match just about any offer for Pekovic in restricted free agency, and do whatever you can to encourage Adelman to return as coach. Because we’re more than a week removed from the end of the 2012-13 regular season, it seems more likely that Adelman will be coming back for 2013-14; usually when players or coaches walk away from a game that wants them back, they do it immediately after a rough season.

Unless Adelman harbors some previously unmentioned aversion to Saunders, we’re guessing there will be no complications on that end. Aschburner is reporting that Saunders and Adelman have a good relationship, with Flip showing no interest in the coaching side of things. How well Saunders receives Adelman’s personnel input, though, remains to be seen.

Working as an NBA general manager is hard. You may not appreciate the patronizing tone I just took, but that’s the best way to put it. It isn’t easy to guide a franchise, be forced into quick hits depending on an ever-changing market when it comes to picking a coach, a draft pick, a batch of offseason acquisitions, and working at the trade deadline. No offseason, draft, or trade deadline is the same; NBA GMs are always at the mercy of what they have available, and what’s available to them.

Kahn wasn’t good at the job, though. He picked up on some fine players, and showed interest in several other fine players, but quite a few GM candidates and/or ex-NBA scribes could do the same thing. What matters most is tilting the needle in the positive direction, and Kahn was incapable of doing as much because of his constant movement, constant meddling, and constant talking. It’s true that he took a shine to players whom most of us admire to no end, but he also fawned over many more who didn’t deserve it. All while endlessly swapping and moving and tinkering and talking and reportedly getting in petty fights with other small-market front offices.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor probably doesn’t want to be bugged about yet another trade that is going to lead to this trade that is going to end up in this trade that leads to that guy who just hit the 3 to tie the game against the Lakers working for the Houston Rockets instead of the Timberwolves. He’s probably sick of the run-on sentences transactions. He wants a known quantity, a local guy he’s worked with before.

Whether that known quantity is any good is anyone’s guess. Flip Saunders knows the game of basketball damn well. That’s not the only prerequisite for becoming a great NBA GM, though.

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