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Criticizing a former NBA general manager who was out of the league from 2004 to 2009, one that was recently fired with no obvious top job prospects on the horizon, really is shooting fish in a barrel. As we look at the remnants of the David Kahn era in Minnesota, acknowledging the entertainment value in some of the parts Kahn acquired as GM isn’t enough. It’s important to look back on just how daffy and undeservedly confident this guy was from the get-go. Also, for Timberwolves fans looking back on the Kahn era, this allows you to cast a dubious eye at whomever Wolves owner Glen Taylor hires from here on out – including the current president of basketball operations, Flip Saunders.
Longtime NBA assistant coach Dave Wohl has always been one of the league’s more talkative assistants off the record, but in conferring with Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams recently, Wohl is going all-out on Kahn on the record. In a feature about former NBA lottery pick Jonny Flynn, Kahn’s second draft pick in his first NBA draft in 2009, Wohl (a Timberwolves assistant at the time) details an absurd conversation that he swears took place between himself and Kahn after the draft. From Abrams’ typically fantastic piece:
Dave Wohl, Minnesota's lead assistant, remembers arriving in Minnesota and Kahn asking him whether Rubio and Flynn could prosper playing together. Wohl described Flynn as a good, ambitious kid. He also said that Rubio and Curry would have made a better pairing. He didn't believe either Flynn or Rubio could perform at shooting guard. "He said, 'No, no. I want to play Jonny and Rubio. They remind me of [Walt] Frazier and [Earl] Monroe,'" Wohl said.
"When he said that, I didn't know what to say. I actually played during the '70s against Earl and Clyde and there's just no comparison." Wohl told Kahn that he did not think it was an accurate comparison. "He said, 'Yeah, it is. They are two guys who can handle the ball,'" Wohl recalled Kahn saying. "When he started going in that direction, I knew that Kurt was going to have a struggle in him trying to figure out what to do with both those guys when they came because Ricky was clearly a guy who was a great passer and was going to be able to do some things offensively with his passing that Jonny, at that point, wasn't able to do," Wohl said.
Again, this conversation took place after Wohl was hired to work under head coach Kurt Rambis, a transaction that took place a full six weeks after the draft, so it isn’t as if Wohl was throwing himself in front of a Jonny Flynn-sized bullet, here. It’s still a stark reminder of how much Kahn had talked himself into developing a tiny backcourt featuring Flynn – who was listed at 6-feet tall but didn’t look it – and Rubio, who by the time of the Rambis hiring had made it clear he wasn’t coming over from Spain yet.
It soon became apparent that Rubio would not arrive from Spain immediately. At first, Flynn would grab the reins. But Kahn insisted that his newly drafted point guards could share the same backcourt. "Great players like playing with great players," he told the Star-Tribune after the draft. "Jonny is only six-feet, but he carries himself like he's 6-4. He has a 40-inch vertical leap. I've never seen a kid six-feet look and feel like he's 6-3 or 6-4 like this kid does. I think he could be very special."
Flynn did impress while at Syracuse, but he was a scoring guard that didn’t really showcase much in terms of shooting from range, or finding other scorers with accurate passes. It’s true that Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier tended to dominate the ball either during their time spent apart (with Monroe in Baltimore) or together in New York, but those two were relative giants in an era that featured quite a few mid-sized point guards running the show.
Merely handling the ball, as Kahn gushed over in talking with Wohl, isn’t enough. And while Frazier and Monroe entered the NBA in complete obscurity, especially in comparison to Flynn’s frequently nationally-televised runs at Syracuse, saddling the youngster with even a behind the scenes comparison to Hall of Famers was almost cruel in a way. In this heavily-scouted era, you don’t tend to find the next Clyde/Walt backcourt drafting fifth and sixth overall.
On top of that, Kahn hired a coach in Rambis that professed to wanting to run a version of the triangle offense, a ridiculous pairing for a general manager that wanted his two ball-handlers to make the difference from the outside-in. It was as if Kahn hadn’t watched Rubio play overseas, hadn’t seen Flynn on ESPN on Tuesday nights, and happened to miss out on the ten NBA championships that Phil Jackson had put together with that offense by 2009.
Making it worse was Rambis’ playing time designations. Kevin Love could have been fantastic in the apex of the triangle, even with Al Jefferson lumbering around behind or beside him. The other parts Kahn had in place were terrible for the offense, but Rambis also failed to field the right personnel (he started Love in 22 of just 60 games in 2009-10, despite averaging a nearly 18 points and 14 rebounds for every 36 minutes he played on the court) and the triangle never took shape.
Wohl defended his other former boss, though:
"Rambis got a lot of [stick]," Wohl said. "People really just dumped on him. I don't think they understood how little support he got from David Kahn, how poor a draft David did."
They were both pretty bad, Dave.
Abrams’ piece went on to posit that Flynn was rushed back too soon from a hip injury that was similar to the one that felled Bo Jackson’s football career. After being traded to the Houston Rockets in 2011 and showing up with the Portland Trail Blazers a year later, Flynn caught on with the Melbourne Tigers of the NBL in Australia last season. At age 24, he is hoping to make an NBA training camp this fall, and is confident he can latch on in Spain or China if that prospect fails.
Kahn, perhaps mindful of his last attempt to rationalize his time in Minnesota, declined to be interviewed for Grantland’s story.