One of the more repeated storylines in the Association goes something as follows:
“The Minnesota Timberwolves are an inept franchise that is stuck in a miserable market that no one wants to play in and are run by a bungling POBO who should never have been given the job in the first place.”
I expect this from the numerous hacks who cite unnamed “sources”, the uninformed public in general and even sportsguys who have a very obvious agenda. But to see it repeated ad nauseum by otherwise intelligent and level headed CanisHoopers has been a difficult pill for this reader to swallow. As Timberwolves fans, we have lived through the reigns of Trader Jack and Traitor McHale. We watched a top 10 all time NBA talent lay the groundwork for last nights “Decision” and suffered each summer as our FO spent more time casting lines into Minnesota lakes than they did trying to land a big NBA fish. Now, we have a guy that is willing to put in the hours, take accountability for his actions, and is willing and able to recruit talented people with no prior connection to the franchise to help him and we still aren’t satisfied… WTF PEOPLE!!! All we can really ask of our FO is to work hard, be active and agile, and put the franchise in the best position possible to utilize assets to a maximum. Which of these traits has David Kahn not shown?
Sure, David Kahn may come across as a bit of a used car salesman, he doesn’t have a golden resume nor the media backing of his peers and I understand that people such as Tom Penn and Kevin Pritchard and others (especially those trained in the dark arts of statistics) have sparkly backgrounds and proven track records (a quick aside: before the devout members of the church of advanced stats attempt to convert me, I understand the need for and enjoy reading from the gospel of APBRmetrics, but I think this tells only part of the story of the rise of NBA player and there has to be a medium between the “eye test” and the “stats test”), but as we have seen with the disintegration of the Portland FO, an outsiders perspective never gives the full story of the inside workings.
Around these parts, the pater familia of the new breed of NBA GM is Sam Presti. Since OKC and Minneapolis aren’t exactly the first cities to pop up on NBA wish lists and being that Mr. Presti holds a near cult like following amongst CH followers, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the first full year and following summer of Presti running the franchise versus that of our own David Kahn.
Sam Presti is hired in June of 2007 and inherits these assets.
He then makes the following major moves:
Drafts Kevin Durant
Trades Rashard Lewis to Orlando for a $9 million trade exception that was then traded to Phoenix for Kurt Thomas and 2 future first round picks
Trades draft rights to Carl Landry for future second round pick
SuperSonics record 2007/08: 20-62
The Thunder make their first appearance in OKC:
Drafts Russell Westbrook
Drafts Serge Ibaka
After 1-12 start P.J. Carlesimo is fired and Scott Brooks is promoted
Signs Nenad Krstic to 3 year $15.58 million deal
Trades 2009 first round pick for Thabo Sefolosha
Thunder record 2008/09: 23-59
David Kahn is hired in May of 2009 and inherits these assets.
He then makes the following major moves:
Drafts Jonny Flynn
Trades draft rights of Ty Lawson to Denver for future first round draft pick
Drafts Wayne Ellington
Hires Kurt Rambis as head coach
Trades Brian Cardinal for Darko Milicic and cash considerations
Timberwolves record: 15-67
Drafts Wesley Johnson
Trades Ryan Gomes and draft rights to Luke Babbit for Martell Webster
Trades #23 and #56 for #30 and #35 picks
Drafts Lazar Hayward
Drafts Namanja Bjelica
Signs Darko Milicic to 4 year $20 million contract
Signs Niko Pekovic to 3 year $13 million contract
Trades future second round pick and right to swap first round picks for Michael Beasley
Timberwolves record: TBD
So far, to my eye, Presti holds one very distinct advantage over David Kahn; Sam Presti lucked into Kevin Durant in his first year on the job and voila, there is the franchise player to build around. Had the Blazers listened to echoes from the past and, well, passed on another partially broken big man for a potent scoring wing, the Sam Presti tale perhaps deviates from its yellow brick road to GM glory before it even begins… Anywho. There is one glaring mistake in the beginning of the Presti career arc and that is the hiring of P.J. Carlesimo. Presti showed he has the ability to admit a mistake and correct it when he hired Scott Brooks. A risk to be sure, but since Presti made the decision, the narrative goes that the hiring was a brilliant move by a brilliant young GM, and to be fair it has proven to be just that. In comparison, there are two big question marks in Kahns first year of maneuvering. The first is delaying the hiring of a head coach until after the draft. This is not unprecedented in the NBA, but far from ideal. It has been suggested that the first mistake directly led to the second which is the drafting of Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry. The debate of Curry vs Flynn has been had, and I see no need to rehash here… Call it a mistake (although I am not convinced it is a franchise crippling mistake) and let’s move on. To be fair, David Kahn has shown he also has the ability to admit his errors and correct them with the hiring of Tony Ronzone before this years draft.
What I am getting at here is that Presti and the Thunder didn’t make the jump to playoff level contenders until the third year. Building up to the playoff appearance, Presti acquired assets in the form of numerous draft picks in the 2009-2011 drafts and expiring contracts that will provide the team the ability to keep their young core together for the foreseeable future. But again, the big leap to the playoffs wasn’t made until his third season in charge. The first two seasons under Presti, the Thunder were terrible.
Essentially the Thunder roster is built around the #2 (Kevin Durant), #3 (James Harden), #4(Russell Westbrook), and #5 (Jeff Green) picks in three drafts. Presti supplemented the roster with a mid level contract to a 25 year old Euro big (Nenad Kristic) and a long, athletic 25 year old perimeter player (Thabo Sefolosha).
Going into David Kahn’s second year, the Timberwolves have acquired numerous draft picks and after moving Al Jefferson (assumption at the time of writing) the Wolves will have ample cap space to either keep their young players or go after the elusive “BIG NAME” free agent that so many in Wolvesdom have been pining for. They will (potentially) be built around the #2 (Mike Beasley), #4 (Wes Johnson), and two #5 picks (Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love) in three drafts (only 2 of these that Kahn has been directly involved in). Kahn supplemented the roster with 2 below mid level contract Euro bigs (Darko Milicic and Niko Pekovic) and a long, athletic 25 year old perimeter player (Martell Webster).
I guess what I’m getting at is that groupthink is prevalent in the world of sports fandom. What Would Presti Do seems to be the common theme amongst the Hoopus crowd and when comparing just the maneuverings of the two, one could maybe argue that David Kahn IS following the Sam Presti blueprint minus lucking into the franchise player. Maybe it is time for those closest to the team to start changing the narrative and judge the POBO on his merits instead of what the media or a perhaps disgruntled FO insider thinks of him. Time will tell if the decisions made were right or not, but let’s not just assume the worst because then we aren’t any better than those who live in the echo chamber of mass media.