David Kahn, asked what he intends to do with the Wolves' roster, consistently says he wants the team to play like the "Showtime" Lakers. He strongly implied it during the press conference about Kurt Rambis's hiring,
During the announcement, Timberwolves President David Kahn described the playing style he expects the young Wolves will take on next year.
"We will be a running, up-tempo team.... (O)ur identity will be fastbreak basketball. As a player, Kurt was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers 'Showtime' teams. Those teams thrived by using an up-tempo style, yet knew how to score in the halfcourt when necessary. They also played outstanding defense. Kurt is committed to employing such a style that will complement the young, athletic players we are assembling."
and he's repeated that basic story ever since whenever he's been asked about where the team is headed.
Somehow or other, the Wolves' fan base seems to have decided Kahn is trying to build the Seven-Seconds-or-Less (SSOL) Phoenix Suns instead. It's an understandable mistake – Phoenix's recent running teams were memorable – but that's still a wrong comparison, or anyway it's not what Kahn says. He always mentions "Showtime" in response to questions. He hired a former player from that Lakers era to coach his roster. I'm unable to recall any particular comparisons he's made with Phoenix. He didn't consider any former D'Antoni assistants during his coaching search last year; he looked at young assistants from Houston and Portland, two of the slower teams around, instead.
Just how much of a running team would the Wolves be, if they were running 'like the Showtime Lakers'? One way to ask that question is to look at the pace of those old teams next to that of the Nash-led Suns.
Lakers' "Pace" rankings over Magic Johnson's (pre-HIV retirement) career:
1979-80: 104.1 (8th of 22) (Won NBA Finals)
1980-81: 103.9 (6th of 23) (Lost in 1st round)
1981-82: 103.1 (4th of 23) (Won NBA Finals
1982-83: 103.8 (10th of 23) (Lost NBA Finals)
1983-84: 103.7 (6th of 23) (Lost NBA Finals
1984-85: 103.2 (9th of 23) (Won NBA Finals)
1985-86: 102.7 (10th of 23) (Lost in WCF)
1986-87: 101.6 (10th of 23) (Won NBA Finals)
1987-88: 99.1 (11th of 23) (Won NBA Finals)
1988-89: 100.1 (12th of 25) (Lost NBA Finals)
1989-90: 96.3 (20th of 27) (Lost in 2nd Round)
1990-91: 94.1 (25th of 27) (Lost NBA Finals)
Phoenix Suns' "Pace" Rankings since signing Steve Nash as a free agent:
2004-05: 95.9 (1st of 30) (Lost WCF to San Antonio)
2005-06: 95.8 (1st of 30) (Lost WCF to Dallas)
2006-07: 95.6 (3rd of 30) (Got drubbed 4-2 by the Spurs in 2nd round)
2007-08: 96.7 (4th of 30) (Lost to Spurs in first round 4-1)
2008-09: 96.0 (4th of 30) (Under Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry, not D'Antoni)
2009-10: 95.3 (4th of 30) (Lost in WCF)
These were two very different eras in the NBA. Possessions-per-game numbers – the raw numbers before the rankings – are higher for the old Lakers rosters because they were higher for the NBA as a whole. The 94.1 that made Los Angeles 25th of 27 teams in 1991 would have been something like 6th in the league in 2009-10. The two #1 rankings Phoenix put up in 04-5 and 05-6 would have ranked much lower in the 1980s NBA.
However, relative to the rest of the league, the Showtime Lakers weren't the running equal of the SSOL Suns. Magic's Lakers rosters never led the (then-smaller) NBA in pushing the pace of the game. Except for one year, they weren't even all that close. As a thumbnail average of those rankings, the Showtime teams came out between the 8th- and 9th-fastest pace of play in the NBA – tossing out the last two years, there, which for argument's sake we're not going to call "Showtime" anyway. Maybe the Lakers ran a beautiful fast break, but they weren't running it that much more than most other teams.
The Wolves – by forcing their pace, or by allowing other teams to go crazy due to their defensive lapses, or however we want to explain it – were already 3rd in the NBA last year in terms of that pace number. Relative to other teams in the league, they were already higher than Magic's Lakers teams ever got.
We've been debating stuff like whether Al Jefferson's game, or Kevin Love's, can fit with a running team ever since David Kahn's first couple of comments about the Wolves team he was taking over. "Can Kevin Love be the PF in a Running Offense?" "How does Al Jefferson fit the running style?" We're asking these questions as if every significant player on the roster needs to be another Shawn Marion. Isn't there still some room to ask: Just how much of a running offensive style would this be, exactly?
Wouldn't the "Showtime" goal probably be somewhere in between the relative pace numbers and the raw possessions-per-game ones, here? We don't really expect the Wolves to turn into the next Suns all-out sprinting roster, do we? Denver's ranked 1st, 6th, and 5th in pace the last three years; does that seem like a plausible level to expect from a winning Wolves team under Kahn? Do the players we're wringing our hands over – Love, Jefferson, Darko, Pekovic – strike you as incapable of playing on a reasonably-fast NBA team of today, like the Nuggets these last three years?