(ED NOTE: Our computer is on the fritz and I just have an ipad, so for today's Daily Cup of Canis, I'm bumping this article to the front page. The Daily Cup will be back tomorrow...or at least that's what the computer fixer upper place dude said.)
Conventional wisdom has it that Sam Presti is the best executive in the NBA, for assembling a powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder team, with all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, rising stars James Harden and Serge Ibaka, and a deep bench. Presti is respected for his judgment of talent, his salary cap management, and his leveraging of salary cap space to pick up bargains from other teams.
David Kahn, in contrast, is largely ridiculed by the national press for his alleged cluelessness, arrogance and inability to judge talent during the past three seasons he has led the Timberwolves. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that Kahn’s sole success so far was trading for the right to draft Ricky Rubio and ultimately signing him.
But conventional wisdom is often shallow and shortsighted. David Kahn operates at a level of sophistication that transcends Presti’s. He is playing chess, while Presti is playing checkers.
Here are the top ten reasons that David Kahn is a better basketball executive than Sam Presti:
1. Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Love – Both Minnesota and Oklahoma City drafted UCLA players in the 2008 draft who became all stars. OKC re-signed Westbrook to a five year contract at $80 million dollars. In contrast, the Wolves held firm and signed Love to a four year deal at $60 million, with a player option at three years. Unlike the Thunder, the Wolves retained their “Designated Player” maximum contract for someone more likely to leave.
Consider: Ricky Rubio will be a highly desirable free agent in several years, and it took a great deal of effort to get him to come to the NBA from overseas in the first place. Love, in contrast, is from the continental United States and expressed a strong desire to sign as long a contract as possible with the Timberwolves. Since he is not a danger to leave, why waste the team’s only exception on him?
In our league, flexibility is everything.
2. Michael Beasley vs. Kevin Durant – Two of the historically great college freshman seasons were had by a couple of versatile star forwards from the Washington DC, metro area. Both were drafted 2nd in the draft, Durant in 2007 and Beasley in 2008.
But Kevin Durant has likely peaked. Beasley, in contrast, is coming up for contract renewal with plenty of upside to be realized.
In our league, buying low and selling high is the way great teams are built. For example, the Boston Celtics drafted Larry Bird his junior year with the sixth pick. Had they waited till his senior year, he would have been a higher pick.
In 2011, Oklahoma City traded for Kendrick Perkins. A bruising rebounder and defender, he played an important role as the Celtic’s starting center on their 2008 championship team. Darko Milicic, the Wolves center, is a more skilled player than Perkins, though he admittedly has not achieved the consistency of his lesser talented peer.
But Perkins will never be more than a bruiser, while Darko’s athleticism, soft hands, passing and shooting ability present amazing upside.
A Hollywood tale illustrates why variable upside trumps fixed mediocrity: In the late 50’s, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were both struggling young actors looking for their big break. They happened to go on a studio casting call together – both were rejected. “You can’t act”, Burt Reynolds was told. Eastwood’s rejection was: “your Adams apple is bizarrely big”. As the actors left the studio, Reynolds comforted Eastwood. “Hey, they shot you down too”, said Clint. “I may learn to act someday, but you will never get rid of that thing”, said Reynolds.
In our league, championships are won with versatile great centers. Darko only needs to blossom, but Perkins will never learn to shoot.
4. James Hardin v Derrick Williams
Two young stars that grew up in LA and played for two years at Pac 10 schools in Arizona. Both were top three picks in the NBA draft. So what’s wrong with this picture?
Simply put, one of these players (Williams) is from a basketball factory (Arizona) that has won an NCAA championship, been in numerous Final Fours and put dozens of players in the NBA. The other (Harden) is from a school (Arizona State) that last advanced to the Elite Eight in 1975.
In our league, pedigree matters.
The Thunder’s season was marred by bitter infighting between its two stars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The root cause of this strife was arguably Presti’s avoidance of clearly anointing one of the two players as the franchise leader (aside from the POBO, obviously).
The Wolves neatly avoided this dilemma. Ricky Rubio is clearly the clubs future, its “Big Ticket”, despite Kevin Love’s gaudy statistics.
Great teams have an established leader.
6. Learning from Mistakes
With the 57th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the Timberwolves selected Tanguy Ngombo, a promising swingman from the Congo born in 1989. After the draft, much disparagement, indeed hilarity ensued when Ngombo was proved to be born in 1984, a player in his late 20’s who was too old to be draft eligible.
Ngombo may never end up contributing significantly in the NBA – opinions vary. But Presti made a far more egregious error in the 2011 draft, wasting a first round selection (Reggie Jackson at 24th) rather than a second rounder. Jackson, though a Hall of Famer in baseball, is now 65 years old, and has not played competitive basketball since high school. If he was going to play another sport, football would be a much safer choice, as he was a star running back in college. Even for football, he would be a dubious choice, as he matriculated at Arizona State (see item #4).
We are none of us perfect.
Sam Presti may well have a distinguished NBA career. Fact is, there is no way to know. He was born in 1976, and has only been in a position of authority since 2007.
David Kahn was born in 1961. In 1983, when Sam Presti was seven years old, Kahn had graduated college, and had begun his NBA career, as a journalist covering the Portland Trailblazers.
8. Ability to Attract Top Coaches
Scott Brooks, the Oklahoma City coach, was a Wolves backup point guard during their expansion season, and has barely been heard from since. Rick Adelman has the eighth highest winning percentage in NBA history - .610. Even Kurt Rambis was a player or member of the coaching staff for many more wins and NBA championships than Scott Brooks.
For that matter, both Rambis and Adelman were better NBA players than Brooks.
Our league is a league of players
This one isn’t even close. David Kahn attended college at UCLA (a top global research institution and basketball powerhouse) and graduated NYU law school, ranked in the top twenty nationally. Presti attended and played basketball at Emerson College, a Division III college in Boston. He has spent his meager twelve years of work experience in the two smallest metropolitan areas in the NBA, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
10. PR Value
For a small market team, colorful beats colorless when it comes to getting attention from the major media outlets on either coast. Presti, though respected, is barely known outside of league insiders. David Kahn is a national name.
Bill Simmons of ESPN does not even call the Thunder by their name, referring to them as the “Zombie Sonics”. David Kahn, by contrast, is frequently referenced by Simmons in writing and podcasts, who affectionate yelling of “Kahn!!!!!” is reminiscent of “Norm!!!!” the beloved character on 1980’s sitcom Cheers.