It's been a busy 24 hours for the Wolves. A few thoughts on what went down below the fold.
Let's start by having some fun with numbers:
- Cost of DeMarcus Cousins for the next 4 years: roughly $12 mil ($3.1 mil this year).
- Cost of Darko Milicic for the next 4 years: $20 mil ($5 mil this year).
- Cost of pick 16 + Ryan Gomes' buyout for 2010: roughly $2.4 mil.
- Cost of Martel Webster: $4.8 mil.
Difference between the two paths in 2010:
- 16 + buyout + Cousins: roughly $5.5 mil.
- Darko + Webster: $9.8 mil.
Possible lineup differences:
- Alternate reality: (James Anderson/Luke Babbit)/Cousins
- Isle of Kahn: Wesbter/Darko
Now, let's throw Wes Johnson and a max deal for Rudy Gay into the mix:
- Cost of Rudy Gay for the next 5 years: $80+ mil
- Cost of his doppelganger Wes Johnson: in the neighborhood of $15-20 mil depending on player options.
Granted, we have no idea what type of production Mr. Johnson will put up, but he's the same type of player as Rudy so I'll go back to what I wrote a day or so after the draft:
This off-season can still be salvaged. With a good Al Jefferson trade and a decent free agent signing (or two) the Wolves can still have an A+ off season, no matter what happened on draft day. That's the crazy thing. Kahn can still luck his way into this thing. He can still accidentally make lemonade.
In theory, the Wolves still have a shot to bring this thing on home in a very acceptable manner. I'm still willing to give them a bit of time to allow the other shoe to drop because it's a reasonable thing to do and we all know that Al Jefferson is going to be moved. That being said, my faith in David Kahn to be able to pull this off in practice is pretty much lying at a low level these days. Kahn is busy at work at his masterpiece and I have a bad feeling that while we're all hoping for a second version of Appetite for Destruction, we're going to get a double album mess of a flame out. Use your illusion indeed.
What is especially problematic for Wolves fans is that their way forward during the past few seasons has been soooooooo obvious as to set itself firmly in the minds of even the most casual Minny sports fan. Brandon Roy should have been taken over Randy Foye. Jonny Flynn didn't make a lick of sense in relation to Stephen Curry. In terms of the editorial wing of this website, our last four drafts would have gone Noah, Love, Curry, and Cousins with players like Mario Chalmers, Ty Lawson, and DeJuan Blair thrown in for good measure.
While there is obviously a lot of behind-the-scenes action that goes on in an NBA front office that would leave even the most dedicated fan dizzy and overwhelmed, I honestly do not think it would be too much of a stretch to say that the team would have had better luck in the draft had they simply crowdsourced their player selection. The point of all of this isn't to brag or boast about anything or to say that the team should be handed over to a group of fans; rather, it is simply to point out that this is a fan base that has absolutely zero tolerance for GMs and POBOs who think they are too cool for school. At this point we want the simple move. Take the BPA. Don't get too attached to an abstract plan. Make the most of your small-market assets...stuff like that.
David Kahn is dangerously close to stepping over the line from modestly creative to being as cute as a Care Bear. Sir Hugs-a-Lot is not someone I want heading up my favorite professional sports franchise.
The kicker here, and the only thing that keeps me screaming towards Thunder fandom (which will happen at the trading deadline if the other shoe doesn't drop) is this: What else is Kahn supposed to do? I'll quibble with him about Johnson over DMC, but what is he supposed to do here? Max out Rudy Gay? Max out David Lee? Make an offer to Chris Bosh? In theory, the Wolves entered the off season with a boat load of assets, but in reality, they did so with a very limited sphere of action.
David Kahn has, and has always had, one obvious big move: Getting rid of Al Jefferson in a sign-and-trade and then trying to move a trade exception plus additional assets for a good player at the trade deadline. No one is going to sign straight-up with the Wolves for anything close to a reasonable amount. They get to sign people with an added step. They have to make trades. The Al Jefferson sign-and-trade has been obvious for almost a year now. It doesn't really matter who they get in return as long as he is young, talented, and can be packaged with some of the duplicate assets, trade exception, and a draft pick near the trading deadline for a big name player. That's their only home run swing. It probably won't work, but what else are they supposed to do in order to swing for the fences? Yeah, they could draft better, but spending roughly as much on Darko as Atlanta does on Zaza isn't insane. Bringing over Pek for what they brought him over for is actually a pretty damn good signing.
David Kahn and the Wolves are taking their home run swing. I won't say what I think about their chances or what I think about Kahn's eye for talent because this post isn't about those things. It's simply to point out that they aren't flying off the reservation like national pundits like Bill Simmons and Adrian Wojrarowski say they are....yet. This thing in its current form is as ugly as hell. All of the balls are in the air and the chips are on the table. In order for everything to fall into place, the mismatched assets have to be moved for a piece that fits. (You can read more about trade exceptions by clicking here.)
The bottom line here is that the Wolves have a limited color palette from which they can paint. Yeah, it's crazy that they have 5 power forwards and that Kahn seems to only draft guys at one position in each draft, but it's not like smart NBA followers can't, at the very least, see what he's trying to do. Al Jefferson is going to get moved for a usable asset and they can hopefully get a TPE to use with other assets at the trade deadline. If Kahn can't complete these moves (or other similar ones), and if he cannot catch the balls that are all in the air at the same time, then yeah, he's a crazy screw up who swung for the fences and missed. Also, and more importantly, if Kahn does go down in flames, it won't be because he drafted a bunch of duplicate players, it will be because he drafted bad (or the wrong) duplicate players. Choosing Flynn and Johnson over Curry and Cousins will likely hurt much more than does signing Darko to $5 mil/year, especially if Darko can play at a decent level as a starting center. Kahn's eye for talent is what should scare people, not his willingness to take what is a fairly understandable (and the only available) home run swing. For instance, if he can move Al for something that involves Derrick Favors and then make a deadline deal for Melo (or CP3), he's hit a home run. A big one. If not, then we're looking at the Atlanta path to mediocrity or a complete flame out.
This, to me, is the rub with Kahn. I think it's quite obvious what he is trying to do and, in a weird way, I can't help but to respect him for it. He is taking a swing for the fences and while he is an easy target in terms of each singular move he makes, I think he takes a bit too much heat for pursuing a team building route that most likely represents the path forward with the highest ceiling for success for a team like the Wolves.
Additionally, by signing players like Darko, Pek, and Webster, Kahn has furthered the franchise's commitment to making the most of its available resources: Player development with guys who are obtainable is the goal here. Taking on castaways and EuroLeague players isn't at the top of the list for teams like the Bulls, Heat, or the Lakers, but for a team like the Wolves, it's a different story altogether. His critics are quick to point out that no one wants to come to the frozen tundra, but they aren't so quick to acknowledge the other side of this very real coin.
This post isn't to excuse Kahn for everything that he has done; rather, it is simply to say that I think his most vocal critics are barking up the wrong tree. His blindside isn't that he hands out contracts to players like Darko or that he drafts a bunch of guys at the same position, it's that he doesn't appear to have a very good eye for talent. That's a pretty damning statement all by itself.
Also, it should be noted that while he passed up on the BPA Cousins, he has thrown his lot in with a reverse allocation of resources: spending a bit more on a center (Darko) + Wes Johnson instead of going hog-wild with a max deal for Gay and using DMC as a cost-effective option at the 5. Again, what he is clearly trying to do is not crazy. It's just that he doesn't seem to be able to select the BPA when it is presented to him.
At the end of the day, the Wolves still could pull this off. I don't have a lot of faith that they can do so, but I do think the route they are taking is fairly clear, and that it represents their best path forward to a high ceiling. The problem is that if they swing and miss, they are right back at square one. Kahn is all-in on Rubio. Kahn is all-in on swinging for the fences this year. That's a lot of pressure, specifically on the upcoming Jefferson trade and their dealings at the trade deadline. This is why I have said over and over again that this is the date where I'll know if they're going to make it or not. If Kahn cannot catch everything that is in the air right now by then....well, I already have my Thunder jersey picked out.
PS: I also think it should be noted that the Wolves have upgraded the talent on their roster this off season. Even by passing over the BPAs at several steps of the way, they have replaced some dead weight with what should be better talent.