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Big Al And More

OK, I'll start out this post with the same statement I made after the Darko signing and the draft: This season's status quo was a front court of Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, and DeMarcus Cousins with a wing cache of James Anderson or Luke Babbitt.  This was before an additional first round pick, millions in cap space, and the Darko/Pek signings.  No matter what Kahn does from here on out, his actions should always be viewed against what could have happened had he simply stayed put and drafted Cousins instead of Wes Johnson and, while we're at it, Steph Curry instead of Jonny Flynn.  This isn't crying over spilled milk.  We called these picks in real time and we were adamant that Kahn made a huge mistake in real time.  It's how we judge the guy and we're sticking to it.  The Hoopus draft record in the past two years would have landed the team Steph Curry, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair, DeMarcus Cousins, and James Anderson.  I think we've done well for ourselves over that period of time, especially in comparison to Mr. Kahn. 

That being said, Kahn's non-draft related moves have been better than advertised, especially when taken in aggregate. Also, let's not ignore the possibility that while Kahn may not have drafted the BPA at each step of the way (and I think it is clear that he hasn't), he hasn't exactly drafted a load of busts either.  Go take a look at the 08/09 roster.   Do you like what you see?  Calvin Booth, Bobby Brown, Rodney Carney, Jason Collins, Shaddy, Randy Foye, Kevin Ollie, Bassy, and Mark Madsen.  Keep in mind that this team had zero cap space or flexibility. Flash forward to the current (and still in flux) rotation:

  1. Jonny Flynn/Ramon Sessions
  2. Martel Webster/Corey Brewer/Lazar Hayward/Wayne Ellington
  3. Wes Johnson/Michael Beasley/Corey Brewer
  4. Kevin Love/Michael Beasley/Ryan Hollins
  5. Darko Milicic/Nikola Pekovic
Folks, that is a dramatically improved team in several different ways, especially in the front court rotation.  Don't believe me?  Go check out the nonsense that the Wolves were running out in 09/10.  It was garbage. With the roster you can see Kahn assembling, at least there is a base upon which to move forward.  I'll repeat what I said after the Darko signing: it baffles me to no end that veteran NBA observers cannot, at the very least, see what the Wolves are trying to do here.  Let's say they can get their hands on someone like Iggy via a salary dump at the trade deadline.  Let's also pencil in the Spanish elephant in the room.  What does that roster look like?

  1. Ricky Rubio/(Flynn/Sessions/Ridnour)
  2. Iggy/Webster/(Hayward/Ellington/Brewer)
  3. Wes Jonhson/Webster
  4. Love/Beasley
  5. Milicic/Pekovic
Again, it is baffling to me that national commenters cannot give Kahn credit for taking a very obvious, and a somewhat prudent route towards rebuilding this franchise.  How else and where else would you have him use the cap space money?  The direction they are going is painfully obvious and to pretend otherwise at this point is simply disingenuous. 

Kahn has his (gigantic) flaws.  He is all-in on a Spanish League teenager with no NBA experience.  He has a draft record of not selecting the BPA at every step of the way.  He appears to be too locked into a system of play rather than simply rolling with the punches and taking the BPA.  However, he's not an avocado.  He's not insane.  Every move he makes doesn't deserve a tsunami of #kaaahnnn tweets.  Sorry folks, he's walking a remarkably consistent and forward-looking route towards rebuilding.  Accumulate draft picks and cap space and select players that fit an up tempo running style of play that is geared towards the one player he views as being somewhat transcendent (and that he was able to get his hands on): Ricky Rubio.  Even if you subscribe to the avocado approach, is a Wolves squad with Al Jefferson, Flynn, Ellington, Lawson and $31 mil in cap space really viable?  For what?  Maxing out Rudy Gay or David Lee--the only two guys who would visit the team?  Sorry, we have been saying for nearly two years now that the only way the Wolves were landing a player of substance was in the draft or with another team's salary dump (3 way or lopsided trade).  They have been all-in on this approach for over a year now and if it isn't obvious to you yet, I don't know what else to tell you.  Maybe John Hollinger can put it in simpler terms (insider):

For Minnesota, I can’t argue with the idea of trading Jefferson. There was no way he could coexist in the same frontcourt as Kevin Love, and I’m a huge Love fan. Additionally, wiping away Jefferson’s $13 million opens the door to substantial cap space — they’ll have it right away but may not choose to use it until next summer. Alternatively, they can adopt the Oklahoma City model and rent out their cap space in return for more assets. And, of course, two first-rounders never hurt. 

Regardless, a frontcourt with Love, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic and Darko Milicic will be a considerable improvement on last season’s unit, at both ends of the floor. The Wolves likely will spend another year in the basement, but one can at least see the kernels of a foundation taking shape.
Ultimately, the Big Al market never materialized.  During his press call on Tuesday night, David Kahn said that two other teams made realistic offers for Al but that ultimately he went with what he felt was the best package, a package defined as having multiple draft picks, cap space, and no big contracts in return.  Seeing that we have taken a fairly pessimistic view on Kahn's ability to properly gauge talent, I have to take this claim with a grain of salt.  We will probably never know what was offered up.  What we do know is that the player we thought the Wolves got as a centerpiece in the KG trade probably wasn't the right guy in the right place at the right time.  To his credit, Kahn made mention of this in his call and it really highlights two things: KG was a historically great player and with the NBA CBA structure being the way it is, you will never, ever get a good return on a player of his caliber.  That, to me, is the big lesson of the Big Al trade: If you are lucky enough to land a player like KG, you can't swap him for an equivalent value.  Kahn was lucky to get what he set out for.  He will be even luckier if he can turn the cap space into a starting-level perimeter player of note. 

One final thought: There will always be something in the back of my mind about wishing this team would have simply built upon the basic idea of the last season of the McHale era.  We never got to see Al Jefferson and Kevin Love play together with legitimate wing players.  We never got to see Al Jefferson with a traditional pick-and-roll point guard.  Say what you will about Jefferson, if you had to make a list of the Wolves' struggles over the past few years, he isn't near the top of the list.  He's a tremendously limited player but he was one of the two best players they had.  I'm not his biggest fan, and I think he was drastically overpaid for what he brought to the table, but he was caught in between two front office regimes and two dramatically different basketball philosophies.  That isn't his fault.  At the end of the day, there's not much sense in shedding tears for the departure of the best player on a 15 win squad, but at some point I'm ready for this franchise to go forward with what they have instead of moving on from Blueprint to Blueprint.  That part of being a Wolves fan is getting old.  For better or worse, we'll just have to hope that this current iteration of The Plan has enough time and assets to play itself out in a positive way. 

We'll have more throughout the week.  We'll take a look at Jefferson's value as well as how he will fit in with Utah.  

PS: Don't look for Kosta Koufos to join the Wolves anytime soon.  Kahn said that he had talked to Koufos' agent to let him know that they would try to find him a place where he could be higher on the depth chart in a contract season.  On the Wolves, he's the 6th man on the big man depth chart. 

Until later.