Everything that wants to take flight engages four fundamental forces of nature:
- Thrust - that which moves it forward
- Lift - that which pulls it up
- Gravity - that which pulls it down
- Drag - that which kills its momentum
For the past 6 years, the drag on Flight 600 First Avenue North has gone by one name: David Kahn.
Minnesota has been positively, weirdly and unrepentantly enthusiastic about ditching Kevin Love. Why is that? Love is a top 10 player in the NBA. He sets all sorts of rebounding-shooting combination records, dazzles with performances that haven't been seen in decades, and finishes with production that stacks up with the likes of David Robinson and Wilt Chamberlain. And Minnesota nearly outright hates him for that.
David Kahn did not draft Kevin Love. That is not the point. The point is that what drove Love away was David Kahn's responsibility. And I'm not talking about the 3 year Early Termination ICBM that launched something of a nuclear Cold War in the Target Center.
In the end, Love wanted to win. That was it. Was the contract a sore subject to him? Absolutely, as it should have been. But nothing slanted Love more than losing....and being burdened with the image of a loser because of it.
Love kept performing Herculean tasks-going for 30 points and 15 rebounds, or 30 and 20, even 30 and 30-only to miss the playoffs every year. He alone has carried the burden.
"It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about.If I don't make the playoffs next year I don't know what will happen."
"Kevin and I have always had a good relationship. Kevin always said, 'I want to win.' I said, 'I do, too. Stay here, let's win together.'"
"No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win."
Abundantly clear talking w/ @kevinlove: Feels deeply connected to Wolves fan-base, loves Minny as sports town. He wants badly to win THERE.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) December 12, 2012
Kevin Love has done nothing here except prove everyone wrong....myself definitely included. He's defied all conventional basketball wisdom and become one of the most structured, prolific players in the NBA. Arguably in NBA history. But despite an undeniable ascension to superstardom, he's never been fully embraced by fans or by his team. And the defining interview that seems to be universally hailed as The Reason We Don't Like Kevin Love....an interview in which he ironically spoke nothing but the truth....in the end outlined exactly why he's gone. And subtly explains why 'Sota is happy about that.
"My patience is not high," Love said. "Would yours be, especially when I'm a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? All these [Team USA] guys seem to have great players around them."
"If we don't make the playoffs, I don't know it's going to be me or something, but our management needs to step up and make some moves."
Kevin Love wanted to win. David Kahn was the reason he couldn't. It started 5 weeks into the job, when he passed on Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft, and went right off the cliff from there.
What would have turned the Wolves into a winner?
A great roster.
And who was responsible for the roster?
Love played his first year for Kevin McHale, chosen by The Mac for reasons that can be effectively summarized as "he reminds me of myself". Then the next four years in the NBA, he played under David Kahn's watch, with a roster David Kahn assembled. Let's remind ourselves who those players were:
- Jonny Flynn
- Ryan Hollins
- Sasha Pavlovic
- Corey Brewer v.1
- Wes Johnson
- Michael Beasley
- Anthony Randolph
- Sebastian Telfair
- Derrick Williams
That's ten players the Wolves played big minutes in Love first 5 years. Of those ten, eight of them were brought in by Kahn. Of those eight, four are no longer in the NBA. Possibly five, if no one picks up Beasley (and it looks like no one will) That's not exactly "surrounding Love with greatness".
Meanwhile, Steph Curry is an All Star, spending his work days shattering all kinds of shooting records.
The most aggravating criticism of Love is that, because his team isn't winning, he isn't a winner. This is a team that, at one point, was fielding a starting lineup of Love, Darko, Beasley, Luke Ridnour, and Michael Beasley. But somehow the losing became entirely Love's fault, floating on the paddleboat arguments "stat padder" and "can't play defense".
Add to this, Love wasn't even a starter half the time, thanks to another Kahn decision: hiring Kurt Rambis as the head coach. Rambis and Kahn immediately decided Love didn't look the part of a star player, and did everything they could to relegate him to the bench. Most notably.....by relegating him to the bench. At one point, Rambis chose to start Ryan Hollins...current Clippers' victory cigar....over Love.
The sum total of this was losing. A lot of losing. Very little of which was Love's fault, but most of which got laid at his sneakers, even after both Rambis and Kahn were sent packing.
But most damaging of all, David Kahn's mistakes continued to shadow the franchise years after he departed.
In his very first year, Kahn drafted Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry. That alone set this franchise back 10 years. With an able center, a Rubio-Curry-Love core would likely be competing for a Western Conference Finals berth. And the 3 year ETO bomb, angry Yahoo candor, surly locker room interviews, summer trade drama...all that never happens.
Wes Johnson came the next year. And then Kahn...despite ample evidence neither was working...picked up the options on both Flynn and Wes' contracts, forcing him to include draft picks in trades to get rid of them.
This then forced him...and later, Saunders....to try and spend his way out of trouble, expending assets to get guys like Chase Budinger and handing out huge contracts (Kahntracts...) to guys like Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko. The next season, Saunders was forced to double down on Kahn's bet, capping out the Wolves in a hail mary attempt at winning by spending huge to keep Chase and Nikola Pekovic, and add Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer.
What Kahn started on June 26th, 2009, cascaded down and down and down until it became an avalanche that buried the Wolves. By the time Saunders took over, Love was already head down and halfway out the door, leaving Flip with no choice but to spend everything to try and change his mind. By the end of the season, the Wolves not only had no playoffs, but also no cap space, nearly no young talent, and very likely no Kevin Love. Minnesota's talent pool ran dry, thanks to years of poor or traded draft picks, and they had no flexibility to change that.
This was Kahn's ultimate millstone around the neck of the Wolves. His bitter legacy. His Killing Joke. The very first real choice he made in June 2009...one month after he was hired, dragged the Wolves all the way down into August 2014...over a year after he was fired. Even without him in the office, the Wolves could not escape his downhill momentum.
We've been dogged by rumors about Love all season. We still hear jokes about "manna in heaven" and "collecting point guards". Love is saddled with the label of 'loser' because of the terrible rosters Kahn assembled, and the team continued losing even after ditching him because of the haphazard roster Saunders assembled to try and reverse the damage Kahn did. But by that point, it was already too late. Kahn wrecked things in a fundamental way, demoralizing Kevin Love and then leaving him as a distraught, polarizing figure that reminded everyone of what he did. Starting over became the only real option
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/ZacharyBD">@ZacharyBD</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BenSchleuss">@BenSchleuss</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/thedailywolf">@thedailywolf</a> Wolves are so far away from any of that. Saunders real agenda here is to staunch the bleeding.</p>— brittrobson (@brittrobson) <a href="https://twitter.com/brittrobson/statuses/503979062491353089">August 25, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Glen Taylor is not a perfect owner. He was just as responsible for the 3 year ETO as Kahn....probably more so, in honesty. He hired Kahn. It was his money he refused to spend. And he's just as prone as Kahn was to making bizarre basketball statement disconnected from reality. But that isn't what stopped the team from winning. Kevin Love still showed up every night. He still produced staggering numbers and set unprecedented records. It wasn't his fault. And he didn't try any less hard despite feeling slighted by the contract. Glen Taylor did not stop Kevin Love. Far more than 5 years, Love just wanted to win. Kahn was the one who systematically destroyed any chance he had at that.
We shouldn't trick ourselves into believing this is just good karma turning our way. The Wolves were not unlucky. They were stupid. They looked at Ricky Rubio kickouts to Love and Curry and went with a guy who couldn't last three years in the NBA instead. For an appetizer. This wasn't Kahn getting caught in bad situations. This was Kahn naively, yet nevertheless intentionally making bad decisions that cost the Wolves several years of the future, and ultimately a top 10 player.
Flip Saunders did get lucky that LeBron is LeBron, and pulled off a miracle in this deal. In one move, he's fully restocked the youth cabinet Kahn's bad picks and bad trades left bare. In two years, he has turned over 13 of the 15 roster spots. In one trade, he's fully assembled the Run With Ricky team Kahn spent 3+ years trying to build and couldn't. This team, even as it likely piles up loses over the next few years, feels like it has a real future again.
This may be the hidden, driving truth behind Minnesota's otherwise baffling elation with sending away an NBA superstar. Why fans turn up in record numbers at open scrimmages and open houses and autograph sessions. Why we flood the state fair grounds and camp out at the radio booths. Not because we want Love gone, per se. But rather that because he's gone, we can let go of everything David Kahn heaped on him, and on the franchise, and by association, on us. We can stop obsessing about what his mistakes have cost us; stop drowning in the frustration of What David Kahn Did To Us. Of losing hope and losing without hope.
Like Jesse Pinkman screaming away from Walter White's madness, we have finally been freed of David Kahn.