David Kahn is the General Manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is Kahn’s fourth career; he began as a sportswriter for the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, then moved on with a law degree to working for the prestigious sports law firm Proskauer Rose. After several years working as counsel for the NBA, Kahn took an opportunity to work within one of its franchises as an executive with the Indiana Pacers. I’ve read conflicting reports about Kahn’s role; some say that he worked directly under President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh as General Manager, but that he was mostly involved in the business development side of the Pacers (and their arena, Conseco Fieldhouse), rather than player acquisition or movement. Whatever the case in his somewhat murky employment history, Kahn went on to gain employment under Glen Taylor and his Minnesota Timberwolves, taking over for NBA Hall of Famer and former Wolves GM Kevin McHale.
Kahn’s 3-year stint as GM has been, to say the least, somewhat rocky. Caught in a rebuilding movement amidst the trade of franchise cornerstone Kevin Garnett, Kahn was charged with molding the team’s future starting from the ground up. Some of the incumbent Timberwolves were forwards Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes (both obtained through dealing Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics), Kevin Love, 2nd year man Corey Brewer and a bunch of other guys. Other than that, the foundation was Kahn’s to create.
Over the next few seasons, his decisions bordered between questionable, confusing and idiotic. Coupled with an arrogant attitude and a face that belongs to a villain in a Die Hard movie, Kahn and the Timberwolves have quickly became the laughingstock of the entire league. Here is a brief timeline of some of our favorite GM’s more…interesting decisions.
Draft night, 2009: In his first public night on the job, the Timberwolves’ rebuilding movement would immediately feature Kahn’s fingerprints all over it; Minnesota had been gifted 3 first round picks that year.
With the 5th pick, Kahn raised eyebrows immediately by selecting point guard Ricky Rubio, a teenage Spanish phenom who everyone knew wouldn’t be coming overseas for at least 2 years. Moments later, with the 6th pick, he selected Jonny Flynn, a 5’11” point guard from Syracuse. 12 picks later, Kahn drew audible laughs from the room and the analysts on ESPN when he chose, yes, another point guard, Ty Lawson (later that night traded to the Nuggets for what would eventually turn out to be small forward Martell Webster from the Portland Trailblazers).
Somehow, Kahn had chosen 3 point guards, two of which were under 6′ tall and one of which that wouldn’t play until 2011. Just to compound the unintentional hilarity of his first summer on the job, he then signed another point guard, Ramon Sessions, to a 4-year, $16 million dollar deal. Even though he would have the two point guards he just drafted still on the team within the life of the deal. Yes, David. Yes.
August 9th, 2009: Kahn hires Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis to a 4-year deal for $8 million. Rambis would be fired two years later, after a 32 wins in a possible 164 games, good for a .195 winning percentage.
Draft Night, 2010: Kahn selects Wesley Johnson, a 23 year-old junior small forward from Syracuse. Left on the board were Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, all of which have shown more progression and promise than Johnson. Johnson is now averaging 5.7 ppg, down from 9.0 ppg last year.
July 1st, 2010: After averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds and a block in a 24 game stint for the Wolves, Kahn gives one of the most infamous draft busts of all time, Darko Milicic (selected over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, amongst several other former NBA All-Stars), a 4-year, 20 million dollar contract. Kahn seemingly leverages the contracts’ cost and length against himself.
Later on that summer, Kahn visits the NBA TV booth during a Vegas Summer League broadcast. He goes on to call Darko’s acquisition and signing like finding “manna from heaven,” and disrespectfully compares him to color commentator Chris Webber, much to C-Webb’s chagrin. Please watch this video (go to 2:30, and then 3:30) and prepare to feel awwwwwkward.
July 13th, 2010: After seeing a full-season of C/F Al Jefferson playing alongside PF Kevin Love, Kahn realizes that the two cannot play together. Just two years after being the main piece in the trade for future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett, Jefferson was shipped to the Utah Jazz for two future first round picks, the first of which has amounted to no player of positive consequence for the Wolves (Donatas Motiejūnas).
July 21st, 2010: Kahn signs point guard Luke Ridnour to a 4-year, 16 million dollar contract, the exact one he had given Ramon Sessions a year earlier. According to basketball-reference.com, one of Sessions’ best career-comparables is, you guessed it, Luke Ridnour. Realizing that he’s created a logjam within a logjam at point guard, Kahn trades Sessions just days later to the Cleveland Cavaliers for…more point guards, Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West. Delonte’s best career-comparable? It’s Luke Ridnour. So in order to address the problem, Kahn traded one player for another player exactly like him. Does your head hurt yet?
January 7th, 2011: Before a game against the Portland Trailblazers, Kahn says to reporters that he believes that point guard Jonny Flynn (no longer a starter at that point) will one day be a NBA All-Star. Flynn was traded 5 months later for a washed-up Brad Miller and what would turn into guard Malcolm Lee.
Kahn signed Lee to a three-year guaranteed deal, extremely rare for a second-round draft pick. He has not played a game yet due to knee surgery.
Draft lottery night, 2011: Minnesota, Utah and Cleveland (via the Clippers’ pick) were the three teams remaining in contention for the number pick in the league’s annual draft lottery. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, had his son Nick sitting up on stage as a representative for the team. Nick suffers from a type of nerve disorder called neurofibromatosis, which visibly stunts his growth. After the Cavs win the draft lottery, Kahn cries publicly:
“This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines,” Kahn said, while smiling, on Tuesday. “Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told (Utah executive) Kevin (O’Connor): ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us, and I was right.”
Kahn later says that he was joking, but if you watch this video, it certainly doesn’t sound like that.
May 2011: With rumors swirling regarding Rambis’ seemingly imminent dismissal, Kahn asks that Rambis turn in an extensive, grade-school style report to him regarding the problems that resulted in a 17-win season, as well as what changes he would make in his third season as coach. No word on whether or not Rambis had to format his paper according to MLA rules, or if it could be more casual.
Draft night, 2011: Even though Michael Beasley still remains on the roster, Kahn drafts Derrick Williams with the 2nd pick in the draft. According the NBAdraft.net, Derrick Williams’ NBA comparative is…Michael Beasley.
June 22nd, 2011: Nearly two months after the completion of their season, and a month after it publicly surfaced that Kahn was deciding on Rambis’ future, Kahn finally fires his coach. Even though he made every possible comment to suggest that Rambis would be fired in the end, Kahn still had him sweat it out for 9 weeks.
September 13th, 2011: Kahn signs up Rick Adelman, whose 900+ wins rank him in the top 10 in NBA history, to be the next coach of the Wolves. This is, most likely, Kahn’s finest free-agent signing in his tenure.
December 22nd, 2011: In what has now become a yearly tradition, Kahn signs another point guard to a, yes, 4-year, 19 million dollar deal. This time, it is J.J. Barea of the world champion Dallas Mavericks.
It goes without saying, but nearly everything about Kahn’s career ascension, as well as his choices as the decision-maker of the Minnesota Timberwolves, have been quizzical, at best. He’s signed 3 point guards to 3 very similar, long-term deals. He drafted 3 point guards in the same year, trading away future All-Star Ty Lawson, but keeping draft bust Jonny Flynn, whom he drafted in favor of Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and DeMar DeRozan. Wesley Johnson looks like he won’t amount to anything but a bench role player in only his second year in the league — not what you want from a 4th overall pick. Kahn’s public statements, all soaking in a unmistakable slimy arrogance, have rated somewhere between foolish and downright outrageous.
As much as I want to continue to pile on him, not all of his decisions have been terrible. Keeping All-Star Kevin Love versus Al Jefferson has turned out to be a franchise-defining move. Drafting Ricky Rubio seems to have been worth the wait. Even though he selected 3 point guards in the 2009 draft, aside from Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, Taj Gisbon, DaJuan Blair and Omri Casspi, it was largely a guard-heavy draft: James Harden, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, and Toney Douglas are all NBA mainstays. Derrick Williams has shown in 16 games that he is certainly more emotionally stable than his player-comparable Michael Beasley, and perhaps even more talented. Hiring Rick Adelman seems to have made a change in the culture and attitude of the team.
For the numerous missteps he’s made in his tenure at the top of the organization, Kahn has made a handful of good decisions. He’s stockpiled a great deal of solid talent (although you could argue they should be even more stacked at this point) and now has a young, cheap team to go forward with. They are all at varying levels in their development, meaning that as this team matures, they’ll continue to get better and better. Adelman has given them the belief that they can win any game. With a 7-9 record, they’re on pace to shatter their win total from last year, even with a shortened 66-game season.
Everything about the Wolves amounts to a mediocre team — they’re middle of the pack in most offensive and defensive categories. But regardless of their final record, moving forward, they have the pieces in place to be a legitimate title contender one day. Ricky Rubio has proven to be more than a competent NBA point guard, capable of not only the requisite skill set to remain a starter in the league, but also the extra intangibles that would make him a star. His teammate Kevin Love might already be there — he’s amongst the league leaders in points and rebounds per game, as well as being the unquestioned leader of the team. A cerebral player by the nature of his intelligence, Love has proven to be more than just the hustle and grit scrapper that many saw him as coming out of UCLA. He’s made himself into one of the 15 best players in the league.
Whether he stumbled into it by luck or not, David Kahn has made the Timberwolves into one of the most exciting and promising young teams in the NBA. Much like the Tampa Bay Rays did in 2008, the years of different rebuilding movements have finally come to fruition, and rather suddenly for Minnesota. When Tampa Bay played their way to a World Series, they did so on the backs of young players who emerged out of nowhere. They continue to stay relevant today because along the way, they correctly evaluated the prospects they drafted and waves of talent keep on coming to the forefront. The Wolves may very well have done the same thing; at the same time that Kevin Love is becoming a near-superstar, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are just beginning to develop into the future All-Stars they may turn out to be.
David Kahn is a buffoon. But even a buffoon can solve a puzzle after 3 years of trying. Hopefully for the long-suffering fans of Minnesota professional sports, this can be the team that leads you into the promise land. With lots of manna from heaven.