When I started putting this piece together, I honestly expected to come to a completely different conclusion than I ultimately did. I am an avid Timberwolves fan, and have followed every single move David Kahn has made since his hiring in May of 2009. I’ll be honest, I was an irrational optimist at the time of Kahn’s hiring. I naively overlooked his non-existent credentials and spotty résumé and chose to believe that Wolves’ owner Glen Taylor had unearthed an evil genius from the bowels of the D-League and the fringes of the basketball universe. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit this today, if not for how paper-thin Kahn’s résumé really is, but for assuming that Taylor had made a savvy, basketball-centered move, and not a money-saving, penny-pinching one. I was wrong.
The general defense of David Kahn goes something like this:
He is cap space guru. He was brought in to make smart business decisions and rid the Wolves’ payroll of bloated contracts paid to middling players. He has done an exceptional job in this regard, mainly through an inordinate amount of trades. Kahn has struggled quite a bit as a talent evaluator, most notably selecting Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn over Davidson’s Stephen Curry with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. But since he has teamed with Rick Adelman and Co., Kahn has again made a number of solid trades. As long as Team Adelman is around to assist him, Kahn will be just fine moving forward.
I know this argument well. I had convinced myself that Kahn had a blueprint for where he wanted to go; where the Minnesota Timberwolves would be in ‘x’ amount of years. The national media was biased against the small market Wolves, and Kahn would prove them wrong someday. To be fair, I still stand by some of these arguments. A great number of the national media’s tired storylines ripping the Wolves and David Kahn were truly awful. But the media was largely right, even if their bullet points were poor and the majority of the reasons given for why Kahn was incompetent were misguided, or even completely wrong in how they were presented.
I looked at every trade made by Kahn since he was hired in May of 2009. All twenty-five of them. A significant number were of the neutral variety, and can either be classified as low-risk deals that had close to zero long-term affect on the organization, or as simple housekeeping moves. (Kahn made a number of these deals early on in his tenure, swapping numerous veteran players back-and-forth to seemingly every team in the league)
Kahn has made just four deals that I believe can be classified as clear ‘wins’. The clearest victory was the swindling of the Washington Wizards on the eve of the NBA draft in 2009. The Timberwolves somehow pulled off highway robbery, trading veteran swingman Mike Miller and combo guard Randy Foye for three end-of-the-bench veteran players and the fifth overall pick in the draft, giving the Wolves the fifth and sixth picks in a very deep draft. The 2009 NBA Draft, of course, will go down in Timberwolves lore as the Ricky Rubio (No. 5 overall) and Jonny Flynn (No. 6 overall) draft, simultaneously presenting as David Kahn’s best and worst moves, occurring in a span of less than five minutes.
Other trades that can be considered ‘good’:
- July 2010: Traded cash, 2011 and 2014 second-round draft picks toMiamifor Michael Beasley.
- June 2012: Traded 18th overall pick in 2012 NBA Draft to Houston for Chase Budinger and Lior Eliyahu.
- July 2012: Traded Wayne Ellington to Memphis for Dante Cunningham.
Michael Beasley had two largely unproductive and disappointing seasons in Minnesota, leaving via free agency prior to the 2012-13 season. And the other two moves have both been made during the era of Team Adelman, so nobody is really sure who was pulling the strings on those moves. (My personal take: Adelman knew Budinger from their days in Houston together, and clearly did not want to coach another rookie, so that trade was definitely ordered up by Team Adelman. I’m not so sure about the Memphis trade, but it was a simple roster-balancing move that has already paid large dividends for the Wolves this season.)
That’s right, folks. Trader Kahn has only made one successful trade that has had a positive, lasting impact on the Timberwolves’ organization. Of course, Ricky Rubio is an obvious cornerstone piece for the Wolves, and the 2009 Draft Eve trade remains Kahn’s signature move, and is likely the best trade in team history.
Kahn has completed eleven low-risk, housekeeping-type, neutral trades, ranging from small trades for prospect-level players such as Nathan Jawai to a wide variety of salary dumps. For the most part, Kahn has done quite well in these trades, freeing a large amount of cap space and dropping a number of sizable contracts.
That leaves us with upwards of ten trades that Kahn has lost. Consider the current NBA players that the Wolves had the rights to between 2009 and 2011, but Kahn traded away that same night: Ty Lawson, Luke Babbitt, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, and Norris Cole. Granted, Lawson was in a pre-arranged deal, Babbitt is probably a marginal NBA player, and Cole really isn’t more than a backup. But Motiejunas is a legitimate prospect with huge potential, and Parsons has come into his own this year in Houston as a better-than average starting wing player, with possible star potential. And get this: Parsons was shipped to Houston on draft night in 2011 for cash.
Other trades that were net losses include the Al Jefferson trade (received Kosta Koufos, who was eventually traded himself and is the starting center on a playoff team in Denver, and the first-round pick that was used to draft the later-traded Motiejunas), and the Brian Cardinal for Darko Milicic trade, if for no other reason than that the Wolves proceeded to turn around and hand Milicic a four-year, mostly guaranteed contract.
Free agency has been mostly good to David Kahn, although he has proven to have a strange obsession with handing out four-year deals for decent money to average players. He has already given four-year contracts to Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour, and J.J. Barea. He was able to unload Sessions’ contract on the Cavaliers for what amounted to a second-round pick, and Ridnour has been the one constant for the Wolves over the past two and a half years. But a middle of the road four-year contract in today’s NBA isn’t ideal, as it fills cap space quickly and is generally hard to trade.
Kahn’s savvy free agent additions have included Anthony Tolliver and the Russian duo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved. Other than re-signing Milicic to a four-year deal, Kahn hasn’t really hamstrung himself with any ridiculous contracts, which is key when a team is trying to re-build. This year’s signings of Brandon Roy and Greg Stiemsma appear to be a mixed bag, but the jury is still out on those moves.
In 2009, without a head coach in place, Kahn flew by the seat of his pants and was seduced by Jonny Flynn’s smile, jovial court demeanor, and six overtime perseverance in the Big East Tournament, and selected him over one of the best shooters in the NBA today, Stephen Curry. Kahn still held the 18th overall selection in the draft, but as the picks flew by, he didn’t see anyone else fit to keep, so he agreed to trade the selection to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for their first-round pick the following year. Unfortunately, point guards Ty Lawson (No. 18 overall), Jeff Teague (No. 19), Eric Maynor (No. 20), and Darren Collison (No. 21) were chosen in succession, and all four have turned into solid NBA players, while Flynn is currently playing overseas in Australia. Kahn then selected shooting guard Wayne Ellington from the University of North Carolina with the 28th overall pick. Not a terrible pick, but future Timberwolves Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger were both still on the board and are better players today than Ellington.