The 2010 NBA Draft was considerably shallower than the previous year, and the fourth overall pick was essentially a choice between Wesley Johnson, the 23 year-old senior from Syracuse, or DeMarcus Cousins, the freshman center from Kentucky. Cousins was known for his uneven temperament, and Kahn went with the “safe” pick in Johnson. Realistically, the choice was between those two players, although Greg Monroe (No. 7 overall), Gordon Hayward (No. 9), and Paul George (No. 10) would have all been much better selections. I’m less inclined to blame Kahn for picking Johnson, as the majority of front offices would have likely come to the same conclusion.
Kahn traded the 16th overall selection, Luke Babbitt, along with Ryan Gomes’ expiring contract to the Portland Trail Blazers for veteran swingman Martell Webster. This move seemed confusing at the time, but ultimately would not have been a bad one if Webster had stayed healthy in Minnesota. For some reason, the Wolves then drafted Trevor Booker with the 23rd pick, and proceeded to trade him to the Wizards for the final pick in the first-round, Marquette’s Lazar Hayward. The Wolves did, however, receive Serbian point forward Nemanja Bjelica in the trade, who has yet to play for the Wolves but remains an intriguing prospect while playing in Europe.
The 2011 draft is best known among Timberwolves fans as the draft in which the Wolves cascaded down the draft order, most likely to raise money to allow Kahn to buyout head coach Kurt Rambis. I will remember it as the draft in which the Wolves drafted Arizona’s Derrick Williams, a classic tweener who has turned into a Kevin Love, Jr.-type player, but with inconsistency and confidence issues. He will likely be traded soon for pennies on the dollar, and if Kahn had traded the pick on draft night, he would have received maximum value in return. Kahn drafted Motiejunas, the promising Lithuanian, with the 20th overall pick, but then proceeded to participate in a bizarre avalanche of trades, eventually ending up with UCLA’s Malcom Lee, veteran center Brad Miller, a fair amount of cash, and the Nets’ 2013 second-round pick in exchange for Motiejunas, Flynn, and a future second-round pick.
2011 was arguably Kahn’s most frustrating draft performance to date. Despite denying any and all accusations that he was raising money for Rambis’ buyout, Kahn clearly was more interested in the cash flow coming into the organization than the quality of players he was drafting. In fact, because of the large amount of cash that the Wolves took in after the draft, the NBA has established a new rule limiting the amount of money that teams can accept as a part of trade negotiations.
In 2012, the Timberwolves did not possess their own first-round pick, which was the end result of the horrible Marko Jaric trade with the Clippers in 2005, but the Wolves did have the Utah Jazz’ pick (18th overall) as a result of the Al Jefferson trade. At the clear direction of Coach Rick Adelman, Kahn traded the pick to Houston during the week prior to the draft in exchange for Chase Budinger and the rights to Israeli Lior Eliyahu. This was a solid trade, as the probability of getting a solid, NBA regular with the 18th pick in any given draft is low enough that when given the chance to flip the draft pick for a young but proven NBA commodity, it is a no-brainer.
David Kahn’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves has been extremely disappointing. From clear draft whiffs (Flynn over Curry) to trade mishaps (losing Lawson, Parsons, Motiejunas, etc.) to giving the infamous Darko Milicic four years of mostly guaranteed money, David Kahn has left a lot to be desired. Three top six picks over the span of three years (Flynn, Johnson, and Williams) have been epic failures thus far. Flynn was traded as part of the sell-off during the 2011 draft, fetching next to nothing in return. Phoenix had to be paid to take Johnson, as they received a first-round draft pick from the Wolves, with Minnesota receiving a future second-round pick back from the Suns. His inability to trade either the number two overall pick before the 2011 draft or draftee Derrick Williams has led to a massive erosion in his trade value, and Williams’ current trade value remains ambiguous at best.
With all of the poor decisions made by Kahn, there were nearly many more costly missteps. During the 2010 off-season, Kahn courted free agent power forward David Lee, allegedly offering a maximum contract. Kahn was also rumored to have been close to dealing Kevin Love to the Warriors, likely along with the number four overall pick, in exchange for Anthony Randolph and the Warriors’ sixth overall pick. Kahn would have then paired Lee and Jefferson together in the front-court, and Love would have gone on to super-stardom in Northern California. While a Lee/Jefferson front court still would have been solid, Love is a better player than either of them.
Kahn also resisted giving Love the five-year maximum contract, electing future financial flexibility over securing one of the top ten players in the league, eventually handing Love a four-year contract with a player option after the third season. It remains to be seen if this decision was purely Kahn’s or if it was strongly encouraged (or even forced) by owner Glen Taylor, who is trying to maintain financial flexibility to make the organization more appealing to prospective buyers moving forward.
To Kahn’s credit, he resisted countless overtures for the rights to Ricky Rubio in the two years that Rubio remained in Spain. It would have been very easy for Kahn to give in and trade an unknown quantity with such high demand, but he remained patient and is currently being rewarded for that self-control. He has also avoided acquiring or handing out large, albatross-like contracts that would tie up a large chunk of cap space. Many NBA GMs are unable to avoid the temptation, but Kahn has remained strong in that regard, and the team’s cap space appears to be solid moving forward.
Clearly, the book is not completely written on David Kahn and the Kahn Era Timberwolves. The upcoming trade deadline and the rest of the current season will be very telling, and it will be interesting to see if Taylor retains Kahn when his contract is up at the end of the season. Regardless, it is hard not to think about the lineup that
could should have been.
PG: Ricky Rubio (Ty Lawson)
SG: Stephen Curry
PF: Kevin Love
C: Nikola Pekovic (Donatas Motiejunas)