Monday, February 11, 2013

David Kahn Continues TWolves Sucktitude

Who is the worst organization in sports today? After decades of holding that honor, the Los Angeles Clippers aren't even the laughingstock in their own city anymore. Any team that's currently residing in Cleveland may have an argument currently, as the Browns, Indians and Cavs are all among their league's worst teams and have been for several years. The Charlotte Bobcats are terrible and have been since they came into the league in 2004, but nine years of futility isn't enough to qualify for the worst organization in sports, even if Michael Jordan's talent evaluating skills leave something to be desired.

In my opinion, it's the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since their inception in 1989, the team has employed ten different head coaches. Only one, Flip Saunders, finished his time in Minnesota with a winning record. The Timberwolves overall are just 731-1107 since they came into the league, good for a winning percentage of .398. The Wolves early struggles before they drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995 obviously contribute to that terrible winning percentage, but since the team traded KG in 2007, they've won just 122 games in six seasons, which is basically 20 wins a season. Even with a lockout shortened season mixed in, a 20 win average over a six year span after trading your franchise's only superstar qualifies as dysfunctional at best and  horrendous if we're being honest.

Glen Taylor has consistently shown he's incapable of hiring the right people at any moment, which begs the question: How could someone who's so terrible at making key hires for a huge organization get so rich in the first place? If all of these sports owners are so business savvy* that they can make enough money to purchase a sports team, why are they so bad at hiring a GM and coach? It'd be baffling, if these owners showed any inclination at being intelligent instead of opportunistic.

*That's sarcasm. I'd be willing to bet every single owner in sports that "earned" their money and didn't inherit it screwed over numerous "smaller" people on their way to the top.

Not only has Taylor failed to make a significantly successful hire in his entire history as the Wolves owners, he's managed to alienate their only star player in order to keep his friend Kevin McHale on the payroll. In 2007, after the Wolves had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons in Kevin Garnett's prime** Taylor chose to keep McHale and trade KG because the team was afraid KG might sign elsewhere after the 2008 season. Of course, KG never wanted to leave 'Sota, he just wanted McHale to be fired. Instead, the Wolves made arguably the worst trade in NBA history.

**How do you put together such a poor cast of players around Kevin Garnett that the team, in the MIDDLE OF HIS PRIME, failed to make the playoffs for three straight seasons. KG will go down as one of the top 10 players in NBA history, or close to it by the time he's done playing. To watch a team waste a transcendent talent like KG year after year was frustrating enough; but to watch them trade him away was even worse.

The team landed Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, two first round picks and cash from Boston when they traded Kevin Garnett. As bad as the trade looks initially, it gets even worse. One of the two picks was an unprotected pick the Wolves had traded to Boston years earlier in the Ricky Davis-Wally Sczerbiak trade. McHale had wanted to reacquire the pick badly, as the team was clearly going to be terrible and he didn't want to give up a top 10 pick. Both first round picks were used in 2009--the Wolves selected Jonny Flynn at 6th overall and Wayne Ellington at 28th overall.

Gerald Green barely played in Minnesota before a D-League stint revived his career and even now he's not even an average bench player for the Pacers. Al Jefferson put up nice numbers for a few seasons, but his efficiency was spotty at best and his defense was terrible. Once the team added Kevin Love, another mostly offensive player, it was clear the two players couldn't work together because the defense would be horrible.

Telfair and Gomes were bench players for a team that was among the league's worst teams each season they were here. The Wolves traded Flynn to Houston for Brad Miller and a 2013 first round pick, although the pick is lottery protected through 2015, at which point the Wolves would simply get a 2016 second round pick. The Rockets likely will make the playoffs in either 2014 or 2015, if not this year, so that should end up as a first round pick, but it's still a terrible use of the #6 pick.

Why Glen Taylor chose to hire David Kahn is beyond me. Obviously, NBA commissioner David Stern and Taylor are close and have been for many years. It was rumored at the time of the hire that Stern had pushed Kahn on Taylor, although it seems more likely Stern recommended Kahn and Taylor's foolish self gave him an interview and was wrongly impressed. At this point, Stern has been rumored to have recommended two major hires in the last decade plus: Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner who has become the epitome of what not to do as a commissioner, was a former Stern pal who got hired by the NHL because of his work with the NBA commissioner's office. And David Kahn. Mr. Stern, please never recommend me for anything.

Kahn also angered the team's only franchise player, Kevin Love, by refusing to offer him a maximum, five-year contract extension and instead offering a four-year contract with a player termination option that could make it three seasons. Fans assumed Kahn was doing it to save the 5-year extension for Rubio, since you can only use it on one player's expiring rookie contract at a time. However, Kahn and the Timberwolves front office mentioned several times this off-season that Ricky Rubio will likely get the same extension offer Love did, or in other words Kahn is giving our two best players opt out clauses far before he needs to for no good reason.

The Love debacle is far less forgivable, because the Wolves have shown how difficult it is to draft a franchise caliber player even if you're in the lottery basically every season. As a franchise, when you finally luck out and find a player that can be the focal point of the team, you should do everything in your power to keep that player as long as possible.

Love's opt-out clause coincides perfectly with the Los Angeles Lakers payroll emptying out; As it is now the Lakers would easily be able to offer Love a maximum deal, even if they resign Dwight Howard. That's assuming Kobe Bryant retires, or takes a pay cut, but if Kobe's making the maximum and Howard chooses to leave, Love could simply be Howard's replacement in the near future. It's no secret Love is quite fond of LA, as he went to UCLA despite being from Oregon. He lives in LA during the off-season, and if you were to look at the Lakers and Timberwolves from an objective viewpoint, it's easy to understand why Kevin Love might be more inclined to play for the Lakers.

That's not to say Love wouldn't stay; he's said several times he was angered that he didn't get the five year extension, and he mentioned this past week how much he likes Minnesota and how much he wants to stay. The team, however, needs to win and win soon. Injuries have turned this hopeful season into yet another lottery-bound one, and while that's not Kahn's fault, his inability to build a team is alarming. Trading a mid first round draft pick for a proven commodity like Chase Budinger makes sense if the team is 100% going to contend, but to give up four years of a possible cheap role player for one season of Budinger lacks the foresight necessary to build a consistent winner. Add in the fact that Budinger got hurt and played less than 1/3 of a season for the Wolves, he's a free agent and the Wolves probably can't afford to keep him, and you realize how short sighted the trade actually was.

Kahn has traded Corey Brewer for Anthony Randolph, and while Brewer was a colossal bust in Minnesota, he's become a decent high energy bench wing in Denver. The Wolves could certainly use a defender at the 2 guard this year--especially since they didn't bother to keep Randolph. Outside of trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for the 5th overall pick, which became Rubio, it's tough to find anything Kahn did well, and even that is probably more Flip Saunders fault (he was the Wizards new coach, intent on contending) than David Kahn's genius.

The Timberwolves have been a winning team in just seven of their first twenty-three seasons, have a worse playoff winning percentage than regular season winning percentage (.362 to .398) and haven't been to the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season when they lost in the Western Conference Finals. Despite picking inside the top 5 a handful of times since then as well as having several other first round draft picks, Wolves fans continue to be exposed to simply bad basketball teams. Glen Taylor has mentioned he will sell the majority ownership in the Wolves over the next few years, and that's great news. There will be a clause that requires the team to stay in Minnesota (according to Taylor) so since the team can't move, pretty much any owner would be an upgrade over Taylor.

However, before Taylor sells the team, he needs to make some tough decisions this off-season. The team needs to fire David Kahn, and for the first time in franchise history, it needs to make the correct hire for a key front office position. If Kahn stays, we should expect to see Love leave in the near future and the Wolves to continue to botch lottery picks.

With everything that's wrong with the Wolves, and has been for quite some time, there's really no logical reason to continue to cheer for this team. They stink, plain and simple. But that doesn't matter--regardless of the team's inability to be successful at anything, I'll always be a Wolves fan, for better or, as is often the case, for worse.