David Kahn Managed Not to F*ck Anything Up

I’m not going to pretend that David Kahn has an easy job as GM of the Timberwolves. Never mind the fact that it’s pretty clear handing over the GM reins to a popular vote on Canis Hoopus would result in a more successful roster than the one the Wolves have currently. What I mean is that it’s not easy to actually be that guy who runs stuff, with people on one side telling you one thing and people on the other telling you the opposite and you sitting there having to make all those decisions. This year, for once, Kahn made the decision to stand pat at the trade deadline, rather than making the deal you know he so badly wanted to pull off.

This is part of what I mean by it being a tricky balancing act to be a GM: it sometimes seems like they can only screw up. When a team fails, it’s often blamed on the team’s architect, the GM. But when they succeed, they’re conveniently forgotten, as Kahn was in the light of the Timberwolves success this season. I’m not giving Kahn a pass, though: the guy’s been wrong more than he’s been right and I genuinely think he doesn’t know squat about actual basketball. Witness the way he’s been quick to say he knew all along that Ricky Rubio would be something special and then go back and look how he talked the exact same way about Jonny Flynn. You know that one about the broken clock, right?

But so Kahn has shown a predilection for trade deadline deals the last few years and there was every reason, with a lot of buzz about Beasley being moved, to expect him to do something again this year. His first deadline deal was getting Darko Milicic from the Knicks for Brian Cardinal and his second was shipping Corey Brewer off to the Knicks the next year for Anthony Randolph as part of the Carmelo deal (which I’m pretty sure actually involved every player in the league being traded for himself).

Looking at those deals—even with Milicic and Randolph both wallowing on the bench—the overriding reaction has to be, “Meh.” Milicic was supposed to be the soft-handed center, the key component that would make Rambis’ triangle unlumpy, the manna from heaven but instead he’s been just kind of okay. You know, an all right enough center who occasionally plays like a number two pick and mostly plays like number two. His lack of fire is dooming him just like it doomed the Neanderthals. (Actually, I think the Neanderthals did have fire, but it was such a good line I couldn’t let it go.) I expect him to play out the string, threaten again to go back home to Europe to play, and then be signed or traded to yet another team that will think he’s gotta be good for something. I’m looking at you, Bobcats.

And then there’s Randolph, who’s continued to show flashes of why teams keep thinking they can make something of him. Paired with Rubio, it looked like he might actually pull it together. But now he’s been stuck on the bench for weeks and it looks like the dream of the long-limbed, athletic big who can shoot the midrange jumper is dead once again. Randolph isn’t manifestly useless, especially in short spurts, but he—like Darko—is just all right.

And that’s what’s been particularly damning about Kahn’s deadline deals and why it’s good that he didn’t do anything this year. The deals for Milicic and Randolph weren’t really good or bad; it’s not like Corey Brewer is blowing up for Denver or that Brian Cardinal is killing it in Dallas. The real problem with them is that they were just hand-waving. Kahn could make those deals and then talk big about what they meant but they really meant nothing. They were smoke without fire.

I’d be curious to know how close the Wolves were to sending out Ridnour had Rubio not gone down with that ACL tear. Had they been able to pick up Jamal Crawford from the Blazers and only given up Michael Beasley, that would have been great. If they had given up Ridnour with Rubio healthy, that would have been all right, too. But if Rubio’s injury scared management away from any deals, that’s not a bad thing either. Beasley’s contract is up at the end of the year and along with the other expiring deals the Timberwolves have, they should have $18 – $20 million in space to work with and there are going to be players who fill their needs (O.J. Mayo for one, but also possibly Crawford if he opts out). So why give up something now when you can get it for a better deal later?

The way the season is going, the Wolves will contend for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. If they get it, they’re certain to be crushed into a fine powder by the Thunder, but it will be a good experience for the team. If they miss that spot, well, that’s not so bad. With smart moves in the offseason, there’s every reason to think the Wolves will be better next year than they were this year. And for once, it might be because Kahn didn’t do something. Sometimes you need to sit on your hands instead of waving them about.

Steve McPherson


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