Chain of Command

Rick Adelman can thank David Kahn for the opportunity to coach Ricky Rubio. But what about the rest of this roster?

Let’s do a quick back of the envelope scorecard of David Kahn’s performance.

Selecting Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry.  Check.

Trading Ty Lawson. Check.

Selecting Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins or Greg Monroe. Double check.

Hiring Kurt Rambis. Check.

Long-term contract for Darko Milicic. Check.

Each move was, as the saying goes, an “epic fail.”  And each is solely attributed to David Kahn, Timberwolves POBO.

Kahn has become something of a sports management sensation, not only for surviving these blunders, but for coupling them with public-speaking gaffes that have provided endless amounts of material for sportswriters and bloggers the world around. Some personal favorites on Kahn’s Greatest Hits album include: insulting Chris Webber by comparing his career trajectory to Darko Milicic’s; openly discussing Mike Beasley’s drug use in COULDN’T-BE-MORE-DIRECT language; and, last but not least, suggesting that the NBA Lottery is rigged –  immediately after the 2011 NBA Lottery!  Bill Simmons quickly caught on and attached this youtube clip to any decision that KAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHNNNNNNN!!!!!!! made.

Without trying to jinx the Wolves for all eternity, it’s clear that things have gotten better.  Ricky Rubio decided Minnesota winters weren’t so bad after all, and joined the team in 2011.  Kahn fired Kurt Rambis and inexplicably hired Rick Adelman, one of the best coaches in recent NBA history whom many considered retired for good after the Laker job went to Mike Brown.  (Eds note: If you believe Adrian Wojnarowski, Adelman actually despises Kahn and took the job despite the chance of occasionally encountering him in the Target Center’s hallways and men’s rooms.  If you believe Glen Taylor, Kahn deserves the credit for hiring Adelman.)

What else? Well, Kahn has essentially owned up to his mistakes, getting rid of the likes of Flynn, Johnson, Milicic, as well as other penny stocks that never yielded high enough returns, namely the aforementioned Beasley and Anthony Randolph. In addition to Rubio and Adelman, Kahn has brought in additional talent over the last two years too, including J.J. Barea, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, and Chase Budinger.

Hope is replaced with certainty; certainty that competent pro basketball will be played at the Target Center this year, and not just by the Lynx. With some pieces finally in place, it’s up to Rubio, Love and Pekovic to lift that ceiling to the level we all want it at. Kahn’s track record is blemished (to put it politely), but he has built the foundation of a playoff team.

Does that mean we should change our opinion of him?  How much credit does Kahn deserve?  Behind the scenes at 600 First Ave, who’s actually calling the shots?  Britt Robson sat down with Glen Taylor to find out.

Robson writes that “most of the Wolves-related headlines concerned Kahn’s persistent attempts to upgrade the talent on the roster. Behind the scenes, as promised, Adelman was providing input and helping with the decisions.”

[GT] “Most of the moves David is making are heavily influenced by what Rick has asked of us. But when it comes to finances, David will tell Rick no,” Taylor reveals. “At the end of the year, Rick gives me a report of what he thinks of each player. He tells me it’s the same one he gave David and that David knows he is giving it to me. Then he goes through the list. He says, ‘This is the first one I want gone’—that was [underachieving veteran center] Darko [Milicic]. ‘This is the second one I want gone. This is what I think of this player.’

“We were going to build slowly with a young coach [Rambis] and young players. It was a good plan, but there was a misstep. Now we have a seasoned coach who has said ‘This is my last job.’ He is going to push faster because he wants to win sooner. But his [style of communication] is one I understand and can relate to.”

Rick Adelman reports directly to the owner on personnel issues.  David Kahn is, more or less, “cc’d” on those reports.  That is a telling development.  Taylor does note that Kahn has final say on money issues, which is very significant.  It amounts to veto power on potential free agent or trade acquisitions.  But the scouting seems to have been transferred out of the Kahn Man’s office.  I don’t know enough about management–particularly at the major pro sports level–to have a strong opinion on what makes a sound organizational structure.  It seems to me that, over a number of years, a head coach communicating *around* the president to the owner could cause problems.  Or maybe not–maybe that’s how it’s done with high-profile coaches today.  And either way, doesn’t it seem that most coaches move around, job-to-job, anyway?  Adelman certainly has.  (The Wolves job is his fifth as an NBA head coach.)  I don’t think anybody expects the 66-year old coach to stick around for more than three or four years.  If things go as well as imaginable, and the team is making deep playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, maybe he’ll hang around.  But I think anything “long term” with Adelman is a bridge to be crossed when we come to it.

Earlier in the Robson piece, Taylor admitted that Kahn was a “money guy” and not a “basketball guy.”  He proved as much with those first two drafts.  But maybe things are different now and we can expect more moves like the recent ones where “upside” is a term censored out of the front office vocab.  If you haven’t already done so, read the entire piece from Robson on the front office.  There’s plenty of gold in there beyond that little nugget about Darko being the first to go.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Chain of Command

  1. Interesting stuff from Britt, and a useful extrapolation from you on C2 issues at 600 First Avenue. Do you think Taylor looks the other way regarding Kahn while the going is good, or does he have the foresight to look ahead and groom someone whom he thinks will be ready to fill Adelman’s (de facto) GM role when Adelman retires/leaves? I’m fairly skeptical of the grooming process unless someone is 1) legitimately talented, and 2) being groomed in the right way and in the right system and by someone who is good at, and willing, to do the grooming. I don’t see those conditions here, which would put Taylor in a spot (if he were thinking along the same lines, which I have no reason to believe he is).

    • If things go well and continuity is considered a good thing, maybe Jack Sikma (56 years old now; 60 or so when this bridge needs to be crossed) takes over head coach duties and one of the Adelmans Jr. gradually assumes more responsibility in the front office? Just a quick guess. I really have no idea, but it’s a good question. Let’s hope the worry is that we need to *maintain* rather than blow it up again.

  2. Dave A.

    David Kahn has wonderful experience on the business side of professional sports. He’s been a sportswriter and an attorney. One would assume that he knows a few things about the game of basketball. However, I see nothing in his education/experience that suggests he’s qualified to pick players for an NBA team. My father was a newspaper editorial writer and took positions on issues. I asked him, “How do you know you are right?” His reply, “What does being right have to do with anything.” Decisions are made and we adjust. It’s entertainment. We get to see the top athlete in the world play in the NBA. (My choice for Wolves’ coach was Kevin McHale. I still think I was right. Kahn running the business and McHale selecting and coaching the players.)