by Ian Kollar
Is New T’Wolves President Making Magic Happen in his First Draft?
One new President of Basketball Operations.
One success-starved franchise.
One weak draft.
What to do?
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ newest man in charge, President of Basketball Operations David Kahn, is doing his best to make a big splash at one of the most volatile times of the NBA year: Draft Week. The former Indiana Pacers general manager was hired just a month ago, but in that span, he’s made his presence felt. Longtime Timberwolves front office pariah Kevin McHale — somehow hated and revered at the same time by many basketball fans — parted ways with the franchise after coaching the T’Wolves last year and running things for over a decade before that. McHale was the man who made a gamble and drafted Kevin Garnett, failed to find any consistent help for him and “gift-wrapped” and sent him to the Boston Celtics, McHale’s former team, just two years ago.
An NBA title followed suit.
Kahn is certainly under pressure from his new employer, but should be quite aware that expectations will not be all that high for a few years. Shortly after being named PBO on May 22, Kahn spoke out, touting the Timberwolves front office, saying, “I promise that nobody will outwork or outthink us as we build one of the best front offices in the league and a team that begins a climb to the top.” He also let it be known that there would be a “two-year plan” that had Minnesota becoming a championship-contending squad by 2012. In sports years, that’s about three years too late.
Much like McHale went swinging for the fences 14 years ago when he drafted Kevin Garnett, Kahn is looking like he’ll do the same. The Wolves had three first round picks — Nos. 6, 18 and 28 — and they traded guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Washington Wizards for the 5th pick Tuesday afternoon.
One problem: Insiders are warning that the 2009 NBA Draft may be one of the worst in recent memory, ranking with 2006 and 2000 as the worst in the past decade. 2006 still has a few years to shake out, but 2000 was full of “upside” picks that never panned out.
2009 is a year in danger of duplicating it.
1. Kenyon Martin, the top overall pick nine years ago, seems eerily similar to Blake Griffin – that is, of course, before Martin suffered a knee injury. A prime Martin was an All-Star averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per contest; he was nothing to slouch at.
Take a look closer at the rest of the lottery:
5. Mike Miller — “crafty swingman who makes up for average athleticism with great basketball IQ.” James Harden, ladies and gentlemen.
(On a side note, Johnson wasn’t having a terrible career until a car accident sidelined him for a few years and he was never the same.)
In fact, the best player who was selected in the draft was a second rounder: Michael Redd. That tells you how much of a crapshoot a draft can be when the number of “sure things” ends at one.
Kahn has high hopes, of course; he has a young core, led by borderline All-Star center Al Jefferson and sophomore forward Kevin Love. There is truly some legitimate talent on his roster, with a few interesting players such as athletic wing Rodney Carney and do-it-all forward Ryan Gomes. Kahn also has a ton of chips in his hand for tonight’s draft. How he chooses to spend them is entirely up to him: he could try and package some of the picks and move as far up as No. 2, currently held by the Memphis Grizzlies, in order to take 18-year old Spanish point guard and Youtube sensation Ricky Rubio. If they feel he could slip to No. 5, they could take Harden. Curry and Evans are also possibilities at the 5 and 6 picks. But if Kahn really wants to go for the home run – one that could potentially be a grand slam (as long as we’re mixing sports terms here) – he should do anything and everything in his power to take Rubio.
Any knowledgable basketball fan knows the Rubio situation fairly well by now: he has a pricy buyout from his former team, DKV Joventut, that team’s can only pay a portion of. Anything out of the early lottery and he may not be able to afford to come over. He spurned Memphis, heeding advice of fellow Spaniards Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro who recalled similarly bad situations there. He made it known early that he wished to play in a big market, but the biggest in the top 6 is Sacramento, and the Kings have recently soured on him due to his age, lack of polish and communication issues that may come with a foreign point guard trying to lead an American team. Oklahoma City may take him, but they aren’t sure if he and Russell Westbrook can play well alongside one another. The New York Knicks have been trying to find a way to nab him as well; that’d be the biggest market this side of L.A. with plenty of endorsements and notoriety, but they don’t seem to have the pieces to move up at all.
That leaves Minnesota. Rubio casually remarked Wednesday at a press conference that his mother, who would likely be moving in with him, doesn’t like cold weather. But that shouldn’t stop the Timberwolves from selecting Rubio if they can. If they strike out with him, they could possibly have a combination of Evans, Curry and Harden falling in their laps, but I’d go for gold and grab an influential, game-changing point guard. At worst, he’s a poor man’s Jason Williams: lots of flair but little substance, yet still good enough to merit a long and decent NBA career. His middle ground could be as an Andre Miller-type point: a cleverly quick slasher and master of the lob pass. His ceiling, despite what some say, is not Pete Maravich, but rather Jason Kidd. Tough, defensive-minded and able to see plays develop long before they happen, he could be a mainstay in the league’s upper echelon of point guards if all goes well. If he doesn’t work out, hey (and the T’Wolves should be used to this), there’s always next year, where the draft looks a good bit deeper.
What to do?
If you’re David Kahn, a man of NBA experience but with a fresh new start and impressions to make in a brand new city, you need to make a tough choice. Do you throw caution to the wind, make a splash straight into the deep end of the pool and select a Jason Kidd-like leader to lift your team into title contention in a few years? Or do you barely cause a ripple in the water, select a Darius Miles clone and a Jamal Crawford-esque tweener while hoping for the best?
We’ll see what kind of basketball mind Kahn possesses in just a matter of hours.