Abbott on Kahn, Kahn on himself

Benjamin Polk —  May 4, 2013 — 22 Comments

I was intending to post something supremely thoughtful on the David Kahn era this coming weekend. But before I could get my thoughts/act together, Henry posted a piece on Truehoop which was essentially what I was intending to say. Its worth reading in full, but the gist of it, to my eyes, was this: David Kahn was a sub-mediocre general manager with a weird, abrasive personality. He made one very great move (trading up to draft Ricky Rubio), one spectacularly bad one (drafting Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry) and a bunch that shade somewhere to the wrong side of the middle. He restored the team to fiscal sanity, but drafted exceptionally poorly. He wooed two of the team’s three best players from overseas, but mortally alienated its only bona fide superstar. He hired Rick Adelman, but he also hired Kurt Rambis. He signed AK; he signed Darko. Like I said, sub-mediocre. But the reason he is considered to be monumentally bad is because he is such a strange dude. Here’s Henry:

All of which is to say I have glimpsed Kahn’s odd, bitter personality. I can guess why his various stops have been short, and why he has been in the business for a long time without developing many allies. I join a big crowd in not crying for Kahn today. 

So yup, call him an iconoclastic crank who’s short of friends and long on big, pompous mistakes. 

But please, don’t call him the worst GM in the NBA. 

Henry adds to this account today with a report that the Blazers have agreed to pay the Wolves $1.5 million to resolve the Martell Webster dispute, news that comes as a surprise to those of us who assumed that the Wolves’ claim was laughable.

Update: In case you are interested, here is Kahn’s “exit interview” with Jerry Zgoda in the STrib. By now, Kahn’s mode has become pretty predictable: Kahn talks up the Wolves fortunes, takes partial responsibility for his own failures while subtly shifting blame to Taylor and McHale. Check out this last bit though:

Q. Why did you say [Kevin Love] needs to win back the respect of his teammates?
A. I think there’s some work for him to be done in terms of, he didn’t play very much this year, right? And I think there’s a void there because of that. Many of those guys really fought their way back from injury, sometimes multiple injuries. He had two broken hands. He came back once, didn’t play well, broke his hand again and then decided to have his knee done at the end of the year when the pain was such. I think he has some work to in the locker room and I believe he will. I certainly don’t want that to come across negatively. I believe he will and I believe he’s on the right path.

This is just classic Kahn, the exact stuff that earns him his reputation. Subtly casting aspersions on Love’s toughness and desire to play–which, while Love may not always be an ideal teammate, I think its ridiculous to malign those particular qualities in him–while attemping to frame it as some act of generosity and mentorship on his own part. Guy, I realize that you don’t want that “to come off negatively” but you just suggested that your best player has lost the respect of his teammates by not coming back from an injury. Honestly, how do you expect that to come off? You could write this off as a slightly bitter farewell by a guy who just lost his job–if it didn’t conform so closely to the patterns Kahn has established throughout his tenure.

Benjamin Polk

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22 responses to Abbott on Kahn, Kahn on himself

  1. “There he goes, one
    of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered
    mutant of some kind, never even considered
    for mass production. Too weird to POBO, and
    too rare to succeed.”

    -Hunter S Thompson (kinda)

  2. After reading the long interview on the STrib, I tend to agree with Abbott. And, Kahn did a relatively good job of defending his moves, albeit while shifting a lot of blame to McHale (much of it probably deserved) and saying that he did have the staff or time to prepare for drafts (not a great excuse for trading away the Lawson pick for a team you were sending into rebuilding mode, but there is some bit of logic to this). In hindsight of course Kahn made some awful moves, which he kind of admits (again shifting blame). But at the time, he didn’t really make any moves that were crazy. So, not exactly the most competent GM, but I agree that his biggest flaw seems to be that he is a jerk. This drives away talent not only among players (hopefully Flip can salvage Love) but also among front office staff (Tony Ronzone).

  3. Nathan Anderson May 4, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Kahn was a bad GM. The worst GM? No. Is that a compliment? No.

    I’m not a fan of the Flip Saunders hire. At all. But, I can come up with a short chain of assumptions that makes it a good hire

    (1) Glen Taylor is loyal and resistant to change
    (2) Glen Taylor will not let someone from the outside — who he does not trust — come in and change things and fire people
    (3) Glen Taylor trusts Flip
    (4) Flip wants to change the front office into a modern analytical NBA front office and his willing to let long-tenured folks go if needed (ha!)

    Thus, Flip Saunders is one of the few people that could actually convince Taylor to modernize methods and let go of people. As indicated above, I think #4 is the most questionable assumption.

  4. Benjamin Polk May 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Yeah, you know a lot of his moves seem reasonable given the context–and, as you say, he is great at subtly shifting blame, offering partial explanations and defenses. But at some point its like: you had 10 first round draft picks (or whatever it was). Only two of them are currently playing for you and only one of them remotely justifies his draft position. At some point the context of each individual decision just stops mattering.

  5. Re: Love’s work in the locker room

    Kahn may be an ass, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. When I think of the Wolves I think of Ricky, Pek, and AK as the core of this team, as the heart and identity. I don’t know where or how Love fits in anymore, specifically from a leadership standpoint. Maybe he fits in perfectly as the missing piece, but maybe he does need to invest a little more in the other guys eyes. Ricky was there behind the bench while rehabbing. He advised Shved during timeouts. He earned the respect given to him.

    Sometimes I feel like Love comes across as feeling like he deserves respect by virtue of being the best player here on some bad teams – teams full of guys who are no longer here. I don’t know. It’s messy and gray, but I don’t think Kahn is necessarily wrong even he is an ass, and of the two I’d follow Ricky because I know Ricky bleeds wanting to win and being there for his team. The truth is I don’t know what Kevin Love wants, other than its something involving Kevin Love. That’s a fan’s opinion.

  6. I guess you don’t get as far as Kahn got without being really good at pointing the finger at others. Without being able to deflect so you’re not seen. But considering the microscope his position is under that really did not work out too well for him. Nothing explains away 10 #1 picks and only having 2 on your roster. And really it is 11 #1’s when you consider he had to give away a #1 pick (that we still owe) so the Suns would take Wes off of our hands. If the best you can say in your epitaph to Kahn’s career is “well he wasn’t the worst” that comment speaks volumes.

    I do not know if Flip is the best man for the job, in fact I would say I am sure he’s not. But I do believe when his tenure is over he will be remembered more for the things he did right than for the things he did wrong. I wish we could have said the same for Kahn.

  7. Nathan Anderson May 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    biggity: This is the endless debate about Kevin Love.

    I think his rebounding prowess (in my opinion, the most difficult and physical thing to do consistently well in the NBA) and his history of off-season improvements shows that he works harder than anyone else on the Twolves and just as hard as any player in the NBA both on and off the court.

    If he comes back next season and plays as well as he did in 2011-12 he will command respect and deserve respect. And if he plays that well and everyone else is healthy, they will win.

    Love fits in great. He is a wonderful complement to Rubio. He’s a great outside shooter and is able to keep possessions alive to get the ball back to Rubio on offense and end defensive possessions to get Rubio the ball in transition. Ricky Rubio needs possessions and shooters and Love provides both.

  8. Oh well, he is gone. He seemed like an odd choice in 2009 and in retrospect, was an odd choice.

    I thought Abbott’s article was really interesting, and I agree that Kahn was not the worst GM in the league, just pretty bad. I would note that his owner probably kept him from being an even worse GM however – ironically Glen Taylor being a penny pincher probably kept Kahn from making big, bad moves that would have cemented his legacy as a truly bad GM, Ernie Grunwald style. I guess that is good.

    However, I think Abbott misses an important life lesson – Kahn may not have been the worst GM in terms of personnel moves, but he made it easy for people like Simmons to skewer him because he kept putting himself out there to be skewered. Especially the first couple of seasons he really seemed to be in self-promotion mode, going out of his way to make himself the face of the franchise and issuing public proclamations that usually turned out to be tragically and hilariously wrong. The media disliked him because he was pompous and arrogant, and so enjoyed pointing out his foibles and blunders every chance they got. Being an executive and a leader isn’t just about making good business moves, it is about creating an aura of competence and credibility at the top both inside and outside one’s organization. At that, Kahn was a bigger failure than other GMs. So all in all I would say he was worse than a sub-mediocre GM because he was sub-mediocre in terms of moves but the worst GM in terms of executive PR and branding, and that stuff matters when you are effectively a CEO running a half a billion dollar business, not a guy playing fantasy basketball at home.

  9. You put it there nicely, biggity2bit. It’s hard to question Love’s leadership abilities because his game is founded on hard work and practice due to his rebounding and shooting capabilities. The question is will he become a vocal leader and will his teammate draw to him. By no means, do I think that ship has sailed yet but it’s strange that he hasn’t grown sooner into being in command of that locker room, in my opinion to say the least. Nevertheless, since Kahn is gone and the clashing between him and Love will stop, which won’t leave the rest of the team feeling awkward, along with winning, hopefully if everyone is healthy, I think all of this can get buried behind him and Love can show that he’s a true alpha dog in this league.

  10. Benjamin Polk May 5, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Agreed completely, Mac. It seems to me that Kahn’s personality was a huge impediment– in luring free agents, in working with other GM’s and in simply making the Wolves look like a legitimate organization, one that would not, for instance, talk trash about its best player or publicly discuss another players drug use.

    Biggity, I have to disagree with your assessment of Love. While I do think that he projects a certain sense of entitlement which most likely grates on his teammates, in my experience of him, his absolute top priority is winning. He believes he is the Wolves best player; he’s envious of the fact that Westbrook has already competed for a title; he’s impatient with the Wolves’ incompetence so far in his career. While he probably has some growing up to do as far as managing/expressing his dissatisfaction, I’m hard pressed to find anything inaccurate or unjustified in those ideas.

    Also: Kahn implies that Love did not play through his injuries and observes that when he did play, “he didn’t play well” (ie, didn’t shoot the ball well–he still rebounded like a maniac). But remember, the reason that he didn’t shoot well, and most likely the reason that he rebroke the hand, is that he was so anxious to get on the court that he came back too soon from his injury.

  11. I would be fine if we traded Love. And for all of the “Yeah, well look how well the Wolves played without him” fanboys out there I said trade not cut. As in get something in return for him. Love has always been about self promotion, and a “me first” player. Any game film of any game involving Kevin Love will find him watching his team, the other team, most of the officials running down the court with the ball while that one official not quite in full stride has to listen to Kevin Love whine about yet another “missed call”. Meanwhile his team or as Love sees them “the other 4 guys on the court” has to play 4 on 5 basketball. As if there was ever a time in the history of basketball where an official has stopped play agreed with said winning player and reversed a call.

    Kevin Love is an amazing offensive talent, incredible rebounder, horrible defender and too self centered to see how his actions hurt his team. If by the trading deadline next year the same is still true this team is better off without him.

  12. Nathan Anderson May 5, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Rule #1 in the NBA

    Never trade your best player, unless he’s 37 years old and has bad knees.

    Do not trade Love. They’ll never get anything near equal value for him and the franchise will have to rebuilt all over again.

    The key to success in the NBA is finding great players and they are in short supply. Teams mostly get them due to luck. The wolves got lucky and have Love. They can’t trade him, unless he’s going to walk in 2014-2015.

  13. Benjamin Polk May 5, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Agreed.

  14. Thanks, Nathan, for stating what should be obvious to everyone. Quantity never equals quality in the NBA, and a team without a top-shelf scorer (which Love is for a big) is exponentially easier to defend, especially with how good defenses are.

    I know Love’s defense is lacking, but honestly, few top scorers have a huge effect on defense. Kobe was one of the most disinterested defenders in the league last year, and James Harden went from guarding LeBron in the Finals to being a sieve in Houston. Durant and Melo are also mediocre at best. Teams work around having their main offensive threats expending tons of energy on defense because few players are able to do it. Love shoulders a similar burden on this team, and he’s still one of the 5 best rebounders in the league (which is part of defense). The Wolves went from an advantage to a disadvantage on that end when he was unable to play, and they probably lost some games due to an inability to rebound defensively.

    As for the leadership thing, I think we overlook how good Love was last March after Rubio went down. 31/14 and 45% from 3, and the team went 4-8 with him but without Rubio in that month (also missing Pek for several games and having worse role players than this year), during a span when the team played 7 straight and 9/12 on the road. Compare that to the Wolves going 16-37 after Love went down for the season. I think it’s overblown that Rubio is necessarily a better leader, and most importantly, why would we feel the need to choose one? This team needs both to be a serious contender. I like them both.

    The worst part in all of this is that by bashing Love, you defend Kahn, the front office, and coaches like Rambis and Wittman. He said nothing about the fans or the state. He does a lot of cool promotional stuff and charity work. Name one other star who’d allow himself to star in a local coat drive video every year doing the stuff he has to do. His beef with the front office is the same one most of us have, and honestly, if it helped in getting Kahn removed, I’m glad he did it.

  15. I know Love works hard. I have no problem with his game – it’s his head that I think is fair to be questioned, specifically his ability to lead and be the face of a franchise. Do you think Love can accept being the best player on Ricky Rubio’s team, because that’s what just happened this winter.

    Love comes off as a guy acting like the lead guy, but he’s not the lead guy – he doesn’t know how yet, or something. He’s like ARod – super duper talented, but it was always Jeter’s team.

    I personally believe Love really does care about winning more than anything, but he’s just too immature. He is what he is, and that’s what worries me. I question whether he’ll be able to accept the reality around him (its Ricky’s team; don’t throw your organization under the bus by criticizing offseason acquisitions you requested; realize that your employer has every right to know how you broke your hand, and you owe your teammates the truth as well), or if he’ll keep believing that he is the center of all that is important.

    I guess I’m biased. He’s lost me this year. I’ve spent the last three years defending how great he is on various blogs (under a different name), but I find I just don’t care anymore because I don’t believe he cares, not the way AK and Pek and Dante did. Maybe that’s unfair, but it’s where this fan is. I don’t believe he wants to be here, I don’t believe he’s bought in to his teammates, and I don’t believe that Flip is going to change any of that.

  16. This isn’t directly aimed at biggity, but it just seems counterproductive for any fan of this team to pit Love against his teammates. To be honest, I’m more disappointed in Pek than Love; a guy can’t play with a broken shooting hand, and every tweet/report about Love during the recovery process indicated that it wasn’t healing quickly. With Pek, he missed games due to injuries that guys play with all the time (it’s possible, for example, to play effectively on a sprained ankle) and sat out the end of the season for reasons that had more to do with games he may or may not play in a Wolves uni.

    More specifically, I don’t think Rubio is any more of a leader in the locker room than Love. Obviously, fans like Rubio more; that’s been evident since day 1, and I’ve always said that Love’s marketability affects whether people view him as a star. There just isn’t enough concrete evidence that the team plays better with him and not Love than they did with Love and not him, and I don’t want to find out conclusively whether one is better than the other. Also, while it’s awesome how connected Rubio is with his teammates (I can’t think of any other team that had 6 guys go on a trip together after the season), there’s not evidence that they respect him more than Love.

    Someone mentioned that Rubio was behind the bench more than Love when they couldn’t play. Besides conveniently forgetting that Rubio was behind the bench only once after he was injured in ’12 (the last game) because he was out of town recovering, no other player besides Pek and Rubio stayed with the team consistently or even watched most full home games behind the bench when they couldn’t play. AK never did, Roy watched about as often as Love, and Lee basically disappeared after his injury.

    As for maturity questions, every young player has those moments, on or off the court. Guys get coaches fired, pout, and make questionable decisions on the court. Love is 24. No one else on this team comes close to putting the kind of pressure on the defense that he does, and his presence on the boards turns it from an overall team weakness to an almost-dominant strength. Quibbling about the bits and pieces of his game that he hasn’t figured out yet is shortsighted when he brings more to the table that’s important for winning than anyone else on this roster, and pitting him against his best teammates when we should all hope that all of them stay just annoys me.

  17. I don’t agree that Love isn’t a winner or a leader or whatever. I don’t disrespect that view but I guess I have a more generous opinion of him. What he is, is a smart and moody guy. He isn’t going to run into a brick wall just because his coach tells him to, and he is going to sulk if he thinks he is getting a raw deal. But I simply don’t agree that makes him a cancer or not a top 15 player. It just makes him who he is. To me he is like Pau Gasol 10 years ago- he is a great player but maybe he isn’t quite the alpha dog on a championship winning team and needs to be in the right environment. I am not saying that can’t be Minnesota but it wasn’t Minnesota under David Kahn. He loathed Kahn and had no respect for him. It is very demoralizing to work for a boss who you disrespect AND does not really value you. That has been Kevin’s situation.

    I sometimes hear “Love isn’t a real franchise player, he is a very good number two on a contender.” Well there aren’t that many Lebrons or Durants, so what are you supposed to do? What would make Minny fans happy? I would settle for Indiana/Memphis/Denver level success which is entirely possible with Love and Rubio as your two best players.

    The organization needs to improve and then Love will fall in line. If it doesn’t improve it doesn’t really matter who they build their team around. To me Love hasn’t been the problem.

  18. I’m not saying I “want” Love gone. I am saying if he is the same player we have seen so far to this point, if he were traded I would not mourn his loss (depending on what we got back of course). If for example we traded Rubio I would feel as though I were kicked in the gut. I do not have that same affinity towards Kevin Love. If Love had one ounce of Rubio’s tenacity he would be a top 5 player in this league.

    Let’s hope those that are closer to the situation and claim to have seen a change in his attitude are correct.

  19. pagingstanleyroberts May 8, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Oh boy. You’re questioning the tenacity of (maybe) the best rebounder in the NBA? It takes a lot of tenacity to grab rebounds in the paint in the NBA, no matter what we may think of a guy’s other attributes. It also takes tenacity to generate as many free throw attempts as he does, considering he isn’t the athletic force of nature that guys like LeBron and Dwight Howard have been and probably costs himself more attempts by complaining.

    Let’s just have a moratorium on pitting these 2 against each other, okay? This franchise doesn’t have to choose, and if they get rid of Love, there’ll be no playoffs and many of our future seasons will look like last season (there’s no chance they get fair value — another All-Star or future All-Star — for him). A majority of Wolves fans like Rubio better than Love, which is fine. But many of those reasons are based on emotion and not on productivity. Everyone can have their favorite players, but why are we letting feelings get in the way of having a good team (which they won’t be if they trade Love)? No one seemed to care about Sprewell and Cassell’s history of problems (that existed long before they came here) when the team won 58 games.

  20. Why do we seem to have all these fans clamoring for Kevin Love to be traded? We forget so easily in Minnesota of what people can actually do. Just because Love has said somethings about the organization, people go nuts and want him to be traded. Were also talking about the same people who annually boo Kevin Garnett when he comes back to the Target Center. I frankly am so sick of your average Minnesota sports fan. We have some way of wanting people gone if they question things or point out faults, that are true.

    I’ll be the first one to say YES Love’s low post game, his effort on the defensive end, and how stagnant the offense can be when he has the ball in his hands. But why do we forgot how big of an impact he can have on the game. All I ever hear about is Pekovic’s stats are sooooo good and he deserves a huge deal. Sure, I like Pek, but look at some of the defensive sets he has! No one ever complains about it. I love Ricky just as much as the next guy. But face it, in half court offensive sets with a center who is not effective from 4 feet out or beyond, a point guard whose true shooting percentage ranks in the all time low, and no true shooting guard… What do you expect? I personally believe a lot of Love’s effort and inability to hustle back on the court this past 18 games of a season were due to him trying to hard. Looking for calls and pressing on offense. Were only one year out from having everyone in Minnesota love Kevin Love and just because of an injury riddled season and some comments of how poor Kahn was everyone is so hurt we want him traded. The guy is 24 years old and has plenty of time to grow as a leader.

    If anything, we need to cut ties with AK, Pek and DWill. We need effective role players with special skill sets to compliment our TWO STARS. We need shooters and big men who hustle, defend in the low post, and protect the rim. Flip has already stated we have an extremely unbalanced roster. We have 4 PG’s and no actual SG’s.

    Players skill sets that would fit well with Love and Ricky: Chase Budinger (RETAIN HIM PLEASE), Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack, Kyle Korver, JJ Reddick, Corey Brewer, David West, Matt Barnes, Earl Clark, Jerryd Bayless, Samuel Dalembert, DC33, Kenyon Martin, Trevor Ariza.

    All of which are Free Agents this summer. I’m not saying we can land all, or if any. I’m just saying there are some REALLY good role players that can make or break your teams on the market this summer.

  21. Anyone who claims Kevin Love plays at the same level of tenacity on defense as Ricky Rubio has flat out never watched a wolves game. Anyone who claims Kevin Love is as interested in getting in his defensive set as he is in arguing a call that leaves his team playing 4 on 5 basketball has never seen a Wolves game. Anyone who has never watched Kevin Love snatch a rebound away from his own teammate to pad his stats has never seen a Wolves game.

  22. Um, I’m guessing most people on this site either watch a majority of the games or have season tickets (I went to 35 games this year). Here’s all that matters: the Wolves had a much higher winning percentage with Love than without him. Nobody is disagreeing that Rubio’s a better defender or that Love complains too much.

    It’s insane, though, to argue that Love’s rebounding stats are based on him stealing rebounds from teammates. But I’m actually going to go with facts instead of some “you must not be watching the games” silliness: in Love’s 9 games, the Wolves had an Offensive Rebounding % of 32%, a mark that would’ve led the league; without him, they were 12th at 27.4%. In Defensive Rebounding %, the Wolves were at 76.6%, above the full-season league leader; without him, they were 12th at 74%. It’s pretty clear that when Love is on the floor, his rebounds are coming at the expense of the opponent and not his own team, but if you want to continue with this “eye test” silliness, I watched enough games to know that the Wolves cost themselves multiple close games with their inability to secure a defensive rebound.

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