Archives For Benjamin Polk

Exit Brandon Roy

Benjamin Polk —  May 11, 2013 — 19 Comments

Pretty much immediately upon assuming office as Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Ops, Flip Saunders excised David Kahn’s final boondoggle. As should probably have happened halfway through last season, Brandon Roy has been waved. Here’s Flip waxing sentimental on the end of the Brandon Roy era: ”We wish Brandon and his family all the best in the future.” Your desk should be cleaned out by 5:00, please. Also, we hope you enjoy this nice watch (and the $5 million you made last year).

Kahn has a few majestic failures to his name, but most of his moves were mediocrities of this sort. Easily defensible moves with relatively low risk that simply didn’t pan out. Many of these shone with Kahn’s signature grandiose faux-humility, which made it easy to relish their failure–thinking here of the Beasley and Anthony Randolph trades and the Darko experiment. But the Brandon Roy story was sadder and more poignant. Roy is an incredibly good basketball player who, at 28-years-old, would be in the heart of his prime right now if he had any cartilage left in his knees. Kahn’s gamble would have paid off if Roy would have been able to access even a shred of the talent his body surely still possesses. But he couldn’t. His stat line from last year is almost cruel: Five games; 5.8 points; 4.6 assists; 2.8 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game. Brandon Roy deserves better.

 

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.

Kahn still on the job

Benjamin Polk —  April 27, 2013 — 7 Comments

Before we praise/bury David Kahn and/or Glen Taylor and/or Flip Saunders, lets be clear on one thing: nothing has been confirmed by anybody. Taylor has been silent; Kahn is acting like he still has a job; Flip ain’t saying one way or another. And while this is all most likely the typical “cannot-confirm-or-deny” waltz as performed by every owner and prospective hire before things become official, better recognize: nothing is official. Indeed, Kahn is seeming rather sanguine about the whole affair. As quoted in the Strib:

It is no different than when we make decisions on players who have options. We wait for the process to unfold. In the meantime, Glen and I have been having conversations about the staff, free agency and other plans…I wake up every day knowing it’s a privilege to have this job, and not a right. Speculation about our jobs is part of this business, especially when you strip the emotion out of it. Speculation is especially understandable now, as we have a deep and talented team, with several cornerstone players, and will be poised for big success once it regains its health.

If this seems oddly low-key for a guy on the precipice, its worth remembering that Kahn has presided over this exact situation before. So he’s no stranger to the Wolves’ allowing an incumbent to twist in the wind for a while as a decision is being made. Wow, the Wolves sure are ungraceful in situations like this. Makes you wonder why anybody would want to work for them in the first place.

 

When we watch March Madness we watch very young, extraordinarily gifted men burn like roman candles. It is a carnival, less a display of basketball prowess than an ecstatic frenzy. We see the spirit carrying the body to places it literally cannot go. There are shows of incredible effort and passion, fevered battles for loose balls, defense played on the edge of exhaustion, wild last-second drives to the hoop. But also: shots crush the back iron; muscles drown in adrenaline; so many turnovers. The tournament is like the most spectacular party you barely remember, the one where the floor bent to the beat of the music, where you could not speak, only scream, where your veins ran with gold, where you loved everybody.

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Its a given that this Timberwolves’ season has been a bitter disappointment. I always believed that prognosticating before the year even began was foolish; the calculus of variables was just too ornate to ever settle confidently on one outcome. I think its safe to say, though, that the year has become something close to the worst-case-scenario. Yes, Andrei Kirilenko returned to his mid-oughts form–at least until fatigue and injury robbed him of a little of his vivacity–and Ricky Rubio has made incredible strides in his recovery. But Kevin Love’s injury, and the plague of injuries to key players that has infected the team all year long, has negated all of that.

Still, it could be so much worse. You could be a Wolves’ fan of four years ago, wondering if Randy Wittman could turn things around, hoping that Randy Foye and Rashad McCants could one day justify their lottery status. Remember that? Or even worse: you could be a Phoenix Sun’s fan right now.  If that were the case, you would have endured a recent 10-game losing streak and a road record of 8-32, not to mention an entire season of Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson. You know what that’s like and it’s no fun. The “core” of your team would be Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, fine players, to be sure, but nothing to build a team around. Your most recent lottery pick, Kendall Marshall, would look, and play ball, like a member of Das Racist. You would be placing your hopes for the future on the only front office with a claim to being worse on draft day than the Wolves. You would be cheering very hard for PJ Tucker and also for the Morris twins.

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This nice young man just got his 1,000th win.

In many ways, Rick Adelman’s 1,000th win resembled his 703rd loss. As in Friday night’s game against Toronto, his team enjoyed spells of real ease, in which an overmatched opponent appeared ready to fold the tent and cede the game. In this one, the Wolves cruised to an 11-point lead in the first quarter. They dropped a 12-0 run in the second quarter and a 10-0 run late in the third. But as in their loss to Toronto, they repeatedly gave those leads back with stretches of unfocused play. That is what young teams do I guess, especially one whose primary ballhandlers include an emotional, turnover-prone 22-year-old, a 5’8″ shot-chucking black hole and the fourth Karamazov brother (the skinny, depressed-looking one with the wildly inconsistent shooting mechanics).

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There are few things in basketball as deflating as watching an opposing midrange jumpshooter on a hot streak. You know that, even with his impressive arsenal of fades and stepbacks, when he shoots that beautiful 18-footer over his defender’s outstretched hand, he is taking the least efficient shot on the floor. He is doing exactly what you want him to do. And still, the ball goes in the basket.

For the most part, the Wolves defended DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay the way that you hoped they might. They walled off the paint, prevented layups, kept the two long slashers off the free-throw line, stayed at home on three-point shooters. There are a few quibbles here and there–we might’ve liked to see Andrei Kirilenko give Gay less room to maneuver at the point of attack; they blew a rotation with two minutes to play that resulted in a DeRozan three-point play–but, in general, when we see anybody besides Dirk Nowitzki circa 2010 taking contested long-range twos, we can conclude that the defense has done its job. Nevertheless, there were Gay and DeRozan deploying their full array of pivots, hesitations and crossovers, hitting contested jumper after contested jumper.

Still, a team could do worse than allowing its opponents’ two best scorers–both unreasonably accurate from outside and preying on mismatches–to tally 51 points on 46 shots. Much more problematic, if you ask me, were a) the Wolves’ inability to fully capitalize on their 40-16 free-throw advantage and b) their inability to parlay moderate leads into decisive leads, to complete the job of beating a team that, for a while, was begging to be beaten.

Lets dispense with part ‘a’ quickly, because it is both aggravating and tedious. The Wolves, as they do, got to the line a lot. And, just as typically, they missed 25% of those free-throws. They missed three out of their last six free-throws and, of course, Ricky Rubio missed the one that would have tied the game at 94 with 1.7 seconds remaining. There, done.

Now for ‘b.’ The Raptors played some stretches of truly listless defense, in which, for instance, Alexei Shved was allowed to dribble unimpeded to within five feet of the hoop and loft an uncontested floater and Chase Budinger was given free reign to run off flare screens, rise up with a nice, clear look at the hoop and hit some perfectly relaxed, unimpeded jumpers. What’s more, the Raptors were saddled with the problem that neither Jonas Valanciunas nor Aaron Gray seemed capable of single-covering Nikola Pekovic without blatantly fouling him.

And so, in the first three quarters, the Wolves were able, with relative ease, to cruise out to leads of nine, eight and 11–but no more than that. That they were unable to extend those leads into more forbidding territory is a testament to their simple lack of consistent execution. A case in point are the minutes following the third-quarter Andrei Kirilenko three that gave the Wolves their one and only double-digit lead. Ricky Rubio penetrates the Raptors’ defense but delivers a pass to Pekovic’s feet. Derrick Williams falls over while attempting a rather ornate spin move in isolation. Luke Ridnour dribbles the ball out of bounds. Rubio attempts to initiate the offense by entering the ball to Kirilenko at the elbow; but AK does not fully seal his defender and Rubio’s pass is too casual. Rudy Gay jumps into the passing lane and streaks to the other end of the floor for a breakaway dunk. The Wolves go to a 2-3 zone in order to contain Kyle Lowry’s dribble penetration–and yet Lowry still manages to split the two backcourt defenders and hit an open floater at the third-quarter buzzer.

And things only got worse over the first few minutes of the fourth quarter when Rubio got his rest and J.J. Barea took the opportunity to perfect his ball-pounding, clock-killing, impossible-jumper routine. Its worth noting that at no point during the 12-4 run that brought them back into the game did the Raptors look particularly dynamic on either end of the floor. Minnesota’s slack execution simply allowed them to crawl back into the game.

By the time Rubio had settled things back down with a series of shrewd pick-and-rolls, in the process remembering to take advantage of Pekovic down low, the one truly shining matchup advantage at the Wolves’ disposal, Toronto had gained a measure of confidence. Their defense started to buzz, Gay and DeRozan got hot. It ended badly.

Although in our hearts we always suspected it to be true, we couldn’t help feeling a little distressed over Rick Adelman’s admission yesterday that he is considering walking away from the Wolves this coming summer. (Though you certainly can’t blame the guy for wanting to actually live with his ailing wife, especially after a pair of seasons as cosmically aggravating as these past two.) We can talk all we want about Derrick Williams’ development or Nikola Pekovic’s contract, but the truth is that the middle-term future of this franchise rests entirely upon the relationship between Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Take out one vertex of that triangle and, one suspects, the entire spindly structure might collapse.

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Roy “Dr.” Hibbert

The Wolves’ street-clothes squad boasts a pretty impressive resume. You’ve got multiple All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year, a former Most Improved Player candidate, even some MVP votes. What’s more, whoever has been dressing Nikola Pekovic deserves a firm handshake. That fitted herringbone blazer? the deep pink tie? the open-collar-plus-gold-chain combo? Dynamite.

In contrast, no one would say that the Wolves’ actual active roster is brimming with talent. In essence, you have a future-superstar with a sub-40% shooting percentage leading a crew of backups and D-Leaguers. This is a team that can compete for victories under certain circumstances–like when the Washington Wizards lay a total egg on the road, or when, say, the Spurs rest all of their good players–but that on most nights has very little chance to win. (I should mention: no shame in being a backup or a D-Leaguer. The NBA is much the better for the Dante Cunninghams and J.J. Bareas and even the Chris Johnsons of the world.)

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Here is Rick Adelman on the Wolves’ leaden, dispiriting loss to the Mavs:

We just didn’t have any energy. We had shot after shot and missed shot after shot. They ran a lot of people in in the first half. I know they were thinking we played last night and the travel. We just wore down…They are willing but we were a step behind and I think it’s physical and mental both.

Very little needs to be added to that assessment. There is, of course, the ongoing problem of the Wolves missing almost all of their best players and trotting out a threadbare crew of role players and D-Leaguers. Add to that the fact that they were playing the night after an exhausting loss in Denver, a very late flight and losing an hour of sleep…well it all adds up to some fatigued, uninspired basketball.

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