May 31, 2011

Analytical musings on why the Timberwolves won't be good until at least 2020

Ok fine, you got me.  It took me a long time to get here, and despite praising the fates of the franchise when Deadzo was finally cut loose, I now have to fully admit it...

David Kahn is as bad at being a General Manager as Deadzo was.

(almost-silent sobbing)

The reason it took me so long to get here is because the two men have such dramatically different styles.  (puts on Bill Simmons skull-cap)  You see, being with Deadzo was like dating a truly horrible woman for 10 years.  It was awful, there were some ups and downs, and when it was over, I just wanted my next girlfriend to be completely different from that woman in every- oh goddamn hell, I can't write like that.  Let's just say this:

One of the main goals of being a GM in the NBA is to evaluate players and sign, trade or draft them based on that evaluation.  You see an unsigned free agent, you determine what he's worth, you call his agent, you negotiate, you end up signing him.  Sometimes you have to call other GMs to see if certain players are available, you make offers, etc.  This evaluation is absolutely paramount in the NBA.  It drives all GMs internally, whether they care to admit it or not.

So, the next question is, how do you determine which guys are "your guys"?  What type of team do you put together, which types of players do you target, and what are your goals?  GMs have their marching orders from ownership, yes, but not really.  The NBA is wickedly cost-controlled, with both a cap and a spending floor that teams can't go beneath.  Almost every team spends up and over the cap... the only real difference is how much luxury tax the individual teams are willing to pay.  The teams that have dogshit payrolls usually have dogshit attendance (LIKE OUR WOLVES), and that too plays out accordingly. But still, this all only matters in terms of a dollar figure... it doesn't identify which players to target.  And here is my assertion:

There are various spectra upon which every GM lies.  Take for example "stats".  GMs either put a lot of emphasis on individual concrete numbers (PER, +/-, PPG, etc) or they don't, and just look at raw talent.  Then there's the "money" spectrum.... a cost-controlled GM only takes on guys for a short time and takes minimal risk, preferring to stay in the draft and develop players, whereas Isiah Thomas will just spend everything all the time because money means nothing to him.  But then there's the "value" spectrum.  This is how a GM assigns value to a player.  And, not to go all Motorcycle Maintenance on you here, but the question of "value" really does lead to a question of "quality", and that can get real deep real quick.

One one end of this spectrum is the idea that you want to go get "Ballplayers".  What the GM does is watch film (or live workouts) and judges a player based on skill and skill alone.  This is the type of GM that says things like "you can't teach height" or "he's got a long lever".  At the far extreme of this spectrum lies Kevin McHale.  His entire career in judging talent was to look at raw skills of ballplayers and judge them (because he himself was a "ballplayer") as either worth it or not.  He probably never looked at a stat or a salary in his life.  He didn't care about any of that.  Just look at the way the guy jumps, his "court vision" and "presence" and all other sorts of bullshit that means nothing.  That's how McHale ran this team.... he epitomized the dumbest aspects of Minnesota sports (which is a WHOLE OTHER ARTICLE) which basically is the "I know more than everyone else" attitude.

Kahn is, of course, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.  It's almost as though he is unfamiliar with the sport of basketball.  He sees only salaries and stats.  He sees draft picks not as actual human beings, but chips in a stack.  And he sees every contract as an "asset".  He believes the number one goal of a sports team is to acquire the most assets possible.  If he could, he'd carry a roster of 40 players, and just wheel and deal all day long.  Kahn is the type of guy who will trade Jason Hart for a 2nd round pick and Alando Tucker.  "Hey, if I trade this trash for that trash, I can acquire another piece of trash!  Oh, and 2nd round picks are totally worth it and sometimes work out!"

When McFucko was fired, Kahn came in guns blazing.  And he showed that he was not afraid to make deals during his first draft, when he got us Rubio (or rather, the rights to Rubio).  That whole off-season was nothing but deal-making:  Ryan Hollins, Ramon Sessions, Sasha Pavlovic, Nathan Jawai, etc.  The roster was turning over, and everyone loved the action.  Ultimately though, look at where we are.

I'd like to try something here, and this may not work.  This is a brief retrospective on their careers (because Kahn's is going to end soon, and no, he won't surface on another team), painting some connections between the two, and the polar opposites as well.


Deadzo - Was trading KG risky?  No, not at all, because we all knew the Wolves would end up horseshit in that deal.  No, the highest risk he ever took was making the under-the-table deal with Joe Smith.  Why was it risky?  Well, even though Deadzo didn't know this at the time, if he was found out to have broken the rules, he would be hamstringing his team's drafting options for years.  If it worked out, hey great, you got Joe Smith without him testing free agency first.

Well... we all know how that turned out.

There are a lot of reactions that we as fans have in looking back at that absolute shit-for-brains move, but the one that I always come back to is "JOE SMITH?!!?!?"  If you go under the table for Kobe, or LeBron, or KG, hey great.  Go out and git some.  But Joe Smith?  This is so obviously a McHale move.... he had "his guy", and he loved the way he did the up and unders and took charges so much that he would do anything to keep him.  Including forfeit half a decade of draft picks.

Kahn - Trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller for the draft rights to Ricky Rubio.  This one is still playing out, and the risk actually wasn't that huge.  Foye is a dog, and Mike Miller shoots really well when he plays with 3 all-stars.  Rubio may never come here, true, but it was a calculated risk.  And what was it calculated on?  That's right... value.  Kahn ran the numbers of both Miller and Foye, and - probably without thinking how any of the pieces fit together - calculated that a #5 draft pick is "worth more" than those two players.


Deadzo - Drafting KG.  No doubt about this one.  The famous story goes that Deadzo and Flip went to go see KG play a high school game with the specific intention of hyping up the player so someone else would draft him high and they'd have a better pick fall to them at #5.  They saw KG play, and on the flight home said "We're not telling ANYBODY about this guy".  I'm sure that story isn't true, because Deadzo's a goddamned liar, but it clearly was one of the rare times that Deadzo saw a "ballplayer" who was actually better than what people said about him, and he reached out and grabbed him.  He just happened to have turned into a hall of famer.

Kahn - Umm.... trading Al Jeff?  I guess that could work here.  He looked at the current contract of Al (which was massive for someone who doesn't believe in defense) and decided to dump him for draft picks.  That usually doesn't work (because draft picks hardly ever work out, especially here) but it kind of made sense... at least to Kahn.  Hey, what can you say, the man loves his picks.  I think he sometimes has dreams that he has acquired every pick in each round of the NBA draft, and he just goes up there and names 60-odd players all at once.


Deadzo - Long list here.  Let's go with Doody.

McFail reached out and grabbed Doody with the 26th pick overall in 2003, and he played like he should've been drafted 2,600th.  Clearly still buzzed off picking KG out of high school, McFail lined up the pins and shot the bowling ball right into the gutter on this one.  He clearly had seen Doody win the high school dunk contest and decided that THAT was the man he was going to pair with KG someday for Western Conference dominance.

Kahn - Drafting Jonny Flynn one pick after drafting Ricky Rubio.  I'm still not sure if Kahn understands "positions" in the game of basketball.  I'm serious.  I think he thinks every player is about the same height and they all do relatively the same thing.  What other explanation is there for drafting a point guard and then turning around the very next pick and drafting a point guard?  And don't tell me "it was an insurance option".  Bullshit, Kahn came out the next day and said he envisioned them playing together.  He drafted Flynn because he thought he could some day trade him for another first-rounder.  That's how he thinks... assets.


Deadzo - (cracks knuckles, furrows brow) Let's start with trading KG for absolute fucking worthless garbage.  Continue with keeping Wally well past his prime and not dumping him for Baron Davis years earlier.  We already mentioned Doody, but what about Skita?  Signing Troy Hudson to a 6 year deal after he broke his ankle.  Drafting Will Avery.  Exchanging Sam Cassell for Marko JaricRicky DavisMarcus Banks.  Finding an absolute steal in Mario Chalmers... then trading him ON FUCKING DRAFT NIGHT to Miami for 2 future second rounders.  Drafting Foye instead of Brandon Roy, which is like me choosing to eat grass clippings instead of egg rolls.  Did I mention trading KG?

Kahn - They aren't abject failures... because he hasn't had much to work with in the first place.  But really, haven't we been told from day one that Kahn was saving up all these pieces to eventually make that big move for one or two guys?  And what has happened?  He signed Ramon Sessions, and that was awesome, but then he traded him and Ryan Hollins for Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair.  Then he waived Delonte.  And that guy, Jason Hart (who I have never heard of before today)?  He traded him away, then requested waivers on him.  JUST PUT TOGETHER PACKAGES TO LAND BETTER PLAYERS.  Kahn is playing a game without an end.... nobody is ever going to come up to him and offer him the Spree and Sam deal.  He's going to keep trading away Bassy and signing him a year later.  He's going to keep trading one 2nd round pick for 2 more the next year.  He's going to draft a guy who has potential, then he's going to trade him for cash.  And why?  Because it all makes sense upstairs for David.  If he wins, everything works.

The problem?  They have won 32 goddamned games in the last two years combined.  And next year looks even worse.  Nothing I can write here can argue with the facts, and those are that the Wolves are not close now, nor will they be in a few years, nor will they ever with David Kahn as GM.


Clearly the solution to all this madness is to just find a competent GM who isn't one way or another on the spectrum.  Just a guy who assigns values to players, but also constructs a team.  A guy who understands that in the NBA, one position is very important, and the guys that are on your roster all have to fit a role.  You can't just throw 12 guys together... not because they're all "gamers", and not because they are all pieces of some goddamned trade you promise to make in 3 years.  You construct it slowly and carefully, and you don't give up 3 months in because you made one bad move.  You don't hire a coach to run a sophisticated offense, give him shit players to deal with for 2 years, and then fire him because nobody wants to try on defense.

From Deadzo to Kahn, the pain keeps coming.  United we run... away from the basketball and success.


Dickfer said...

Now with Rubio, we should get who for Flynn? Sherman Douglas? Yeah, let's keep it in the Orange family.

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