In my last post (which was far too long ago, I admit), I reflected on several topics of discussion during what has been a very active, exciting, and telling offseason for the pups. Topics ranged from the Big Al/Love affair, potential trades, our financials, and Rubio (how soon we forget). In what will hopefully be a two part post, I'd like to first present a look back at what has been the most entertaining offseason in recent time. Enjoy, comment, critique, and discuss. I will begin and end by discussing the man of the hour himself: David Kahn.
The Kahn Man in Review
At this point in his tenure, and likely for at least another year plus, Kahn has enjoyed a wonderful (local) reception and an over-generous honeymoon period since he made his first move: Firing Kevin McHale. I am firmly convinced, at this point, he could have pawned off a 5-year, Full Mid-Level signing of Forward-Center Oliver Miller as a "veteran leadership, spot duty minutes signing," and half of the 43 Wolves fans in this town would have scheduled a celebratory parade down Nicollet Mall during the Thursday afternoon farmers market (which, sadly, is coming to a close for the winter soon). The man, at this point, can do no wrong. Now, I am not going to argue this by any stretch. In fact, I haven't been this oddly obsessed with the inner workings of the team in, well, ever. And that is in fact thanks to the kahstant maneuvering from David Kahn. My take on his work so far, and an offseason grade, below the fold:
The Good (with plenty of tangents)
For the first time since we drafted Kevin Garnett, this team has a vision and a clear understanding of where it needs to go. The buzz is back. There is no question that the Wolves were the most talked-about team this summer, and it wasn't even close. It's a great feeling. More importantly, for the first time, we have a leader who is building a team the right way: trading away mediocre players, shedding the payroll, stockpiling draft picks, starting an army of Frankenstein clones in Europe, bringing in actual, live, real-life undrafted(!!) rookies from ::gasp:: non-Big Ten schools. Not to mention being under the constant scrutiny of the national media (who also so nauseatingly herald OKC's Sam Presti as the "GM of the Millennium" for his "forward thinking," cool/savvy moves, such as the signings of budding stars Nenad Kristic and Shaun Livingston).
In the end, I think the praise I just gave Sir Kahn is reflective of the masses in Minneapolis. While a lot of this may be more of a celebration of Kevin McHale's firing, a lot of us are still conditioned to following the Wolves' traditional Offseason Formula-o-Fun, which went something like this (during the KG era at least):
-Wolves fall to around 5-7 in the draft lottery and miss out on winning the lottery.
-With a pick anywhere from 3-7, we draft a role player, or the best player available and trade him for a role player (this doesn't reflect my thoughts on Kevin Love, so lets not spark an unneeded, overdone debate here).
-In the 2nd round, draft a former Big Ten player, a teammate of our lottery pick, or a Euro who has no chance of ever playing for the Wolves, or no chance of even knowing he was actually drafted by the Wolves. Honestly, do you think Loukas Mavrokefalidis even knows we own his rights???!!! I'd bet a cool $5 he has only a faint idea at best.
-Attempt, and fail, to trade the players we signed to asinine contracts the previous year.
-Buy out the players we signed to asinine contracts the year before that.
-Use our Mid-Level exception to re-sign a player we took off of the waiver wire the previous year AND/OR to sign a guy on the level of Mike James to a 4-year deal, thus repeating the previous two steps.
-Trade away a draft pick or two for humor purposes.
-Search the waiver wire in mid-October for a veteran player or two to round out the roster.
-Listen to a disgruntled McHale talk about "improvement from within," or how "we couldn't get this and that done."
I wasn't attempting satire here, that is really how it went. It is actually that funny. However, the last two steps are the ones we are all still conditioned to. This year, I do not want to see us keep Jason Hart. For once, I am hopeful Kahn will do the right thing: round out the roster with some prospects like Jack McClinton, banish them to Sioux Falls, and hope for the best. The leadership exemplified by our (excellent) coaching staff, Jonny Flynn himself, and Ramon Sessions is more than enough to replace the veteran leadership void a guy like Kevin Ollie left. In fact, I think the "mentor" tag is vastly overrated, at least as far as never-have-been-90-year-old point guards are concerned. Do we honestly think Jason Hart or Kevin Ollie are the absolute keys to Jonny Flynn developing? The mentor role is just so invaluable that without the tutelage of former 10th man role-player Chucky Atkins, he has no chance of NBA success? Doubtful. Better scenario: add some undrafted players to the Developmental League team and shoot for a diamond in the rough. They exist, and they exist in every draft class regardless of its strength.
Back to the formula-o-fun. Thus far, Kahn has demonstrated a quick escape from this formula. The kicker has been his clear willingness to go after free agents. And this year we signed three pretty nice players in Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic, and Ramon Sessions. I think it is safe to say these three are, collectively, three of the highest impact free agents we have ever signed in 21 years of existence as a franchise. It comes down to Kahn's industrious attitude, and above all, willingness to work with agents and actually make a pitch to these guys. This is an attribute we take for granted, and for years have pawned off the lack of success here as a classic, mostly national media driven "Minnesota has terrible weather" excuse. Never mind having 3-5 future Hall of Famers on current rosters of our other pro sports teams, but I guess that isn't important. In the past, it came down to complete laziness, and there is not a lick of it left in our new front office. Next summer it is likely we will get a Rudy Gay level player in free agency at the very very best, but we can still be hopeful for more based on the three guys Kahn brought in with minimal resources. That, regardless of the moves I haven't cared for, is refreshing.
The Bad (with fewer tangents)
I'll be honest and say, while at least financially sound, a few of Kahn's moves have irked me in certain ways. While I am thankfully not the one involved in these trade conversations, part of me feels we could have received a little bit more value in some of our trades this summer.
1. The Washington trade. First of all, I loved this trade. BUT, as of now, the net gains after subsequent transactions involving the booty from Washington are the rights to Ricky Rubio, Damien Wilkins, Oleksiy Pecherov, a 2014 2nd Round pick, and some cost savings. While the rights to Rubio are invaluable, given our intense weakness on the perimeter, I think we could have sweetened the pot and pried away Nick Young from the Wizards. This makes sense for Washington as well, given their imminent logjam at the 1-2 spot this year with the addition of our former Wolves.
2. The trade with the Clippers. Yes, I understand, Craig Smith and Sebastain Telfair are not stars. They were never part of our future so let's spare the thought. But, they are solid role players on any team in the NBA. You don't trade them both, plus fan favorite and community legend Mark Madsen, for what turned out to be the story of Mark Blount not reporting to the team. You just don't. While that extra $3 million saved from Telfair's player option could very well come in handy, that is not maximizing your assets. Two roster spots gained as a silver lining? Hardly worth talking about. You would think that by trading Sebastian Telfair alone, who was once traded for the 7th overall pick in the draft, would be able to net you something other than "the flexibility to round out your roster with 8th-man D-League center Jared Reiner." Pause, and think about that. I suppose we also receive the subsequent ink in the transactions column of The Star Tribune announcing his release in about two weeks. (By the way, that 7th pick just mentioned was ironically used by Boston on Randy Foye. The Telfair trade was made moments before the dreaded Roy trade took place. Cash Considerations all around!)
My next point is minor, but worth mentioning. From a fan's perspective, it is nice to hear a realistic opinion on the potential success of the team this coming season. "Rebuilding year, we are adding more pieces, and we won't make the playoffs for another two years" are comments that reflect the level of candor we have come to respect and desire. However, I can't imagine Kahn's public comments have the best effect on the morale of our young core. Have a little faith. Chemistry is sensitive while rebuilding, and while we saw a jolly bunch on media day, I hope it gets to the point where each player understands our vision and is willing to make the necessary sacrafice.
Overall, the team is clearly positioned to make a push for the future in a big way. Kahn clearly has the work ethic and smarts to get things done and quickly. I am hopeful that the lack of value we have received in some of our summer trades isn't reflected in future moves during the trading deadline and into next summer when Kahn's true test begins.
Offseason Grade : B+. The cap flexibility hasn't improved much (not that it needed to), but a lot of deadweight has been removed and we acquired some great core pieces, not to mention a grade A coaching staff. He loses points for not getting what I felt was max value in a few trades. More to come here between now and day 1 of the season I'm sure.
Since this one is getting way longer than I had anticipated, I will close this out and hopefully get part two out next week, "a look forward" if you will on the true "State of the Wolves" in relation to the season. It is probably for the best since I will be making the trek down to Mankato for the first preseason game vs. Milwaukee, where I will be sitting in a VIP press area for free in Row U behind the basket on $15 tickets. I can't wait to see the squad again, and of course the Sessions/Jennings battle will be a hoot. More to come. We're closing in!