Night fell a long, long time ago in Minneapolis, and the darkness refuses to end. Since losing the 2004 Western Conference Finals to the L.A. Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves have suffered from every affliction known to curse NBA teams: bad trades (Marko Jaric, anyone?), contract disputes (Latrell Sprewell), bad coaching decisions (firing Dwane Casey for Randy Wittman), the inevitable loss of a superstar (Kevin Garnett), bad draft picks (Corey Brewer, Randy Foye, Jonny Flynn) and a too-smart-for-his-own-good GM, David Kahn.
A lot of the aforementioned agents of destruction were levied by Kahn's predecessor, Kevin McHale; some say he set the franchise back to the point where Isiah Thomas starts looking favorable by comparison. (Keep in mind that in that awful Sam Cassell-Jaric swap, the pick the L.A. Clippers get from the Wolves will come next year, no matter where it falls. The Wolves are still paying for the Marko Jaric trade and he hasn't been in the league for two years.) Kahn was left a complete mess in 2009 so it's unsurprising that a mess remains.
But this summer has seen some huge victories for Kahn and another may be on the way as reports suggest Rick Adelman is considering taking the Wolves head coach job, if it's offered. But the summer of Kahn began back in May, when the GM managed to convince Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio to work against his own best financial interests and join the Wolves for the 2011-12 season. Had Rubio waited a year, he could have both negotiated a salary above the rookie scale and avoiding the messy prospect of a lockout. Instead, he agreed to come board the good ship Timberwolves ASAP, and was greeted like a 20-year-old peach-fuzzed hero.
See, Kahn always had a vision. It just seemed wholly unreasonable and poorly executed. Rubio's the keystone, the piece that can either bring the vision to life or make it all seem like an elaborate joke. Because such an untested player holds so much power over the success or failure of the Kahn dream, many will continue to be skeptical. Ricky has played in a top league, the Spanish ACB, but hasn't thrived there. This isn't the case where a dominant European player will try to find his way in the bigger, faster, more physically demanding NBA. This is what everyone believes to be an NBA player struggling to gain a footing in Europe, and opting to cut straight to the chase. Rubio's open-court talents might thrive in the NBA, but we'll have to take his word for it right now.
But so much of a point guard's success is in the other ingredients, the accouterments. The finishers. The spacers. The barker. Rubio has Kevin Love, a legit All-Star and maybe one of the 10 best young players in the league. Other than Blake Griffin, is there a big man younger than Dwight Howard that you'd take over Love? I'm madly in love with DeMarcus Cousins' potential, but I don't see the argument right now. Love is an offensive master already, after being a featured scorer for one season. His defense is a work in progress -- like most young bigs who don't block shots -- but he rebounds at such a rate that you can forgive missed assignments, because he'll clean them up.
Kahn also added Derrick Williams in the draft. There were murmurs that the Wolves were trying to trade out, to swap the No. 2 pick -- which was a choice between Williams, Jonas Valanciunas and Enes Kanter, essentially -- for a veteran, with the presence of Michael Beasley being part of the rationale. While such a trade could still come once the lockout lifts, let's count our blessings on behalf of the good people of Minnesota. Williams is legit, a nasty finisher who won't regularly take his man off the dribble but will certainly be able to thrive in the open court and on set pieces. Defense? We'll see. (This is becoming a theme.) But I have no question that, unless Klay Thompson and Jimmer Fredette become starters early on and ignoring a green-lights-everything Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Williams will be the top scorer in the rookie class.
Beasley can perhaps work off of the bench or make for trade bait; Wes Johnson remains a mystery, but has shown signs of finishing ability. The center position is a disaster; not only did Darko Milicic remain Darko Milicic last season, but Nikola Pekovic was a disappointment as well. What I'm saying is that the rest of the roster is iffy; beyond Ricky, Love and Williams, it's a big goulash of question marks and shaken heads. The apparent big three is set, so this stuff doesn't totally matter right now. But there's one more piece Kahn needs soon to bring this vision together: a coach.
That why's, if the Wolves manage to convince Rick Adelman to sign on, we'll be able to forget everything we thought we knew about David Kahn. It isn't a guarantor of success, near or far -- But it's a helluva strong step. The coaches in play for the job outside of Adelman are underwhelming given the needs and state of the team.
Larry Brown is certainly a good coach ... but his talents are primarily found on the defensive side of the ball, and there's a strong chance that Brown's strict demands on his point guards would kill Ricky's career before it began. The genius of Ricky in his deus ex machina persona on the court. A Larry Brown point guard that plays "the right way" neuters that. Don Nelson goes the other way, allowing complete basketball freedom. Let me just warn that "complete basketball freedom" + "Michael Beasley" = bloodbath. Sam Mitchell, Terry Porter and Mike Woodson are all good coaches, don't get me wrong. But this team, right now, needs a great coach with a track record of making up-tempo, offensive-minded collections of talent look like symphonies.
Rick Adelman is a great coach with a nearly impeccable track record, and he fits the particular vision Kahn has for this roster: an open-court, smart and harmonic attack. Adelman runs an offense better than any of the other candidates, by far; look at Houston's roster from last season and tell me how he got the league's No. 4 offense out of that. Kevin Martin's a scoring genius, and Kyle Lowry's an efficient gem. Luis Scola is a beast. But ... the No. 4 offense, with no anchoring center to speak of, no All-Stars and no cohesive roster vision in a time of flux for the franchise. Nothing short of amazing.
Now give Adelman a young savant at point guard, a monster of power forward and a young finisher with strong work ethic like Williams, and you have something sustainable. Adelman's the perfect piece to bring the Kahn vision together, to make critics like me look like armchair-bound fools, to let the Timberwolves finally see the dawn of a new day. The summer of Kahn is nearly over, and this final gambit can complete the remodel or leave the renovation site a mess. Which will it be?
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