The '09 Offseason: A Look Back

As the season gets closer and closer I thought it was a good time to breakdown everything the Wolves have done this summer.

First Off: May 21st, 2009 – Timberwolves hire David Kahn as President of Basketball Operations.

Analysis: Easily the best move of the summer. Actually this is probably the best move the organization has made since they drafted Kevin Garnett. (Can you believe that was 14 years ago already!?!) Whether David Kahn has made you a fan of his or not already, I really don’t think you can call yourself a fan of the Timberwolves if you aren’t happy that Kevin McHale is out of the teams’s front office now. I would say that the Timberwolves improved from about a D- (F is saved only for Isiah Thomas’ running of the Knicks) to at least a B/B+. Personally I’d give Kahn an A overall for his moves, but I know some fans are still unsure about the Rubio/back-to-back point guard draft. I think it will play out quite well for the Wolves, but only time can prove Kahn right on this one. Anyway more on that later.

Actually before we look back at this summer’s moves, here is a good exercise for comparison’s sake: let’s envision what the summer would have looked like had Kevin McHale been in charge of the Wolves basketball decisions still. First, he would have kept the entire team from last year intact and would not have even picked up the phone once. Second, he would have used our #5 pick to draft a project swing man like Demar Derozan, #18 to draft a project big man like B.J. Mullens, and left Wayne Ellington on the board and traded #28 for two much less valuable future second round picks. Then he would have used the mid-level exception money to re-sign Rodney Carney to a 5 year, $5 million contract (something similar to Troy Hudson and Marko Jaric), along with extending Randy Foye at about 5 years and between $8-$10 million (similar to Wally Szczerbiak). This would have all come with McHale talking up the development of Corey Brewer (whose shot McHale would have been fine with), as well as how great January was last year before Big Al went down. Speaking of Big Al, he would have never lost the weight he did had everything would have stayed the status quo. Not to mention McHale would have stayed on the bench and if not would have had no shot at signing Rambis thanks to his clothesline. Basically it would have mirrored every offseason (other than the Cassell/Spreewell one) we’ve had since we drafted K.G. But hey, we still would have had Mark Madsen!

Ok now that we have a benchmark to compare to let’s get to the moves David Kahn has made this summer:

You may have thought that Kahn’s first significant move was the trade with Washington for the #5 pick. It wasn’t though…

Move #1: Kahn met with Al Jefferson as early as the day after he was hired and told him they were going to be a running team and that it would be wise to lose some weight from last season’s 293 lbs. Jefferson succeeded and came to camp at a svelte 262.

McHale alternative: Jefferson shows up just the same at 293 and the Wolves again are an inefficient half-court team.

Grade: Can this be any less than an A+? Everyone knows diets aren’t easy for most, but add on top of that Big Al hails from the good Southern Fired Chicken land of Mississippi and this is even more impressive. Great move by Kahn and even greater move by Al to deliver the goods. That’s dedication folks.

Move #2: Traded Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Washington Wizards in return for the rights to the #5 pick in the 2009 draft, Etan Thomas, Oleksiy Pecherov, and Darius Songaila.

Move #3-#7: Drafted Ricky Rubio #5, drafted Jonny Flynn #6, traded pick #18 Ty Lawson to Denver for a future Charlotte 1st rounder, drafted Wayne Ellington #28, traded pick #45 Nick Calathes to Dallas for a future Portland 2nd rounder, and drafted Henk Norel #47.

Analysis: These moves are in the “verdict is still out” category until further developments happen with Ricky Rubio, i.e. he either plays for the Wolves or they maximize his value in a trade. Looking at it with patience, as the Wolves have preached the whole time, it’s hard to see how owning the rights to the #1 rated point guard not in the NBA and potential superstar Rubio, is not more valuable then Foye and Miller, two guys no Wolves fans really loved and who didn’t figure into their long term plans based on last season and Kahn’s vision moving forward. (BTW Foye rated as one of the most “overrated” scorers last year just in case you missed it.)

As for taking Flynn over say Stephen Curry or Demar Derozan, with Rubio staying in Spain the Flynn move seems pretty savvy to me, maybe not so much with Sessions on board, but honestly who would have thought we would be able to steal him from the Bucks (and Knicks and Clippers). And for those who believe, like Bill Simmons, that Rubio would have come over had the Wolves just merely drafted Curry instead of Flynn I will point you back to the KFAN show Kahn did where he adamantly stated that the only reason Rubio even considered coming over now was because they Wolves drafted Flynn. (I was there and I can’t say it was anything more than genuine.)

Again this situation will play out in time but for now I’m pretty excited to see Flynn run the Timberwolves this year especially after learning how mature and savvy he he was of a point guard at the Media Day. On top of that even if you don’t fully trust David Kahn, you have to believe a no b.s. guy like Coach Rambis when he says stuff like:

“I’ve said it before, he has a chance to be a very special player.”

Sometime in the next two years we’ll come back and give this a grade knowing exactly what we got from the deals and the drafts.

Analysis: Verdict is still out so I’ll just give it a C as some fans are still worried about it, but my personal opinion is that it’s a solid B even from just what we know now and a good chance to become another A+.

Move #8: Traded Sebastian Telfair, Criag Smith, and Mark Madsen to the Clippers for Quentin Richardson.

Analysis: The key to this deal was simply to rid the team of Telfair’s player option next season. We had to give up a productive big man in Craig Smith but again as I said then as well we really didn’t have much playing time for him anyway. This move also opened two roster spots which allowed Kahn to make some free agent moves we’ll get to.

Nothing spectacular  and we gave up talent but someone took Telfair off our hands so let’s go with B-.

Move #9: Traded Etan Thomas and two 2nd round draft picks in 2010 for Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins.

Move #16: Waived Chucky Atkins.

Analysis: This move was half roster balance and half salary cap savings for next year. Wilkins helps fill out the wing and by waiving Atkins the Wolves saved over $2.7 million this season.With the signing of Hollins as our backup center Thomas was movable and this trade helped the team in two different ways. Another solid B.

Move #10: Signed restricted free-agent Ryan Hollins to a 3 year $7 million deal.

Analysis: Hollins is an energy guy that has been getting rave reviews in training camp and preseason play for his athleticism, but awful reviews for just about everything else i.e., taking care of the ball. For early analysis on his play with the Wolves go read this. Everything points to him being the perfect complement to Jefferson and Love if (and I’m not making this if any smaller than the big one it is) Kahn and Rambis can deliver on their promises to lead the league in player development.

In the NBA big men are almost always projects and almost always don’t pan out. This was a seemingly low risk move in that it only cost us $2 mil/year over 3 years. Would you rather be paying that to Mark Madsen or a B.J. Mullens? Because that’s the type of guy McHale would have given it to over that time.

Solid B+ here for the high reward, low risk move.

Move #11: Hired Kurt Rambis as head coach.

Analysis: Kahn strikes again here doing something McHale could have never done. (and never did) Bring in a big name guy with a championship pedigree. Rambis brings a lot of great qualities to the Wolves bench, a winning pedigree playing for Pat Riley and coaching with Phil Jackson, experience coaching the league’s best players in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, but perhaps my favorite quality came from something he said at the Timberwolves media day, when asked what type of coach he saw himself as Rambis replied by saying he sees himself primarily as an educator to the players where he’s able to teach them lessons in practice as well as in and after games. Kahn’s second A+ this summer.

Move #12: Traded Quentin Richardson to the Miami Heat for Mark Blount.

Analysis: A strictly money move that saved the Wolves another $1 million. Blount won’t play for the Wolves and will most likely be bought out. Another B, but a yawn compared to all the other moves.

Move #13: Signed restricted free-agent Ramon Sessions to a 4-year, $16 million deal.

Analysis: The best move of the summer by Kahn and it can’t be more underrated. Sessions is a top-10 point guard in the league and will now officially be underpaid for his production for the next 4 years. (or 3 as he will most likely opt out of year 4). David Berri’s formula has him being worth 9.0 wins produced and John Hollinger can’t say enough about how underrated he is, calling him “the free agent steal of the summer,” and “I don’t think people fully understand how important the upgrade from Telfair to Sessions is — based on my model, that exchange alone will be worth nine wins for the T-Wolves.” Not sure they have the same model but interesting that it’s 9 wins Sessions brings with him. Kahn’s third A+ move of the summer.

Move #14: Traded Darius Songaila and Bobby Brown for Antonio Daniels and a 2014 second-round pick.

Analysis: Another savvy money move by Kahn, this one saving the Wolves from Songaila’s $4.8 million player option for next season. After this move Kahn had given the Wolves anywhere from $13-$20 million in cap space next year (depending mostly on where the salary cap comes in). A solid B, except that Daniels will most likely be bought out and therefore we lose a useful role player to save money so more like C+

Move #15: Signed Sasha Pavlovic to a 1-year, $1.4 million dollar deal.

Analysis: Lacking any shooting from the perimeter on the roster other than rookie Wayne Ellington, Kahn made another good move to sign Pavlovic on the cheap to give him a 1-year trial run, and it should work. Sasha can both shoot the 3 and play good D on the other side of the floor. In fact his efficiency numbers were very good last year. How good? Better than Mike Miller good. Take a look here at Brett’s great player swap page at Queen City Hoops the TrueHoop Network’s Charlotte Bobcats blog. Plug in to replace Minnesota’s Miller with Cleveland’s Pavlovic and voila: The Wolves win 4 more games with Pavlovic. Ain’t all bad trading Miller away now. Another solid B that has a good chance to turn out to be an A by season’s end.

Overall: 3 A+’s, B+, 3 B’s, B-, C+, and a tentative C. You can see that I’m pretty much fully on the bandwagon with what Kahn is trying to do. Honestly I think that over the course of this season and into the next any Wolves fans that still have doubts will have all the evidence they need to hop on board. Individually each of these moves makes sense, some a heckava lot, and some just enough to make them worth doing. One thing we do know is that Kahn isn’t afraid to maximize his assets, isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, and all signs point to him having a plan to make the Wolves a contender.

Besides we all know the McHale alternative would have been a lot worse and we’d be looking forward to just another “meh” season.

Instead, we have a young team, a new coach, a new uptempo running style, and a very bright future on the horizon. It’s a good time to be a Minnesota Timberwolves fan if you ask me.

UPDATE: Hat tip to Mike for reminding me that firing or deciding not to bring back McHale as coach qualifies as an offseason move from this summer and indeed he is right. I guess I just didn’t think of it because it made so much sense in light of everything that happened that it almost became implied. Anyway another good move by Kahn especially considering A) McHale would have been pissed he blew up “his” team and B) We got Rambis instead. Other than Al and Kevin being a little upset as they had enjoyed McHale (and they seem to be over it with Rambis and Laimbeer on board) I don’t think there were any negatives to this move.

Also I should mention that bringing assistant coaches Wohl, Laimbeer, Theus, and Bickerstaff were all excellent moves as well and should pay off greatly throughout the season this year and into the future.