Jerry Zgoda's interview with David Kahn, Part IV

  • Updated: May 3, 2013 - 9:33 AM

Timberwolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda held an in-depth conversation with David Kahn on the day he got fired as the team's president of basketball operations. Here is part four:

Q. I know you thought Kurt Rambis was so ready for the coaching job in 2009. But after drafting two point guards back to back, did you know you were getting a coach who was running a system that didn’t maximize a point guard’s skills?


A. That’s a very good question and I want to be very careful. The last thing that Kurt deserves to be put in the middle of this. Two things: One is I think Kurt really prided himself on the team’s offense and thus we spent an extraordinary amount of time practicing that and not enough practicing defense. And to your point, he hoped over time the offense he put in would sink in and it’d make sense for everybody. You have to ask him but maybe if he had to do it over again, he would have started on a much more simplistic level for the benefit for some of the players so they would have had an easier time of it in that system. Those are the two things I’d say and I hope they’re said gently.


Q. If you could do it again, would you hire a more point-guard oriented coach? I know you liked Mark Jackson at the time.


A. You think about it all the time. I remember one of your colleagues wrote the day after, it was the first time in Wolves history they hired a coach that somebody else would have hired. There was no question of names out there that summer, the perception was Kurt was one of the catches. He had one year head coaching under Lakers and numerous years under Phil (Jackson), plus he played under Pat Riley and Pat had Magic Johnson, one of the greatest point guards of all time, if not the greatest. And so for whatever reason, that didn’t translate. That’s on me, not on Kurt. I should be the one blamed for that.


Q. Most fans look at Al Jefferson and say you got little tangible back for him. You believe the cap space you got back was worth it?


A. Absolutely. First of all, there’s no way Kevin would have had a breakout if Al had still been here. Too many people focus all the time on the offensive end of the court and not enough on the defensive end. The issue isn’t can Al and Kevin co-exist offensively. The issue is the strain it puts on a team defensively because we’re short and we don’t change ends very well and it already was becoming a huge issue for our team. And so the trick was to have the kind of financial flexibility for that season and beyond. Al’s number was going to suck up a lot of room and would make a lot of moves almost to make. We needed that kind of relief to let Kevin breath on the court and to let the roster breath financially so we could make some other changes. Having not to take back salaries that added up to him was critically important because usually when you do that you’re just perpetuating the same kind of bottleneck. We needed to eliminate the bottleneck.


Q. How long did it take you to woo Rick, was that three months or more?


A. Yes.


Q. Is signing him one of the things you’re most proud of?


A. And also it was no easy task bringing Ricky over. There are still people to this day who are surprised he showed up. It wasn’t Rick was difficult. With Rick, I had to fight the temptation to pressure him. That would have been the worst thing possible. He didn’t need me pressuring to make a decision in time and he needed to do it only if he wanted to coach again. I’m also proud of that trade (that sent Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the 2009 fifth pick that became Rubio) I don’t think we would have had the institutional courage to take Ricky with that sixth pick if we didn’t have two picks in the top 10 that year. I knew Ricky wouldn’t come for a year or two. We didn’t have a point guard on the roster. We probably still would have had to take Flynn because of scouts’ assessment and we felt he was ready to play right away. All we would have had without that trade, I don’t know where we’d be today. Ricky is a critical part of the team’s future, along with Kevin.


Q. Why did you guys like Flynn so much over Curry?


A. Well, Curry didn’t visit (before the draft). That hurt because whenever you’re building consensus amongst all staff it’s hard when you don’t have a player visit for that reason alone and he wouldn’t visit. I’d only been there for two weeks. I couldn’t do anything about that. Flynn had leadership abilities at first blush. He was very dynamic, charismatic. You could see it his rookie season. The kid had a lot of confidence, plays bigger than he is. He just got hurt. He got hurt. He had a pre-condition nobody knew about his hip. During his recovery period, he knew something was wrong but he didn’t tell anybody it, there was a feeling of impingement in there (in his hip) and never described to trainers at Syracuse how deep it was. It really has hurt his career. I hope he recovers from it. He’s still a very young player. I remember Bill Laimbeer in a staff meeting before Jonny’s first season likening Jonny to Isiah Thomas. People like to sort of pile on after they have information that proves their point, but there wasn’t this kind of piling on the poor kid that year. There were a lot of people who liked him a lot. He had a lot of explosion that went away.


Q. Would it have made a difference if the starting job hadn’t been given to him from the beginning?


A. Kurt and I talked about that a lot. Kurt was sort of surprised that Ramon Sessions didn’t just win the job in preseason, but that was maybe attributable to fact Ramon didn’t play that much that previous summer because of his free agency. It took him a long time to get in a groove and Jonny clearly won the position. I remember at Jonny’s first summer league practice and Ryan Gomes came and watched practice and he watched Jonny for about five minutes and he turned to me and said, “Jonny’s going to be our leader, isn’t he?” That’s the kind of leadership skills he had. So, yes and no. Would it have made sense for him to fight for it? No question. But we didn’t have that luxury. We had a capped team. We had very little talent and we made the best of what we had at the time.


Q. Who of European guys you’ve drafted will play here and make an impact?


A. I’m hoping (Nemanja) Bjelica will come over next year and he’ll be a very fine player. We didn’t draft Shved, I wouldn’t compare him to Shved. I think Alexey can be special, frankly. This is a big summer for him. I think Bjelica could have a fine NBA career as a rotational player.


Q. How about Paulo Prestes or Henk Norel?


A. I don’t think Prestes. He’s had a hard time staying in condition. Norel has had an excellent season, an excellent season in Spain. He hurt his ACL two years ago and he deserves now a fresh look. There is a chance for him I believe. And Robbie Hummel is having a terrific season in Spain.

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