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.


Q.  Did you change your scouting system after not identifying Kenneth Faried in the 2011 draft?


A. Yes. When I arrived, there really was no scouting database to speak of. When I asked list of top 10, top 30, top 40, nobody kept a list. It was kind of unbelievable to me. There was no infrastructure. And second year, one of things that hurt us was Fred Hoiberg, who I kept and I like a lot,  ran the scouting but he left for Iowa State in May. We brought Tony Ronzone in, he was intended to supplant Fred. He’d be an additional body to Fred, his own skill set, largely international basketball, USA Basketball and other things. Fred left and we didn’t have somebody leading it those last few weeks heading into that draft. That’s two years in a row where we had change leading into draft period. Going into the 2011 draft, I tried to change system but it just didn’t get implemented the way I wanted. We went to a system with scouts watching players play on numerous occasions as opposed to just once or twice, hopefully getting a much more meaningful understanding of their skill sets. We started to require scouts to come to meetings in January and February with clear opinions who should be funneled into a shorter list. We did that this past draft, I just felt I had to take control if we really wanted to make a change. We emphasized regional scouting and cross-checking and put a much more heightened emphasis on analytics and background research.


Q. Why was Faried the trigger?


A. We did have a scout who was advocating for him but his voice had been squelched and felt if we had forced that scout into a process where he could stand up in the whole room and be forced to advocate the player would have stayed in a funneled list and we would have given him the appropriate attention. That scout only saw him once or twice. That’s still just too thin. If you can put someone in a region where he can see players multiple times, not only would you accumulate more information on skill set, but also accumulate more background information, more game information, the whole nine yards. He just fell through the cracks and here comes the draft and he’s not even discussed. In looking back on him, I did the analysis and I could see we had somebody like him a lot. I just think we’ve added depth in every single area of analysis and it was important to do.


Q. What do you do now?


A. I don’t know.


Q. Want to stay in the league?


A. I don’t know yet. When all speculation last couple weeks started to incur, I had a call from inside basketball and from outside basketball. So I don’t know yet. I’ll stay here and attend to some affairs for now. There’s a lot to do.


Q. Anything you’d do differently?


A. Oh, for sure. For me, important thing was if you made a mistake, understand why you made a mistake and change the behavior so next time you don’t make the same mistake. Countless mistakes, c’mon, but everybody does, though. Every franchise can point to decisions that were made that you regret. I walked you through a lot of the draft stuff.


Q. Any that will keep you up at night?


A. No. We have a pretty good team, just got hurt.
 

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