Souhan: Wolves' draft and deal misses were one big Kahn job

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2013 - 12:37 AM

In the former Wolves GM’s wake are long-gone top draft choices and recycled players never as good as projected.

The Timberwolves’ trade of Derrick Williams means we can close the book on the Gilded Thesaurus, a k a David Kahn. The deal also means the Wolves, having traded his apparent successor, never have been more dependent on Kevin Love.

Kahn, then the Timberwolves general manager, chose Williams with the second pick of the 2011 draft. It was the highest draft position in Wolves history. Tuesday, the Wolves made official their trade of Williams to Sacramento for defensive specialist Luc Mbah a Moute.

Considering that Wolves coach Rick Adelman wasn’t going to play Williams, the move makes sense for this season. Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders traded a guy who doesn’t play for a guy who will, and who will improve a team in need of strong defenders.

In terms of long-term value for the franchise, the trade is acknowledgment of another disaster, even if this is the rare Kahn decision that can be deemed understandable.

Williams was the consensus second pick. We know now that the Wolves should have taken Klay Thompson, who has developed into a pure scorer for Golden State, but only revisionists would pretend that Kahn should have taken Thompson.

However logical the pick appeared at the time, Williams’ trade clinches his position at power forward in the starting lineup of Kahn’s most unfortunate procurements. Even Kahn’s cheat sheet of five-dollar adjectives couldn’t make this team sound competent.

The lineup: Jonny Flynn at point guard, Wes Johnson at shooting guard, Michael Beasley at small forward, Williams at power forward and Darko Milicic at center. It’s hard to construct a worse starting five in four years, but Kahn worked fast. Or, to use a word from the Gilded Thesaurus’ vocabulary, “Expeditiously.”

More impressive is the lineup of players Kahn either didn’t draft, didn’t reward with a maximum-length contract or traded. That lineup: Ty Lawson at point guard, Steph Curry at shooting guard, Paul George at small forward, Love at power forward and DeMarcus Cousins at center. (Kahn could have chosen either Cousins or George instead of Johnson with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft.)

Kahn’s tenure was an embarrassment to professional basketball and to the man who hired him, Wolves owner Glen Taylor. The blessing of the Williams trade is that we no longer need to dwell on it, although Saunders might not be able to stop cursing it for years.

The Williams trade places the onus on Saunders to persuade Love to stay, and to eventually and creatively restock the roster with young talent.

Love has made himself a franchise player for a franchise with no other avenues through which to acquire one. The Wolves have no trade chips that will land a top pick, other than Love himself. Saunders’ first draft yielded a player, Shabazz Muhammad, who is spotted less frequently than Sasquatch.

The Wolves won’t be able to lure a superstar in free agency, and they should win enough games with Love to ensure they won’t be picking high enough to land one of the star college freshmen sure to enter the draft next spring.

The trade of Williams means the Wolves need to win now, to take advantage of the short-term alliance between Adelman and Love, and to give him reason to believe he should spend the rest of his career embracing frostbite instead of beaches.

Saunders and Adelman have built a good team. Love could win an MVP award, if LeBron James really wants to be like Michael Jordan and quits midseason to play minor league baseball. The signings of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer were shrewd. The addition of Mbah a Moute, along with the return of Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf from injury, should give Adelman quality depth and improved defense.

The future is not as bright as the present. Because of Kahn’s drafts, there is only one young potential star on the roster, other than Love. It’s point guard Ricky Rubio, who would need to dramatically improve his shooting to become a franchise player.

The cupboard Saunders inherited isn’t bare, but the goods are highly perishable. Kahn’s unwillingness to give Love an extra year on his contract, offending the most important person in the franchise, could turn out to be the worst of all his silly decisions.

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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