David Kahn exit interview: Goes in deep on past decisions
David Kahn's exit interview where he goes in-depth on some of his decisions. If you did not realize it already, he made some questionable ones. He always was one to be pretty candid with the media, a bit too much so at times, so this is pretty interesting. In my mind, this was a long time coming, just thought people might find this interesting. Four parts, will post them all and link to the Minneapolis StarTribune.
Jerry Zgoda's interview with David Kahn, Part I
Q. What are your emotions, reactions? Did it catch you by surprise?
A. A little bit. I would say a mixture of disappointment, sadness and frankly a little bit of relief.
Q. Why relief?
A. I’ve been in a lot of hospital rooms the last 14 months. This has been an unbelievable challenge, the injuries we’ve had, starting with Ricky that night in March (2012), it just never stopped. And then when Rick’s wife took ill and he had to miss some time, you just never anticipate living your life this way where you’re constantly receiving bad news: Players missing time, coach missing time. It was just a really hard last 14 or so months.
Q. Did you meet Glen Taylor in person today?
A. No, spent some time with him on the phone today. We’ve been communicating back and forth the last several days.
Q. When did you get back from Europe?
A. Midday today.
Q. You were there just a few days, right?
A. That’s right. There was a player I needed to see because his season was ending. He was heavily recommended by some of the scouts and I had to go this week.
Q. Surprised that you went, that they let you go, with this forthcoming?
A. I just told somebody else, I think people have a misconception how organizations are run. Glen doesn’t operate in that kind of minutiae. I knew I had to see this player. Glen had told me in the past that this is business as usual. This is a trip I independently chose to take because it was an important trip for me to take. So I made the decision to leave and I made the decision it was the perfect day to come back today.
Q. You plan to meet with Glen in person?
A. We have a plan to meet in person, not a date set, but I’m sure we will shortly. He wants to and I want to.
Q. Has anything been decided with Rick yet?
A. Not to my knowledge, no. And I think it’s a little premature still. I think people are positioning it as a decision. There’s no doubt in my mind that Rick Adelman wants to come back, hopes to come back and we’re all optimistic he will come back. We’re all similarly hopeful that his wife does not have another medical emergency that would prevent him from doing so.
Q. It is a decision whether they can manage her health so he can still coach, right?
A. Right, right. And I think we’re all optimistic he can and will. I’m not him and I’m not her. That’s a family matter and I respect their privacy.
Q. I heard a couple of your radio interviews today. How well positioned do you think you leave this team?
A. Highly well positioned. I think it’s a team that’s a force to be reckoned with the next seven to 10 years. Very few teams, when you think about it, have the star power contained in Ricky and Kevin. Pekovic is becoming a significant player at his position in the league. You have Kirilenko, Shved, Barea, Budinger, there’s a lot and I’m leaving people out. There’s just a lot of talent on the roster and it’s mostly young talent, mid 20s and under. I think the team is very well positioned to make a serious run these next several years. The organization is better positioned than it was and the facilities are better. We made major strides and upgrades in almost every area of the franchise because frankly, when I arrived here, this was a very distressed situation.
Q. You said next 7 to 10 years. So you’re convinced that, unlike many Wolves fans, Kevin Love doesn’t bolt in 2015 because of that opt out clause?
A. I don’t believe any player makes his mind up until he has to make his mind up. There is nothing that would suggest to me that Kevin is irrational. I actually think he is very rational so he’ll make his decision over time based on the evidence. Any kind of hysteria surrounding what he may do is just far-fetched. If anybody put themselves in those shoes, you wait until you have to make a decision and then you make a decision. And there’s still a long time to be had before then.
Q. That’s two years down the road, right?
A. Yep, and maybe sooner if the team decides to offer an extension on the three-year anniversary.
Q. Did you handle the contract extension with him well?
A. We handled it the best way we can, and of course I handled it per instructions from the owner. Glen and I talked about it at length. I think it actually took me some time to tell Glen it was imperative he receive max money. The only issue, the only quibble came down to that last year and as I’ve said countless times, for us the danger was if you commit for five years, you’re really committed for six because of the lockout year, which he was playing. It’s an awfully long time to string a contract out with all the variables that can occur mostly due to injuries and oftentimes to big men. That was it. I think Kevin really had his heart set on a fifth year. I think his friendship with Russell Westbrook (who signed a five-year deal with OKC) made it difficult to accept, but that’s why I also prevailed upon Glen that we should relent and give him a third-year option so he felt like he was winning something too. In every compromise it’s important for both sides to walk away with something that was valuable to have. That’s what that was all about. I never had any problems offering that third year option. I thought it was the right thing to do.
Q. Think his feeling toward that or his feeling towards you influence Glen’s decision?
A. I doubt it. You’d have to ask Glen, but I doubt it. And my feelings toward Kevin, frankly, I really like him. And we’ve had some really productive conversation about the steps he needs to take to win back the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches. It’s almost ridiculous how much attention to paid to my relationship with him. In terms of import, it has no bearing at end of the day whether he’ll be happy here and whether organization will be happy with him. It’s much more important for him to forge really meaningful relationships with his teammates and coaches.
Q. But if he doesn’t have respect for the guy who runs the organization, that’s important isn’t it?
A. If you want to say it’s important, then you have to put it in context. If the person won’t let him have what he wants to have every time, you can make a counter-argument that that’s actually probably a healthy situation, too, that you don’t kind of cave to every desire. Much too much has been focused on me. Remember there’s an owner involved who ultimately has to say yeah or nay. That’s the final say. But no, I don’t think when Kevin makes his decision to stay here – and I hope and trust he will – that his relationship with a front-office person will be on his list of the top 20 things for him. I think his relationship with his teammates, his coaches, is the team winning, the city, the facilities, the outlook for the future, the money comparable to what he could get, there’s so many other things that will be much more important in that analysis. Otherwise, you’re suggesting he’s irrational and he’s not irrational.
Q. Why did you say he needs to win back the respect of his teammates?
A. I think there’s some work for him to be done in terms of, he didn’t play very much this year, right? And I think there’s a void there because of that. Many of those guys really fought their way back from injury, sometimes multiple injuries. He had two broken hands. He came back once, didn’t play well, broke his hand again and then decided to have his knee done at the end of the year when the pain was such. I think he has some work to in the locker room and I believe he will. I certainly don’t want that to come across negatively. I believe he will and I believe he’s on the right path.
Jerry Zgoda's interview with David Kahn, Part II
Q. When you look back on the draft record – we don’t have to go through it line by line – Flynn, Wes, all that, what’s your opinion of it?
A. Let’s not do it line by line but year by year, OK?
2009, I’m hired on May 22, 2009. There are four GMs or assistant GMs who have been scouting the entire year and one of their complaints to me was that despite all their scouting work in the past, in the end nobody would listen to them and my predecessor would take who he wanted to take. I also inherited a very fluid coaching situation. As you recall, Kevin McHale had been offered a multiple year deal to continue coaching the team. I had not been in the league that year so I had to familiar myself with as many game tapes as possible. We made trades during that five-week period and it was just an incredible time, it was a whirlwind. When I look back on that draft, the fact that we pulled out Ricky and we pulled out Wayne Ellington, who since has become Dante Cunningham, I can think of a lot of worse things. In drafts, you can make a mistake or you can make a mistake you’ll never recover from. One can argue that the Trail Blazers in certain ways didn’t recover from the Jordan draft (in 1984). Our decision to take Jonny Flynn is not a decision we couldn’t recover from. Memphis is playing this week and if they win one more game, they advance to the second round and in that same draft, they took Hasheem Thabeet with the second pick. He was out of the league briefly and now he’s with Oklahoma City. So we needed a point guard on the team, we knew Ricky couldn’t come. That was the whole point behind the trade (Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the fifth pick used to take Rubio), to give us flexibility to draft Ricky with our second pick if he was there. And so the scouts had Flynn as the No. 1 point guard. And I had just emerged from several meetings where all they were saying to me was nobody ever listens to us and I like Jonny too, so please don’t mistake that. I could see a lot of the appeal and so to that extent, that’s the reason that pick was made. And the reason we deferred the other pick (18th overall, which they traded to Denver and took Ty Lawson for the Nuggets in exchange for a 2010 first rounder). The reason we deferred is we didn’t have a coach yet and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with making a lot of decisions with so little so much more work to do with who would be coaching these guys.
The 2010 draft: We tried mightily to move up to the third spot (New Jersey, who took Derrick Favors), mightily. We just couldn’t get it done. We just didn’t have enough talent on the roster. We gave some thought to move back (they discussed a deal with Indiana involving the No. 4 pick and Flynn for the No. 10 and Danny Granger), but it just didn’t materialize in either direction. We were trying to pull ourselves out of the four hole. I remember at the lottery that night, being four was not as bad as being five, but it would have been a lot better for us to be three. It really made a significant difference in my mind as far as what we would have done. And you should ask Rick about this: One of the selling points to Rick on this job when he was watching film of the team, he really liked Wes Johnson. And there was a lot to like about Wes. He was athletic. Even though he didn’t have a ball that had a lot of rotation on it, seemed to go in from a distance. You could really see him developing into an elite defender. I just think one of the things we missed was I’m not sure at the time his commitment was what was necessary. And I can’t speak for what he’s been like in Phoenix, but I’m noticing that it looks like they may be wanting to bring him back.
The 2011 draft, I think there would have been bonfires and pitchforks in front of my office if we hadn’t taken Derrick Williams. I just recall coming into that draft. You just had to do it, even though we were deep at that position, And I think you could also make an argument he really was the right pick. In time, I think it will prove to be the right pick. Derrick’s very young though and people tend to be impatient. I think Derrick’s on course to be a very fine player in this league.
And last year, when I met with the scouts, the first year we put in the scouting system I wanted, I was convinced with the 18th pick we weren’t probably going to find a player who could help us both now and in the future as Chase Budinger. I just felt it was a no-brainer. Once we had the deal in hand, once we were satisfied the 18th pick was not going to produce a player who for us would play right away, that was the right way to go.
Jerry Zgoda's interview with David Kahn, Part III
Q, If you could go back, you could took a lot of gambles on a lot of guys who were talented but underachievers, hoping they’d grow up. Would you have done it with as many as you did, with Beasley, Darko, Randolph, Martell?
A. Well, let’s take those one by one.
Beasley, with the price point being what it was, absolutely. We were in a very difficult financial situation that year because of the revenues of the team were so poor and I was in agreement with this, it isn’t a complaint, but we had to be creative adding talent without blowing the bank and put ourselves up against the tax line. We were operating that season near the salary-cap line. Michael I felt was too attractive to pass up because of his talent. And when Michael was playing well for us, especially offensively, you could see the enormous talent he had. His challenge always will be on the defensive end.
Darko, we played Darko. Kurt Rambis and Dave Wohl both were big proponents of making the trade. And once we obtained Darko, I could see what they were talking about. Darko has enormous skills. Both Kurt and Bill Laimbeer played the big-man position in the league and they felt if it ever worked out for him psychologically, he could be one of the top three or four centers in the league. And gain the risk point was quite low when we made the trade and even the contract we gave him that many people talked about was really no more than what a backup center gets in our league this days, about $4 million a year. We didn’t pay him as a starting center even though we had him ticketed as our starting center. So I think there were some reasons to do it and I recognize those reasons even today. One of the things I wished we had done a better job of there was, I only learned after he left, I think there were some family pressures. He had so many visitors, so many family members here at times, there was a lot of pressure and stress in his life that maybe it would have helped to overcome.
Randolph, Dave Wohl was very high on him. Our background research was that he could develop into somebody with some star potential. Again the price point was very low. It was Corey Brewer for the most part, who we knew we would probably not want to re-sign and allocate resources to. The risk reward was quite small.
And your last one?
Q. Martell Webster.
A. Well, I think we just caught Martell in two-year period where he was especially hurt. I thought he played toward end of his Blazer career he played very well. With us, he was injured for most of the two years due to the back issue. He had a very above average year with Washington this year and all indications are they are going to make him a priority come this summer. That almost was a microcosm of the bad luck we had with injuries. I think Martell is actually a pretty decent player.
Q. Before you brought in David Lee for a free-agent visit in July 2011, I heard you were willing to trade Kevin for Anthony Randolph but Golden State turned you down.
A. Not true. I never have ever wanted to trade Kevin, ever. And there was no way as I sat in the chair that I would have recommended to the owner that we do so. That’s a fact.
Q. If you had been able to sign Lee, you would have kept both?
A. We would have had to, but I never thought when David visited that he would sign with us. The main purpose for his visit was, he was interested in us. One of the things I felt I needed to change these last four years was, the perception was that people didn’t want to come to Minnesota. And once they heard Minnesota, that was it. You had heard that four years ago, too. Having him to come in – it was a very serious visit – but I thought it was a highly unlikely we’d be able to come to a deal with David. In free agency, you do things like that. And I thought it was a necessary step for us to change the image of the franchise. So we were very happy he came and visited. Once we heard what he was able to obtain from Golden State, I can confirm it wouldn’t have fit the cards. It would have been too much a duplication of Kevin’s skills at that price point.
Q. You think you changed that image of Minnesota into a desirable destination?
A. Well, the word destination, I’ll let other people make the definition. But if four years I would have told you we would have Ricky Rubio, Rick Adelman, Kevin Love playing at his level, a starting center (Nikola Pekovic) who’s probably aiming for a double-digit salary, Andrei Kirilenko, J.J. Barea off a championship team in Dallas, I could keep going. I think you’d look at me like … So yes if there’s one thing I’m most proud of, I think we’ve changed the entire perception around what can occur here. And but for the injuries these last 14 months, I truly believe the results would have matched with that atmosphere. But I’m the first to acknowledge that because of the injuries they do not.
Jerry Zgoda's interview with David Kahn, Part IV
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?
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 find 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 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 years. 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.
That was a really, really cool read. Thanks for posting.
I've always felt like Kahn's decisions were reasonable at the time, and were largely consensus opinions after the Rubio draft (which snagged Rubio obviously), it's only in hindsight that many people really got on his case for Johnson and to an extent Williams. He also is completely right when he says this team has been devastated by poor health, I feel like if this team was healthy he'd still have his job.
A nice read and Khan made some points why he made the picks he made.
I still think he did a horrible job there and no one else is to blame.
I think Kevin McHale deserves at least as much blame as Kahn. Kahn said they had very little scouting infrastructure in place and that they didnt really know much about the prospects when he go there. Kahn was alright and he gain some respect by being so honest with this interview.
nice read. Horrible GM