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Steve Aschburner

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Despite ridicule, Wolves president David Kahn says his moves are all part of his plan.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Kahn, Wolves continue to march to beat of own drum


Posted Sep 23 2010 10:05AM - Updated Oct 1 2010 2:39PM

Bear with us for a moment here while we take care of some necessary business:

Kaaaahhhhnnnn!

There. We may now proceed...

It has become obligatory these days to drop that into any story pertaining to David Kahn, the Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations, or his sputtering team. Initiated by ESPN.com's Bill Simmons and picked up by just about every media outlet this side of the New England Journal of Medicine, it's a pop-culture reference built from ham (William Shatner's acting) and cheese (scene from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"), repeated for effect by cyber-comics everywhere to the point that, on the street, it can serve as a silly shorthand for all things Timberwolfian:

So how do you think Michael Beasley is going to do with a fresh start this season? "Kaaaahhhhnnnn!" Any chance Ricky Rubio is playing for these guys before 2012? "Kaaaahhhhnnnn!" How much salary-cap space will Minnesota have next offseason? "Kaaaahhhhnnnn!" Then the two geniuses nod knowingly at each other, giggle and part ways, content with their analysis.

What this catchphrase dismissal fails to acknowledge -- unless maybe it's some reverse, roast-style tribute -- is that A) it is Kahn's plan, no one else's, and B) he and the team will rise or fall with it. OK, maybe not fall -- there is little downside left when a team goes 15-67 in what, by most quantifiable and qualitative standards, was the worst of the franchise's 21 seasons. But if Kahn's first 15 months -- during which he made 15 trades, by the way -- don't translate soon into visible and real improvements on the court at Target Center, we can expect more of the same.

Reversing Fortunes
NBA.com's experts review the teams that didn't make the playoffs last season and what they'll need to do to avoid the Lottery next season.
Date Team
Sept. 14 Houston Rockets
Sept. 15 Memphis Grizzlies
Sept. 16 New Orleans Hornets
Sept. 17 L.A. Clippers
Sept. 20 Toronto Raptors
Sept. 21 Golden State Warriors
Sept. 22 Sacramento Kings
Sept. 23 Minnesota Timberwolves
Sept. 24 Indiana Pacers
Sept. 27 Detroit Pistons
Sept. 28 Philadelphia 76ers
Sept. 29 Washington Wizards
Sept. 30 New Jersey Nets
Oct. 1 New York Knicks

Until he and the catchphrase go the way of "Where's the beef?"

"I'm spending very little time on blogs these days," Kahn said in a phone interview Wednesday.

It wasn't as if he didn't give critics some ammo himself in recent months: His "inappropriate comments" about Michael Beasley's marijuana use on a Twin Cities radio station earned him a $50,000 fine from the NBA. His widely circulated summer-league interview on NBA TV, in which he referred to re-signed center (and acclaimed bust) Darko Milicic as "manna" and likened Milicic's development to analyst Chris Webber, earned him a scoffing "Good luck!" sendoff from Webber.

Most recently, it was a full-page ad in the Minneapolis newspaper, with copy based on a letter Kahn penned to season ticket holders, that essentially told folks the Wolves would stink for a while longer. Locally, the backlash wasn't so bad, with people appreciating honesty over insults to their intelligence.

Still, it inspired another flurry of "Kaaaahhhhnnnn!" postings, varying only in the number of a's, h's and n's.

Clearly this is a case of laughing at, rather than with, Kahn. Is there any way for him and the Wolves to poke some fun back at the snarkies?

"It has to be, 'We'll show you.' You have to deliver results. Words don't matter," Kahn said.

If the offseason of 2009 was all about sifting through the furniture left behind by longtime Wolves VP Kevin McHale, this one was dedicated to Kahn's and head coach Kurt Rambis' vision of Minnesota as a younger, swifter squad with parts selected specifically for Rambis' preferred attack. Since the former Lakers player and coach -- and Phil Jackson assistant -- bristles these days when it gets labeled as a "triangle offense," we'll just say it's based on some shape pulled from the pages of your sophomore geometry book.

While giving up a franchise-record 107.8 points, Minnesota averaged just 98.2 and went 2-44 when failing to score 100. That offense also was a reason pick and roll point guard Jonny Flynn spun his wheels as a rookie and forward/center Al Jefferson, a 20-10 low-post man, could be so easily dispatched to Utah in what seemed a glaringly imbalanced July trade (two protected draft picks and big-man project Kosta Koufos).

Don't judge the deal, Kahn said, by it's immediate return but by future flexibility. "I wasn't interested in standing up and saying, 'Look who we obtained,' because that can set you back further," he said. "When the Knicks traded [Patrick] Ewing, I would imagine even the Knicks today would say a better course would have been to just take back the draft picks, not the difficult contracts."

Kahn went big on refurbished, locking up Milicic for $16 million after a few glimmers last spring and taking a chance on Beasley when Miami was shedding cap obligations for its SuperFriends ambitions. Beasley will be given every chance to dominate this team, from minutes to field-goal attempts, but how his game meshes with Kevin Love's, after the reluctance Rambis had using Jefferson and Love together, remains to be seen.

Love -- again impressing basketball folks outside of Minnesota with his play for the USA squad at the World Championship -- already was chafing last season from his role off the bench (14 ppg, 11 rpg in 28.6 mpg). Vultures have begun circling, with many suggesting Love's future would be brighter elsewhere.

"It keeps boiling down to me to the same thing: The kid's just 22," Kahn said. "It's the first time in his life that maybe it hasn't happened immediately."

Rather than drafting point guards on consecutive picks -- the butt of jokes last year -- Kahn passed on the certified talent but worrisome attitude of Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins and opted for small forward Wesley Johnson. Johnson already has been rapped at 23 for being "too old," with skills more easily acquired. But with Flynn undergoing hip surgery and likely out till December, point guard got attended to again when the Wolves gave a Bucks free agent $16 million for the second year in a row. Last time it was Ramon Sessions, this time Luke Ridnour.

Meanwhile, Minnesota fans and the NBA wait for Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio, who will stay in the Euroleague and -- pending next summer's lockout concerns -- might not come over in 2011-12 either. Kahn now has narrowed his focus, seeking a "dominant, alpha-male type player." The Wolves have or hold options on 11 signed players for next season, just in case there's a scramble to assemble teams, yet still can be comfortably under the cap.

See, it's all according to plan. One man's plan.

"People tend to measure things by, 'What happened now?' " Kahn said. "If you put them all together, I think the series of moves made a lot of sense. But in isolation sometimes, people looked at a certain move and maybe were puzzled by it. Frankly, I wasn't -- but I had the advantage of doing it."

In other words, catchphrase this.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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