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Timberwolves Tradition in Capable Hands

Stephon Marbury and Quentin Richardson: Timberwolves Past and PresentNewly-hired Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn had some awfully big shoes to fill. It’s never easy to replace an all-time great in any station, especially in the highly-visible realm of professional sports, and there’s little doubt that Kevin McHale was one of the great saboteurs in NBA history. The man is a legend – but in just a few short weeks Mr. Kahn is proving no slouch himself.

Yes, Monday’s trade of Craig “Rhino” Smith, Mark Madsen and Sebastian Telfair to the Los Angeles Clippers for journeyman chucker Quentin Richardson and his $9+ million contract should have Minnesota fans confident the new director in town is going to keep this shit show production humming along.

All sarcasm aside, it’s safe to say that the David Kahn era in Minnesota is off to an extremely inauspicious start. Let’s rewind for a minute. I know any new personnel man deserves some leash in his first offseason. He has to not only implement his own vision with a struggling franchise, but he also has to clean house and attempt to erase the mistakes of his predecessor.

It got off to a promising start when just one week after dismissing Mr. McHale from his coaching duties in Minneapolis Mr. Kahn shipped out two of McHale’s more high-profile acquisitions, sending Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wasington Wizards for a gaggle of middling players/contracts and the rights to the 5th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. I liked the move then, and I still think the shuffle-up-and-deal approach was the right one.

Stephon Marbury and Quentin Richardson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

However, it seemed curious that Kahn and the Wolves were in no rush to hire a new head coach as draft night approached. One would think that Mr. Kahn would want his first coaching hire to be a man he can get behind, one who would be there for the foreseeable future and would be molding the young talent selected with those abundance of first-round picks (Minnesota had four of ’em). That coach’s imput, then, could be rather helpful.

On top that, each coach has a unique style of play that highlights certain skills and demands certain skill sets from each position in the rotation. “Best player available” clichés aside, it would also seem prudent to have that system in mind when making those draft picks. It’s certainly preferable to shoehorning the young men selected, especially late-first and second-round picks who are projected role players, into roles ex post facto.

No matter, it was draft season and all eyes were on the mocks. Less sexy coaching decisions could wait, NBA fans of all stripes were focused on the potential franchise cornerstones just waiting to be scooped up by shrewd general managers. And draft night actually started off quite well – Ricky Rubio, along with his complicated contract situation and aloof attitude, slipped all the way to the Wolves’ at 5th overall.

And then things head south, after the jump…

Mr. Kahn showed a bit of balls (and bullheadedness, but often, what’s the difference?) by swooping in and picking the purported once-in-a-decade point guard prospect. Sure, it could take a year or two to get him across the Atlantic in a worst-case scenario, but such a talent at a critical position like point doesn’t fall to the 5th pick often. Points and centers are without question the hardest positions to field, and if Rubio is as good as some say then it’s worth spending a 5th pick on the kid. A truly elite point guard is going to be your leader for a decade to come, he’ll define your franchise, and Minnesota has time to wait.

I’m OK with the Rubio pick. But then Mr. Kahn went bananas and quickly burned that 6th pick on . . . another point. You don’t spend 6th overall picks on guys you project as backups, particularly teams with so many glaring needs. Not when you have no long-term answers at three starting positions to speak of. You just don’t. And let’s dismiss any silly notions Mr. Kahn has spread of intending to play the two at the same time. It’s bullshit, everybody knows it, and starting on draft night the league has called the rookie GM’s bluff. He wanted to move one and couldn’t. And now Jonny Flynn’s summer league play is showing signs of greatness, further complicating this SNAFU.

Just minutes after his selection was announced a, shall we say, less than enthused Rubio was asked about the prospect of playing for the Wolves. The kid reiterated his desire to play in the NBA and left it at that, but the cat was out of the bag. The native of a Spanish beach community wanted no part of the frigid state of Minnesota. Soon after his family was trying to talk Ricky’s way out of town in Spanish papers and threats of an extended stay with his European league team DKV Joventut were dropped. And then, embarrassingly for Mr. Kahn, rumors circled that Rubio was as upset with the idea of being asked to share point duties with another young stud as he was with climate concerns. That’s something a fan can understand, Rubio thinks he’s going to be a star and he’s eager to make the team that drafted him his. It’s a major blunder on the part on Minnesota.

Big, Bad Craig Smith (Darrell Walker/Icon SMI)Since the draft there have been many soul-searching, head-shaking days for Wolves fans. Then some developments started to come to light that DKV Joventut and young Mr. Rubio may be willing to do business and Rubio actually has a decent chance of suiting up for the Wolves on opening night 2009 after all.

On Monday Mr. Kahn was set to board a plane to Spain in an attempt to iron out the extrication details. Then this bomb was dropped: Minnesota had traded two young kids and an end of the bench veteran with a great attitude and locker-room presence, all with extremely modest contracts, for . . . drum roll please . . .

Quentin fucking Richardson.

I have no answers. I have no explanation. The only thing I have, as a Wolves fan, is the faint hope that this is part of a larger maneuver and the strong desire not to admit that I know it isn’t.

I’m no Sebastian Telfair fan, but the 24-year-old point has matured during his stint in Minnesota. He’s developed into a quality pass-first backup point (even if he still can’t shoot the ball from the field) with a 5-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio and nearly 80% FTs the last two years. The kid makes just $2.5 mill. There’s a market for that kind of player, even if you just foolishly drafted two point guards. The Rhino, Craig Smith, is largely redundant with Kevin Love and he’s a tad undersized in terms of height – but the man is a brick house and a bull, he’s extremely efficient, and he makes things happen. Also making just $2.5 mill on an expiring contract, he’s far from a worthless piece. Mark Madsen is Mark Madsen.

Meanwhile, Quentin Richardson is a 29-year-old “guard-forward” (but not really either) who doesn’t play defense, hasn’t seen a shot opportunity or bear claw that didn’t look good to him, sports a career 1.6-to-1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio, brings a bad locker-room attitude and has shot 71.3% from the line and 39.8% from the field in his nine seasons in the league. He’s a cancer, on the court and off. Oh, and he kinda sucks. Kinda sucks a lot. The only thing Minnesota can hope to get out of Richardson before his contract expires next summer is a unique ability to steal shots and minutes from the young kids and stunt their development in the process.

The Timberwolves remain the lone coachless team in the NBA as summer league, an important time for young and developing teams (especially those with multiple first-round picks), grinds to a close. It’s starting to get a little absurd. And while names of potential coaches are still floating around the Twin Cities, Kahn added a floater to the roster that two teams were already wise enough to flush this summer.

Somewhere in the affluent suburbs of Minneapolis Kevin McHale is sweating, wondering if his place in Timberwolves history is as secure as he thought it was just a few short weeks ago.

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