Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rick Adelman's Biggest Asset May Be Downfall of David Kahn

We don't follow the NBA much around here, largely because our favorite team, the Timberwolves, just can't seem to figure anything out.

After years of mainly-clueless leadership from Kevin McHale, the Wolves cleaned house a couple years ago, hiring a nobody named David Kahn to run the basketball operation, and eventually bringing in former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis to coach the team.

Rambis was a square peg in a round hole, as his structured triangle system is a much better fit for a veteran, experienced team, and he had a young, athletic team run by a guy (Kahn) who was professing the desire to play a run and gun game.

After two years, 32 wins, a record 100 games under .500, and three months of twisting in the wind, Rambis was fired this summer, as the Timberwolves decided to move in another direction. With Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio coming to play this season, and Kahn still yacking about the run and gun game, it made sense he would hire a run and gun coach.

In Kahn's infinite wisdom, he interviewed former Atlanta head man Mike Woodson -- a defensive-minded coach -- for the job, and also talked to Larry Brown, who doesn't inspire the idea of run and gun basketball.

Owner Glen Taylor intervened in the process, making sure that former Timberwolf Sam Mitchell got an interview, but he also doesn't fit the mold that Kahn's players create.

One guy who does fit that mold is former Houston coach Rick Adelman. The 65-year-old completed a four-year deal with the Rockets last season, and had talked of taking a year off. When Taylor's money became attractive, so did the Minnesota job. It didn't hurt that Adelman has known Timberwolves star Kevin Love for years, going back to Love's days in high school.

What didn't lure Adelman to Minnesota, apparently, was David Kahn.

After Rick Adelman coached his final game with the Houston Rockets in April, Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn found the coach in the corridors of the Target Center. It wouldn’t be long until Adelman would be searching for a job, and Kahn a coach. Let’s talk this summer, Kahn was heard to tell him. This was a conversation that Adelman preferred to never have again in his life, but circumstances change. And money matters.

Privately, Adelman didn’t disguise his disdain for Kahn. They go back to Adelman’s glory days coaching the Portland Trail Blazers in the late 1980s and 1990s, when Kahn was covering the NBA beat as a sportswriter for the Oregonian. The idea that a bad sportswriter had turned into a brutal NBA executive troubled him, sources said. He couldn’t stand him then, and had no intention of resurrecting a working relationship with the man.

... “Rick would never agree to anything with Kahn,” one league official connected to Adelman said Monday. “This had to be [a deal] with Taylor. …Rick has talked many times of his dislike for Kahn.”

Adelman understands the coaching landscape has changed, and $5 million-a-year contracts are rarities these days. He talked himself into this job, because the owner coughed up the money, and because Kahn knows he effectively works for Adelman now. Adelman took the job despite Kahn, and the owner won’t let Kahn get in the way of what Adelman wants, and what he tells him needs to happen there.

Yes, this happened because Adelman finally found a way to justify the possibilities against the biggest drawback of the job: walking into the office and getting a daily dose of Kahn’s empty thoughts on basketball, his embarrassing management style. No, Adelman doesn’t come unless Taylor made a strong pitch of autonomy for the coach, unless Taylor paid Adelman like few small-market owners pay coaches in the NBA anymore.

Adelman has a longer contract than Kahn, and far more now. Taylor had to get Adelman, and had to overpay market value for him. He had no choice because his franchise has been a laughingstock with Kahn, and he needed the credibility of Adelman for a chance to re-sign Kevin Love.

Does this sound like a relationship that has any chance of working?

No. Of course not. But that's fine, because Wojnarowski is clearly saying that Adelman doesn't have to deal with Kahn. He deals with Taylor. I'd bet Adelman has more of a say in player moves now than Kahn does.

It's reasonable to suggest that Kahn has been virtually stripped of his power, and is simply collecting a paycheck to watch Adelman and Taylor take care of the basketball operation until his contract expires, or until Adelman decides he can't have Kahn around the building anymore.

At least, we can hope this is true. As bad as the Timberwolves franchise has gotten, Taylor's hiring of Kahn turned it into a consistent laughingstock. Until Kahn's power belongs to someone capable of not running the franchise into the ground and embarrassing it along the way, the Wolves have no hope of anything but marginal improvement.

Adelman's hire may have guaranteed that fans will get their way. He will coach a more wide-open style, and the increasingly-watchable on-court product will no longer be stained by David Kahn.

Now, about that lockout ...

No comments: