MINNEAPOLIS Just a week after his team signed fourth-year forward Kevin Love to a three-year contract extension worth more than 60 million, Timberwolves' president of basketball operations David Kahn finds himself very much in the middle of a franchise turnaround. Signing Love was just one piece of a larger puzzle Kahn and the rest of the Timberwolves' decision makers are trying to put together, but it was an integral step in Kahn's vision for the franchise.
Wednesday night's 109-99 loss may have been somewhat of a flashback to last season, but Kahn knows the system he's trying to create will take time to coalesce. For now, patience and flexibility are the keys to his approach and outlook.
"We're in a really tough conference, much tougher than the other conference, so I didn't know what our win-loss record would be," Kahn said. "I just thought it would be a fun year and that we would improve, that we would show maybe even some dramatic signs of improvement."
So for now, improvement isn't something Kahn, in his third season with the team, needs to quantify. What he's doing with the Timberwolves is still in its early stages, and many of the moves the team has made and will make are going to take time to transform the team into a winner. Things could go very right as they sometimes have this season or very wrong. That's the uncertainty that comes with trying to turn a losing team into a contender, but it's also a situation that can have its thrills, and this season has certainly not been lacking in those exhilarating moments.
Kahn's exclusive Q&A with FOXSportsNorth.com allowed him to take stock of a season that has produced a 10-12 start but also stamped Minnesota as one of the most exciting young teams in the league.
FSN: Can you reflect a little on everything that happened last week with signing Kevin Love, and what that does for this team?KAHN: I think that if Kevin just continues on the same pace that he's been playing at and stays healthy, I told him to his face that this will be the first of what I hope many extensions at max money that he signs. Nobody would be more pleased about that development than me. I think he deserves the fact that next year, and for the next four years for that matter, there won't be any instance where he will open his paycheck and be less compensated than anybody in his draft class other than Derrick Rose. .... I think that Kevin is making enormous strides in every way. His defense is improving. I can see him beginning to accept the responsibility of being a team leader. He's as productive as almost any player in the league, and so I think the kid is as driven a kid as I've ever been around. He's on a path that few NBA players have ever been on. This would be his rookie season if he'd stayed all four years at UCLA. I'm very happy for him.
FSN: Talking to Kevin over the past few weeks, he's said several times that this team is moving in the right direction but that it still needs a few pieces, a few more players. Is that something you agree with, and is signing him sort of an implicit acknowledgement of that?KAHN: Kevin is a cornerstone, and the way Ricky (Rubio) is performing, he may well be a cornerstone. We're certainly not taking the opinion that this is it, we're done. But I certainly don't want to send a message to the players that we're looking to make some wholesale changes. That's not very helpful for team chemistry, either. I think we're very much in between. I think the most important thing we can do now for the next four to six weeks -- now that we have everybody healthy for once -- is to let the team play and just breathe. I don't expect us to be making many changes this season. But to Kevin's point, yes, we'll do everything in our power to surround him and the others with a championship-caliber team.
FSN: Obviously, this commitment to change began long before you signed Kevin. Getting Rick Adelman as the team's coach had to be a huge part of that vision, so what was it you saw in him that made him really fit into your plans?KAHN: He was in many ways a near-perfect, if not perfect, candidate. His track record spoke for itself: instant credibility for the team. I think that it had a way of permeating the entire roster. There was no way for the players to ever wonder now if it's (losing) because of anything other than the players. It really sort of put the onus on them. Rick has a magnificent demeanor with them. He's very understated, but he gets his point across when he wants to get it across, and he's flexible. He plays to their strengths. He's creative. I think that they really have enjoyed being with him, and I think the whole staff in itself has done a great job.
FSN: So in going about these various moves drafting people, signing people, getting a new coach do you look to other franchises for a model of how to go about the process of change, or is it much more of an internal discussion?KAHN: It's a bit of both. There isn't a blueprint for how to build a championship team, or else everybody would do it. But I did feel that the way we were positioned when I arrived here two and a half years ago, the only real credible way I could think of to do it was to build through the draft because we didn't have a year coming up where we would have enormous cap room. We would have cap room, as we did have two summers ago, but we didn't have the kind of enormous cap room that you need sometimes to do really big things. I felt that since I wanted to build something here that had some sustainability, building through the draft made more sense so we could hopefully accumulate a core group of young players.
FSN: Piggybacking off that idea of building through the draft, tell me a bit about your choice of Derrick Williams and what you saw in him that fit into your vision.KAHN: Well, he's athletic. He's capable of playing multiple positions, two at least. He can both play outside and he can play inside. I like the way, especially with Ricky, he can run. He can play an up-tempo style of basketball. So I just thought that he was a fit, and also from time to time, as you know, it wasn't all the draft. We also did trades to get (Michael) Beasley, (Darko) Milicic and (Anthony) Randolph. They were all acquired here for frankly very little, so we tried to be entrepreneurial. We tried to be opportunistic. But even when we traded for people, we tried to stay young. It was important that the roster have some youth to it so that we could identify people who would be young when we identified a core, and then we could advance with them.
FSN: Obviously it's still early, but did you imagine this level of success, that the team would be having what's probably its best start in five years?KAHN: I didn't know what to think in terms of our improvement and how quickly it would come. I told people, though, I think I was very clear that I thought it would be a fun year. Just fun. I thought that there would be a feeling of newness, a lot of excitement around some of the newer players. I thought about that excitement around Rick's arrival. I didn't know what to expect in terms of wins and losses because you're never playing in a vacuum. I just thought that we would be a lot better.
FSN: How important is it for you, at this stage, to have those fluid expectations, where you're not locked into a certain record?KAHN: At this stage of our development, that's where we're at. But as we advance we will have more concrete goals: making playoffs as we go down the road, certain levels of the playoffs, second round, whatever. I think that we have an opportunity, knock on wood, if everybody stays healthy, over time, the next three to seven years, we could be a team that's one of the better teams in the conference on an annual basis.
FSN: When you go into that locker room, there seems to be a really good chemistry. And with so many new players, so many young players, sometimes stuff like chemistry you have to leave to luck. How refreshing is that to you?KAHN: I know that our team is close, that the players like each other. And frankly, we've had good locker rooms every year I've been here. We haven't had players that were difficult. But I have heard anecdotally because I don't hang around in the locker room; it would be inappropriate for me to do so but what I heard is that it's a very positive atmosphere. The guys enjoy each other. Unselfishness is one of the hallmarks of being a great team. You have to have a locker room that is like that.
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