Nowhere Fast: The David Kahn Story

Image by Zach Harper

The following is an excerpt from the made for ScyFy movie: Nowhere Fast: The David Kahn Story (Directed by Michael Bay’s big toe).

David Kahn straddles a motorcycle by the side of a dusty highway. His leather jacket is tasseled and bears the insignia of a howling wolf. He moves his sunglasses from his nose to the space where his hair should be.

A desert bird shrieks in the distance.

He checks his watch and chuckles: “Better late then never.”

With a sober gaze to north, he breaths: “The Spaniard has arrived. Let’s Ride!”

Power cords from a classic Nickleback song disturb the eerie silence of the desert wasteland as Kahn puts his motorcycle into high gear, and pops up on his back wheel. A free man making his way on the open road.

Thank god for David Kahn.

It hasn’t been easy for NBA writers these last few weeks. Unless you have access (and few do) to those involved in the CBA proceedings, you’re resigned to essentially writing about others reporting, and maybe springing an original thought or two.

Then came Minnesota President of Basketball Operations David Kahn’s press conference regarding the awkwardly belated firing of head coach Kurt Rambis. Aside from an opportunity to ritualistically tear down a stranger 140 characters at a time, this conference offered an excellent insight into the reasons why the Wolves competitiveness problems won’t be solved by revenue sharing or a hard cap.

Kahn repeatedly expressed a desire to play an uptempo style, a philosophy for which he admits Kurt Rambis was thoroughly unsuited. In Kahn’s mind, the task now is to find a coach with “Uptempo DNA” who can get the most out a Wolves roster Kahn believes is engineered to play a speedy style.

Thing is, the Wolves were already the fastest team in the league last year, averaging 96.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They were also one of the very worst in the league at converting fastbreak opportunities and turning the ball over. So basically they took a bunch of bad shots early in the shot clock. These stats might suggest that by executing better in their transition and early offense opportunities, the Wolves could become a potent offensive matchup.

The problem with that logic is that the Wolves’ roster, the element Kahn repeatedly dubbed “the most important thing” is almost uniquely ill-equipped to play that style.

Not only is there a dearth of real talent, but there is almost no recent evidence of successful teams playing at that speed. Since 1995, only three franchises have ever played close to fast as Minnesota did last year: the awesome Sacramento Kings (twice), the 2008 Lakers and the 7 Seconds or Less Suns (five times). Though none of those teams ever failed to win fewer than 54 games, they represent only eight out of 480 team-seasons played since 1995.

If Kahn is in fact trying to model his roster after these rare speed demons, he’s doing a miserable job. Those teams were built with play-making veterans, unselfish offensive philosophies, deft passing from all five positions and consistent 3-point shooters. These elements of efficiency and execution were necessary to win by imposing an uptempo style of play night in and night out against top competition. Kahn’s teams have not even approached a single element of what made these offenses so great.

What Kahn has is a bunch of young players whose greatest strength is probably collective speed and the capability of playing very hard every night on young legs. It isn’t skill, nor precision nor execution.

And how do young teams find success before they master the nuances of picking apart an NBA defense?

By running when possible, and then doing everything else to minimize mistakes a la the 2010 Thunder. That means tough half court defense, running hard off of rebounds and turnovers, keeping their own turnovers as low as possible and slowing the game down when a fastbreak is unavailable.

It’s the same basic philosophy behind the Villanova upset over Georgetown in 1985. When you have less talent, you want fewer possessions. Just as a worse freethrow shooter has an increased chance of beating a better one if the contest is best out of 10 rather than 50, a high pace lowers the Wolves’ chances of winning because it tips probability further toward the more talented team.

Michael Beasely’s speeding arrest while high is a tidy metaphor for the way the Timberwolves played last year: A young person with a history of making bad decisions goes too fast and gets punished in embarrassing, if not monetarily consequential, fashion. That because Beasely was busted during a lockout renders the league powerless to intervene is also felicitous.

Kahn’s stated philosophy seems to be “given that these kids have never been on a motorcycle, I’m going to cut the breaks and make sure no one wears a helmet.”

Meanwhile, inexplicably, Kahn rides on. Wind in his face, sun in his eyes, the faint smell of gasoline wafting from his totally tough biker jeans.

After all, he just built the roster (only one player remains from when he took over in 2009) and demands a coach that will employ a counterproductive style of play. He takes responsibility for those things, and he’s sorry in an “I’m actually right” kind of way.

Say what you want about Kahn, but he’s been active. And yet the one thing he can’t do is the thing that most needs to happen for Minnesota to be successful.

Kahn can’t fire himself, that’s someone else’s job.

Twitter: @BeckleyMason

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