Bringing Showtime Back to Minneapolis

by November 11, 2009

by Irv Soonachan

Chief Sitting Bull probably knew it was his destiny to lose the war, but he also knew how to take full advantage when he could win a battle or two. Chief Don Nelson’s 1-4 Warriors ran roughshod over the 1-6 Minnesota Timberwolves in a way Sitting Bull would have appreciated.

Nelson’s patented up-tempo small-ball approach has been an undisciplined mess in the season’s early going, but against a Timberwolves team that is weak in transition, they found the perfect opponent. The Warriors ran off makes and misses alike; ran until Kurt Rambis pulled his entire starting lineup for his second five sometime in the first quarter. Then they ran some more, until the slaughter ended at 146-105.

I sat down with new TWolves president David Kahn at halftime. He was surprisingly serene, all things considered. Most surprisingly, he told me that his goal was to build a Showtime-style team in Minnesota – which in part explains his willingness to wait two years for Ricky Rubio.

SLAM: Every team has a different personality. What is the personality of the team you’re trying to build?
David Kahn: A running, attacking open-court team that relentlessly puts pressure on teams.

SLAM: Is that a style of basketball that fans in Minnesota are keen on?
DK: I think all fans like to watch that style, but I think more importantly, players like to play that style. The trick is having players who can play that [style]. I think there are a lot of players who want to play that way, but perhaps don’t understand the kind of commitment and dedication it takes from the entire team, from the head coach on down, to really emphasize that style from Day 1.

SLAM: So is it a coincidence that you got a Showtime-era Laker in as the coach?
DK: [Laughs] There is no coincidence.

SLAM: You’ve cleared a lot of cap space since coming to Minnesota. Do you think Minnesota can become a free agent destination, or are you going to have to go out and acquire players in other ways?
DK: What’s important for us, and I think for any team that wants to acquire a free agent, is to demonstrate a commitment to winning. And secondly, you have to be able to pay him. Hopefully the players that you get have those two things in at least equal priority. If you think about it, the Vikings right now have the No. 1 running back in the NFL and Brett Favre at quarterback. For players who want to play at a high level, I don’t think the location means nearly as much as culture and the opportunity to win.

SLAM: Can you talk a little about the development of Jonny Flynn? He seems like a building block for what you’re trying to put together.
DK: I hope so, and I think he is. Though I think he’s only one piece. We need a lot of pieces like that. But I do believe that he not only has the talent, but also some of the intangibles you want to have on your team.

SLAM: What kind of intangibles are you looking for?
DK: I think he’ll develop into a leader on this team. I think he has a lot of charisma and personality. Even though that might not seem important it oftentimes is. I think that it sort of takes some pressure off of other guys in terms of shouldering the burden of being the focal point. I think that he’s tough. I don’t think he’ll back down. That’s an important quality to have embodied in someone – if not more than one person – on your team.

SLAM: Al Jefferson hasn’t looked quite like himself this year. What is the timetable for him to start looking like Al Jefferson again?
DK: Well, I’m not a doctor, so I wouldn’t even begin to hazard a guess. I’ve heard people say that it could take up to, maybe even a whole year for him to really look like himself again; that after this kind of injury, you really need a full season to return to form. I’m hoping it’s sooner than that, but I wouldn’t even begin to hazard a guess.

SLAM: From what you’re saying, it’s pretty clear to me that you guys don’t have all the pieces you want yet…
DK: [Shaking head in agreement] Oh, no.

SLAM: So are you going to be active in January and February?
DK: I don’t know how active we’ll be in January and February. A lot depends on what gets discussed. What’s important this season is that Kurt and I have an opportunity now to evaluate these players. Neither of us have ever been here before. Tonight I’m watching my eighth regular season game with the team, and Kurt’s coaching his eighth game. It’s important for us to identify who on the team we can go forward with. That and I really want to see the team improve this season. I think that as young as we are, we should be a better team come March and April.

SLAM: What was the most important thing you learned during your time in Indiana? (Kahn was the right-hand man for Donnie Walsh in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, his only other NBA job.)
DK: Patience. You can’t overreact to the day-to-day. You need to examine things from a distance and take a longer view. Otherwise you can make mistakes, and that’s what I mean about taking this season to really evaluate this team. I think it would be easy for us to try to come to some quick conclusions, but it’s far too early for us to do that.

SLAM: This is your first shot to be a No. 1 guy. What does it feel like to be in that seat, and what has surprised you?
DK: It’s different. There’s no question it’s different. There’s a lot more… how would I phrase it? …It just seems like there’s a lot more riding on decisions. When you’re a No. 2 person, in effect you’re making a recommendation, and you don’t really have to make the final decision. I think that when you have to make the final decision, so much more is riding on it. There’s added weight, and it’s impossible not to feel it.

Game Notes

— Bill Laimbeer is going to be a valuable assistant for the TWolves. He’s still a bulldog.

— The Timberwolves kept their penchant for poor transition defense and gave up on the game quickly. But to their credit, the Warriors distributed the ball a lot better than in recent games. The question is whether the Warriors will continue that against better opponents as they move into a tough, road-heavy part of their schedule.

— There were many statistical anomalies in this game. Just ignore them all. Sasha Pavlovic’s 17 points on 7-14 shooting were meaningless, as were Damien Wilkins’ 10 rebounds. Anthony Randolph put up some of his best highlights after the TWolves stopped trying.