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Updated: June 24th, 2011 10:51pm
Kahn elaborates at length on strained relationship with Rambis

Kahn elaborates at length on strained relationship with Rambis

by Phil Mackey
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Less than 24 hours after declining to address the reports of coach Kurt Rambis' dismissal, Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn spoke at length about the situation in a podcast with's Bill Simmons on Friday.

When asked point-blank if Rambis has been let go, Kahn said, "No, in fact I was talking to his agent (Friday) morning, and we're still having discussions."

Kahn elaborated at length on his strained relationship with Rambis, and he also explained his decision to draft two point guards in the 2009 draft.

Here are highlights from the 40-minute interview:

Do you feel like you sold early on Jonny Flynn?

Part of me yes, part of me no. I think Jonny's going to be a very fine player in our league, and I have a lot of faith and confidence in him. But you have to sometimes just deal with reality, and the reality is is that Jonny got hurt last year. And that was the biggest part of his season last year being so difficult. And the other part is, and I think we all have to take responsibility for that, we didn't exactly feature Jonny here in a style of play that was conducive to him, and I feel very badly about that as well. But the fact remains is that we have Ricky Rubio here for next season, we have Luke Ridnour. We have point guards, and it just wasn't going to be a situation here where I felt Jonny could play significant minutes and increase his trade value, especially in what maybe could be a very short season next year, depending on what happens (with the labor situation). So rather than continue to hold and hold and hold -- I thought actually we did OK (in the trade).

I expect Jonny Flynn to be a very good point guard in this league. I even think it's not out of the realm to think someday he'll be one of the very best point guards in our league. But at some point you just have to make a decision; is there going to be an opportunity here for him to increase his value? And how much tension does it cause to have him still on the team with Ricky and Luke? And what kind of minutes will everybody have to sacrifice? And I just feel sometimes you just have to cut loose, as much as it might be painful.

So why did you take two point guards and pass on Steph Curry?

Here's what everybody needs to know. I took the job on May 22nd (in 2009), and one of the things I was told by my employers were -- meaning Glen Taylor and the Timberwolves -- was the basketball staff historically here has been ignored, in terms of player and talent evaluation, and that typically the decision-maker would pick somebody without much rigor applied to the test. And I don't mean to be difficult about anybody, that's why I'm not using names ...

We didn't have a point guard on the roster. I traded Randy Foye, who I didn't think was a point guard, and Mike Miller, who really didn't want to be here, to get the 5th pick. ...

I needed to, because there was no future for them here, and we needed to rebuild. And when Ricky fell to us at the 5th pick, I just felt for the future of our franchise -- he was only 18 years old, but I saw the kind of charisma and appeal, and the game, most of all -- I wanted him to be on our team, especially since I already had identified (that) we need to be an up-tempo team here. ...

Once we took Rubio, we knew for a fact that unless he was taken in the top two picks that year that he couldn't come for at least a year, maybe two because of the buyout. So we knew we had no point guard on the roster, and if you recall in that free agent class, we had as the number one point guard, Ramon Sessions. And I was very worried that Ramon was going to cost a lot of money, because several teams were sniffing around Ramon already. Also, we didn't have any tradable assets. Al Jefferson was coming off an ACL, Corey Brewer was coming off an ACL, Kevin (Love) I didn't want to trade -- he was just coming off his first year. We had a very, very thin team. So I just felt very strongly that night that we had to come out of the first round with a point guard.

We loved Jonny Flynn. And I loved Jonny Flynn, I want to be very clear about that. And it's my pick, I own it, I'm accountable for it. Our staff loved Jonny Flynn. We had him over Rubio on the board. I especially liked his leadership capabilities. Jonny has a lot of that -- it's like pouring out of him. But one of those thing sI think we suppressed that first year were those very same leadership capabilities, because we made him play a style of play that he wasn't conducive to him, and it made him feel very insecure about who he was as a player.

Then why did you install the triangle offense?

Well, I didn't. ... Let's come back to that in a moment.

I missed the fact that Stephen Curry could be converted in to a point guard. I was very concerned about Stephen maybe being more of a combo guard, like a Randy Foye -- but a different type of player, of course -- as opposed to a pure point. And we liked Jonny. We had him over Curry on our board, so I felt that at six we had to have a point guard.

On why he and Rambis haven't seen eye-to-eye

When I interviewed Kurt, we were very clear that we were going to be up-tempo, and he agreed with that. It's the way he wanted to play -- early-80's style, Lakers, that he played with. He told me very candidly that thought the triangle, though, was a good offense from time to time to flow into. I'm a big believer in ball and player movement. I grew up watching the '77 Trailblazers, and that was Jack Ramsey's style. I love the early-80's Lakers, I love the Sacramento teams that Rick Adelman coached. I like when the ball moves, I like when you have passers on the court. It's just more beautiful to watch. So I was on board.

But I think where -- and I hope this doesn't come across too critical -- we should have adjusted more to fit Jonny's style as well. We should have been able to have our cake and eat it too, and also install some things that play to Jonny's capabilities, to push the ball and to get into some pick and roll situations. And I think Kurt erred maybe too much on the side of trying to teach Jonny how to be the perfect point guard, without giving him some opportunities along the way to have some success.

Is Rambis fired?

No, in fact I was talking to his agent (Friday) morning, and we're still having discussions. I feel, first of all, very badly, because Kurt Rambis is a great guy, and I mean that sincerely. And a really great family man. He's got a beautiful family. He's a smart basketball man. I think he and I both, maybe at times, as much as I told him over and over how difficult this would be -- when you inherit what we inherited roster-wise, and you're trying to rebuild, and really the first year was almost excavation more than rebuild, this is painful, and it's hard. And I think that what we've probably seen is maybe both of us underestimated how hard this would be. I wouldn't say that it's not that we're on the same page. I do know this year Kurt felt, for whatever reason, the weight of expectations. ...

I really feel with a young team, it should improve during the year no matter what the talent, because young guys by definition should get better. You can even make an argument I think that a young team maybe should show more improvement from Day 1 to the last day of the season than a veteran team. And we had gone through two successive seasons where we frankly just kind of stopped two-thirds of the way through the season. We not only didn't get better, but we flat-lined, and we ended two years in a row with really long losing streaks, and that's tough. So I think the issue for me was to understand the underlying causes of why did the team, two years ago, fail to improve as a team? Because in Kurt's defense, we had some players last year that he did a marvelous job with in terms of making them better players and more productive players.

How much did you ever consider trading Rubio?

We got, through the years, some incredible offers for Ricky, including even on the night we drafted him. He remains, to this day, along with Kevin (Love) our most marketable person. But as the team evolved the last two years, and especially with the style of play I want this team to play, he could really be a huge part of it. ...

He doesn't do the fancy (play) for the sake of fancy. It just kind of comes out of him naturally. At least that's what I saw when I scouted him before I took this job.

Do you feel like your job future is at stake with how Rubio plays?

I have to worry about really only one man, Glen Taylor, and I think I have a good relationship with him. And I think that it's up to him, whether I'm here one year, two years, five years, 10 years, I will tell you this, I love working for the man. ...

I think we need to prepare ourselves that there will be some bumps in the road for Ricky Rubio. He's 20.

On whether acquiring cash via trades in draft had anything to do with possibly firing Rambis

The idea of us having to do deals for a (possible) coaching (change) is so preposterous, it doesn't even almost deserve to be dignified with a response.

Why no decision yet?

I felt very strongly at the end of the season, especially the way it ended, if Kurt and I had tried to have a productive discussion about where do we go from here, I don't think it would have ended very well. It's just too raw at the end of the season, and I encouraged him strongly to go home, decompress and relax, because we needed to talk about changing things, among other things.

I waited to hear from him, and I didn't hear, and I think his agent kind of jumped in, and I'll take, again, the responsibility. And maybe it took a couple weeks more than it should have. But I remember he was here for some workouts on May 24, and I said to him, 'You know, Kurt, I really think we've got to change a lot of things about the way the team is being coached,' and I really encouraged him to put those things in writing ... In other words, I didn't want to be the one dictating the change, or telling him how it had to be. That's not healthy. It really needed to flow out of him.

So the next week, when he said he didn't know the process, that was kind of unfair, because he did. He knew that he had been promised a meeting, and a lengthy meeting, or a series of meetings to discuss where we go from here. And those meetings occurred just last Thursday and Friday, literally a week ago. ...

Kurt is more comfortable coaching a team with more veterans on it. Who isn't? It's hard work to coach a young team. And one of the issues I think we had to wait for is to see how the team would look after (the draft), because there were some scenarios, or chances, that never really became fully fledged. We were trying very hard to make the team a little bit older. It's not healthy to be this young. But sometimes you can't do what you want to do. The NBA is not a grocery store.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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