Ex-Wolves GM Kahn explains why he passed on Stephen Curry twice

David Kahn poses with Wolves bust Johnny Flynn. (AP)

The NBA’s history is full of questionable draft decisions, but few loom as large in this era as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ decision to draft two point guards ahead of Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft. While there were arguments to take both Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio at No. 5 and strong Syracuse prospect Jonny Flynn at No. 6, general manager David Kahn’s choice to double up on the same position and still miss out on the best point guard in the class looks like an unforgivable mistake. No matter the reason for not taking Curry, Kahn screwed up.

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To hear Kahn tell it, though, he was just trying to minimize the Wolves’ risk in a franchise-altering draft. In a new SI.com article ostensibly about the impact of a hands-on father like LaVar Ball, Kahn says that Dell Curry made it clear Steph wanted no part of Minnesota:

In 2009, just days after my May 22 hiring as President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the agent for Steph Curry told me that Steph’s father, Dell, did not want his son to be drafted by Minnesota—“No offense,” as I recall Jeff Austin, his agent saying to me at the Chicago draft combine. […]

The back-channel message would have weighed heavily in my decision-making process under any circumstances, but especially in Minnesota. Immediately after my hire, I was spending nearly every weekday morning in the team’s conference room, listening to team business partners and season-ticket holders lament over coffee and pastries. “You’ll never attract free agents here,” they said, practically in unison. “Players don’t want to play in cold-weather places.” Doomsday all around. […]

Complicating matters was Ricky Rubio, an 18-year-old Spaniard who had a rare flair for passing and setting up scorers, and had captivated me. Two weeks before the draft, I made a trade with Washington, sending Randy Foye and Mike Miller for the No. 5 pick in the draft. This allowed us the flexibility to draft Rubio, who had a major buyout in his contract likely preventing him from coming to the NBA right away—and who many believed would never play in Minnesota and force a trade. […]

So we now had the Nos. 5 and 6 picks in the draft. Taking not one, but two players who might not want to play in Minnesota? That would have taken real cojones. We took Rubio and Jonny Flynn, a ready-to-play point guard who started 81 games for us as a rookie and then fell victim to a terrible hip injury. At the time, drafting Flynn made a lot of sense: we didn’t have a single point guard on the roster and our staff had ranked him No. 1 among all point-guard prospects for not only his on-court play, but also his strong leadership qualities, a significant team need. […]

There are only two reasons to share this story now. First, Dell Curry revealed the family’s demand to Minnesota last year but didn’t provide any detail. Part of the story’s out. And for obvious reasons, I never discussed this publicly during my time in Minnesota because it would have only perpetuated the fear among the locals about players not wanting to come there. (A fear that has been extinguished, I believe.)

Kahn says that the second reason for revealing this story is its relevance to LaVar and Lonzo Ball, but that point does not quite convince. He spends eight multiple-sentence paragraphs in this piece discussing the Curry story (and its surrounding context) and only nine multiple-sentence paragraphs on anything else (including similar anecdotes regarding other players and other teams). If it were a story about the Balls, it would focus on the Balls. As is, it feels most accurate to treat the article as an explanation for why Kahn didn’t take Curry.

So let’s assess it as just that. From one point of view, Kahn’s explanation makes a lot of sense. If the Wolves saw Rubio as an elite prospect — the dominant point of view at the time — but had concerns about his willingness to play in Minnesota, then it makes sense that they would not opt for another player who had expressed concerns about the Twin Cities. Two top-six picks have the potential to turn a middling team into a good one, and any first-year GM should want to build a solid foundation. For that matter, it’s not as if Curry was a sure thing — many observers thought he would struggle to get open against NBA defenses. There’s a reason he fell out of the top five in the first place.

Yet that doesn’t mean Kahn made the right move. The real problem wasn’t missing out on a Rubio and Curry tandem, because the two would have been an uneasy fit given their skills and reluctance to play in Minnesota. Rather, it was taking Flynn when, if everything had gone as planned, he would have been replaced by Rubio as soon as the Spaniard achieved stardom. Even the best projections for Flynn did not rate him as a floor spacer who could play alongside Rubio. He was supposed to be a pick-and-roll point guard and steady hand, the sort of player who would need to run the team in order to be successful. The fact that (contrary to Kahn’s arguments) Flynn didn’t excel in any of those areas before his hip injury is almost besides the point. Kahn’s idea, even in its best form, had glaring issues.

Of course, the mere fact that Kahn still feels the need to argue his case in an article about LaVar Ball speaks to many of the reasons why he failed with the Wolves. It would be enough for Kahn (a sportswriter before his executive days) to relay his Dell Curry story and admit that the Warriors superstar is now good enough to have justified the risk. Unfortunately, Kahn always struggled to admit his faults and mistakes, even when it involved drafting an ineligible player or revealing confidential information about Michael Beasley’s failed drug tests during a press conference. Beyond the bad personnel moves, Kahn never had the temperament to build the Wolves into a lasting contender.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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