Kahn has been a reliable punch line since taking the reins in Minnesota, mainly because he's constructed a group of players whose skills overlap and whose on-court roles escape clarity, and because he's made several high-profile "misjudgments" that went against conventional wisdom (see: Ricky Rubio, Al Jefferson, Darko Milicic, and, still TBD, DeMarcus Cousins).
The thing is, there is a logic to what Kahn's doing, and he deserves some recognition for having the courage to pursue this course. In short: Kahn is gathering talent with upside regardless of position. And I think it's kind of amazing that he's gotten as much flak for it as he has. Yes, his execution hasn't yet yielded the results Minny would like, but the plan is sound.
And you know what? We know what the plan is, straight from the horse's mouth:
But the reality is, we still need that one dominant player.
It’s possible that that player could already be on our roster. We have eight guys who were selected in the top seven picks of their respective drafts, and the average age of those players is 22. So the potential is there for someone to emerge. But in case that doesn’t happen, we’ll continue to manage our salary cap so that we have the flexibility to make that one move that can change a franchise.
In other words, Kahn understands that his job is to find a superstar that can carry the team to a championship. That's why picking up Michael Beasley for nothing was such a brilliant move. I would have preferred to keep Al Jefferson around, but again, though I might disagree with specific decisions, the overall plan is sound.
There are two basic ways to build a championship team in the modern NBA. You can build a core and then find a star to join that core, or you can find a star and then build the core around him. Since 1979, both have occurred, but it's a far more efficient use of money and other resources to find the star first.
The Bobcats have attempted to build a core, and then... well, let's give the organization the benefit of the doubt and assume the plan is to have a playoff-worthy core in place before trading for or drafting (snicker) a star to push the team to the next level.
But here's where efficiency comes into play. The Cats are paying quality supporting players to hold steady while they search for their star. Not only are they paying $66 million for their team this year, but they've limited their ability to find out if they've got a young star already on the team, so getting that star in his prime depends on another team deciding they don't want him, for whatever reason. But why would another team give up their own championship-level star? It's got to be an extraordinary situation, and the Cats have to be in the best position to acquire him and give the best deal to the other team.
The Wolves, meanwhile, are living lean while they search for their star. They're paying about $46 million for their team of lottery picks and long shots. And their lack of roster coherence means that there just aren't enough minutes to go around* -- if your goal isn't to find out what everyone can do. The Wolves have a much better chance of developing a star from within, and I contend they have a better chance of finding a star than the Cats do of acquiring one because the Wolves have gone all-in on the strategy.
Maybe the Cats will find a way to finagle a star from some other team. Maybe they'll draft one. Maybe Dominic McGuire really is the second coming of Gerald Wallace and McGuire will figure out that whole "offense" thing and start clicking. And maybe they'll draft a star before the Wolves dig one up. But the Wolves are stacking the odds in their favor while the Cats aren't.
*Side note: David Berri's metrics are hogwash. He's not a subject-matter expert, and that leads him to assert patently stupid things, like Rodman was a better player than Jordan. Or that he can measure an NBA player's defense by the team's total defensive production then apportioning defensive credit by minutes played. So, essentially, if Tyson Chandler and Nazr Mohammed each played 1,000 minutes for the Cats, Chandler and Mohammed would receive equal credit for defense. Seriously. Also, as someone who's actually read Wages of Wins, I like to remind everyone that the book addresses baseball and football nearly as much as basketball, but those sections were so hopelessly wrong -- yes, wrong -- that even the authors have stopped referring to them. Possibly out of embarrassment. And when they have referred to other sports since, they've rightly been laughed out of the room by the people who know what they're talking about.