2009 Minnesota Timberwolves nearly all new faces

Sep 30, 2009 - 10:00 PM By JON KRAWCZYNSKI AP Sports Writer

MANKATO, Minn.(AP) -- Al Jefferson walked into the Minnesota Timberwolves practice facility earlier this week, eager to rejoin his teammates after missing nearly eight months with a knee injury.

He looked around and quickly found out that there weren't too many of those teammates around anymore.

"When I walked in, I saw so many new guys," Jefferson said. "I'm like, 'Who is this? Who is that?"'

It almost felt like he had been traded to a new team. In reality, Jefferson is one of the few Timberwolves who didn't leave town this summer.

New president of basketball operations David Kahn has attacked his task of remaking one of the NBA's bottom feeders with the verve and aggressiveness of a Wall Street trader just before the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

He was hired on May 22 and has spent the past four months wheeling and dealing. He parted with longtime coach Kevin McHale, hired new coach Kurt Rambis and orchestrated more than a dozen trades to change the fundamental makeup of a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004.

"A lot of the things we did, no I would have never had any idea that we were going to be that active," Kahn said. "But a lot of them became compelling as we had to do things a little bit on the fly."

Gone are McHale, who presided over the franchise for 15 mostly disappointing seasons, and veterans like Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Mark Madsen.

Kahn made several deals specifically to give the Wolves more cap room next year to make a run at one of the many marquee free agents who will hit the market. He acquired six players - Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Quentin Richardson, Chucky Atkins, Mark Blount and Antonio Daniels - who will never set foot in Minnesota. Thomas, Songaila and Richardson were re-traded for better salaries while Atkins was bought out, as will Blount and Daniels unless their agents can arrange palatable trades.

He also spent most of the summer trying to convince Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio to join the team this season. Rubio ultimately decided to remain in Europe for at least the next two seasons before coming to the NBA.

Ever the deal maker, Kahn quickly signed restricted free agent guard Ramon Sessions to a four-year deal to fill the gap.

"You can't keep track," rookie point guard Jonny Flynn said. "Every week something was happening. But I take that as David Kahn is really trying to set this team up to try to win. That's a great thing."

Now it is up to Kahn and Rambis, a longtime assistant under Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers, to rescue a franchise that has steadily sunk to the bottom of the pecking order in the Twin Cities sports scene.

Tickets for Timberwolves games are easy to come by. Local sports talk radio barely acknowledges that the team still exists and long-departed Kevin Garnett's No. 21 jersey is still by far and away the most popular piece of Timberwolves memorabilia seen at Target Center on game nights.

If anything, all the moves Kahn has been making have people talking about the team again. The former sports reporter has also been granting as many interviews as he can to spur interest.

"I am hopeful that the actions that we're taking, and will continue to take, will continue to demonstrate to the fan base that it's a new day," Kahn said. "A completely new day, with a new approach and a new way of doing things and that we recognize, frankly, by the things that we have chosen to do this summer that things were a mess and they needed to be fixed."

Jefferson already has noticed one significant difference.

"One thing about this team that we didn't have the last two years I was here is everybody who is here wants to be here. That means a lot," Jefferson said. "We've got guys who want to be here and want to be a Timberwolf and want to play hard and play for the coaches. That's a plus from last year."

Thanks to Kahn's maneuvering, the Timberwolves only have seven players and roughly $21.5 million committed for next year, including the core of Jefferson, Flynn, Sessions and Kevin Love. That should make the team a legitimate player in the talent-rich free agent market next season.

And with the potential to have as many as three first-round picks in the draft, depending on where some teams finish, the Wolves will have plenty of opportunity to turn things around sooner rather than later.

"I think that when you rebuild, sometimes people can look askance and say, 'They're always rebuilding' and I understand that," Kahn said. "That's not the case here, though.

"I think this is a rebuild that will really start to bear some fruit here in the next couple years and that we won't be back here two years from now saying, 'Time to do this again.' That this will be done with some lasting quality to it."

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