Winderman: Wolves GM Kahn crossed Stern’s line in sand

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A few years back, amid one of those periods of inspection when it came to NBA officiating, the attempt was made during one of his NBA Finals media sessions to get David Stern to comment on greater access to referees.

The question began something along the lines of, “Considering there will always be those who see conspiracy . . .”

There never was a chance for the question to be completed.

Stern’s face tightened. Sweat appeared to bead above his brow. The temperature in the room rose considerably.

The point being that you can debate the quality of Stern’s product all you want. The commissioner gladly will engage in such discourse.

But never questioning the integrity of that product. There is zero tolerance there.

So amid Tuesday’s post-lottery comments from Timberwolves executive David Kahn, about how things fell so neatly into place for the post-LeBron Cavaliers in the random-but-weighted drawing for the top draft pick, expect more than a rebuke from Stern.

The commissioner can make men disappear if needed. This may be one of those times.

Foremost, since the Ewing-Knicks doubts in the lottery’s infancy, the league has been more transparent with the lottery than any other aspect of its operation. You may not be able to sit in a huddle with Tom Thibodeau (and the league still closely monitors what is broadcast on delay from such interaction caught on lapel microphones), and you might not be able to sit in a war room when the Cavaliers mull their draft options, but not only is media allowed into the lottery room, the league goes out of its way to make it clear that such monitoring is encouraged.

But this is about more than the lottery and the Timberwolves’ No. 2 pick consolation prize.

This has international implications. Don’t think for a moment that Ricky Rubio wasn’t notified immediately from his Spanish team management about Kahn’s latest gaffe. It certainly couldn’t have nudged the former Timberwolves first-round pick any closer to the balminess that is Minnesota in February.

Indeed, this well could be one of those by-the-time-you-read-this moments. It’s not as if the Timberwolves are on any defined path to success, as it is.

This was supposed to be when the Timberwolves were to mull the future of coach Kurt Rambis.

But Rambis at least carries a Lakers pedigree. That still means something. Even in Spain.

When an executive is great at what he does, you move past such moments.

When that executive in many ways still is in a probationary period, it makes a huge difference.

The lottery fixed? Not in David Stern’s world.

The Timberwolves’ situation about to be fixed? Don’t be surprised.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.