Category Archives: Uncategorized

If NBA skips straight to playoffs, Wolves have league’s best draft position

Of the major U.S. pro sports leagues trying to figure out how and when to return to playing once the coronavirus pandemic allows, the NBA and NHL would seem to have the most urgency.

Those two were near the finish line of their regular season, chugging toward the playoffs, when play was halted with about a month to go in both cases. It’s one thing to play a truncated regular season, which MLB and MLS are probably headed toward, in whatever form they take. The NFL, meanwhile, can sit back and let things play out while formulating scenarios for the fall.

It’s quite another to have your postseason threatened, leaving a far more significant hole on the competitive ledger and in the record book.

The NBA, with a season/offseason churn that never really seems to end, feels particularly up against the clock in trying to balance all considerations. Rush things too much, and there could be very serious health consequences. Push things too far out, and there won’t really be an offseason as teams scramble to get ready for 2020-21 and camps that open at the start of October.

Of those two scenarios, the first is far more risky. The smart money for any league would seem to be erring on the side of caution and best practices, which would seem to mean this for the NBA: A very truncated finish to the regular season, or perhaps none at all, before skipping ahead to a playoff field that was largely set already outside of the low seeds in the West. (The NHL has already acknowledged as much).

“The [league] is looking at every and any avenue to continue this season,” Wolves President Gersson Rosas said on a video conference call Tuesday. “We’re all understanding of the realities that we’re living day in and day out, that a typical standard schedule, or a typical start and end of season has changed for all of us and has changed into the future. I know all the efforts, all the resources are [going into] finishing this season in some shape or form.”

So: While acknowledging that what we don’t know about how all this will play out on countless fronts could fill a book, there are some things what we can speculate about in a few hundred words.

How the season finishes from a playoff seeding standpoint means nothing to the Timberwolves. Of more interest to them is any further chance to evaluate a heavily remade roster. And short of that, looking to next season and beyond is of vital importance — which is where the 2020 draft and its assorted complications come into play.

But for the sake of simplicity, let’s say the NBA skips straight to the playoffs. And let’s say the lottery odds and draft order are frozen in time right now and stand as the final results. Let’s even say the NBA (unlike the NHL, which has already postponed its draft) moves ahead with plans to have its draft in late June.

What would that mean for the Wolves? Well, it would certainly mean some complications in scouting given that teams can’t have in-person workouts or in-person interviews with prospects and lost the ability to scout them in the NCAA Tournament.

Those challenges will be in play for every team, but how the Wolves navigate them will be crucial. That’s because if you look at their collective draft capital based on where they stand right now, it could be a mighty haul for them.

Per Tankathon, the Wolves have the third-worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have the same lottery odds: 14% of getting the top pick, 52.1% of getting a top four pick. They also would get Brooklyn’s first-round pick — lottery-protected — with the Nets just barely making the playoffs.

Even if the Wolves just stayed put at No. 3 — not moving up or down when the lottery happened — they would as of now have the No. 3, No. 16 (from Brooklyn) and No. 33 (early second round) picks.

Tankathon says that gives the Wolves the best draft capital of any team by a large margin — a “value” of 136 points using a complicated formula, while the next-closest team is at 106.

Who the Wolves might take in those slots is a question for another time. But in the midst of uncertainty, it’s always good to remember there is some hope for the future.

Baseball could be back next month — but not at Target Field

You might, dear baseball fan, have a mental and sensory image of what the sport will look and feel like when it is deemed safe for play to resume: Crowd sounds; ballpark food scents; smiling fans on a sunny day decked out in all manners of Twins jerseys at Target Field.

But the actual near-term return to the resumption of MLB games could look completely different, as outlined in a wide-ranging report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan:

Teams sequestered in Arizona playing neutral site games primarily at spring training sites; no fans in the stands; players possibly still practicing social distancing by sitting six feet apart in the stands instead of the dugout; electronic balls and strikes being called so that the home plate umpire isn’t too close to the catcher.

Zero ticket revenue, which reportedly makes up a whopping $10 billion every year across 30 MLB teams. But possibly expanded TV revenue if more games can be nationally televised and rights-holders are lured by the prospect of live programming.

In other words: Completely different than the picture in your head.

On one hand, you might be able to watch Twins games as early as late May or early June. On the other hand, it would always be on TV, broadcast from a sterile environment far away — perhaps for the entire 2020 season, or at least deep into it.

Is baseball in some alternative form better than nothing at all? I’m inclined to say it probably is, but this will also test the limits of what defines the experience of watching a game.

Is it primarily defined by what happens between the lines by the players? Or is the entire experience dependent on the interplay between sights, sounds and smells? How much of the tension is derived from the collective atmosphere?

If Game 7 of the 1991 World Series happened pitch-for-pitch the exact same way, but it played out in an empty Metrodome, would we still remember it the same way?

The answer is pretty obviously “no,” but then again we are in the midst of constantly shifting expectations. As inevitable as comparisons will be between games in empty neutral site stadiums and the “real thing,” maybe there will be a consensus that “the best under the circumstances” — increasingly our new normal — will suffice.

And that something abnormal in many ways will still make us feel normal.

Or … the version might feel so different and strange that we’d rather not have anything until we have the real thing.

MLB could be the test case for a fascinating experiment.

Watching old games is a mix of strangeness, sadness and comfort

One of the hardest things about social distancing and stay-at-home, at least at first, was explaining to our young daughters (6 and 3) that we couldn’t do some very basic things we would normally do.

They both usually go grocery shopping with me, loving the outing and the free samples. The last few times, of course, I’ve gone alone. On Sunday, I wore a bandanna and gloves — but first I waited 10-15 minutes, moving 6 feet and one white X at a time, to get into the limited-capacity store.

At first this was extremely sad for my 6-year-old. She’s up for anything, anytime, and mostly just wants to be involved. Now when I head out and explain why she can’t come, she just shrugs and says, “Daddy, I know that already” and keeps doing her thing.

On our nearly daily walks and runs — sometimes just me and the two older kids but often with my wife and 3-month-old son along as well — we inevitably pass by one of our neighborhood playgrounds. The first time we had to explain why we couldn’t play there — clumsily saying it was “closed” even though it looks the same as it ever did — our 3-year-old had something resembling a meltdown.

Now she still points to it and says, “The playground!” But after we remind her we can’t go, she says, “Yeah, because a lot of people are getting sick.” She has replaced the playground with a bizarre but wonderful ritual: visiting the spider.

A couple blocks past the playground, there’s a house with a large concrete platform at the end of the driveway. And on top of the platform, there is a large plastic spider. There’s nothing really special about it, and it’s probably been there since last Halloween. But both girls LOVE seeing it, poking it with a stick and spending a good 10-15 minutes doing it.

A couple of times the people who live there have observed us and waved from the house. My wife and I wave back and shrug. This has happened at least a half-dozen times, and I’m sure that at some point today I will be asked: “Can we go see the spider?”

So yes: The kids are going to be OK, and I don’t just think we’re telling ourselves that. They are amazingly adaptable for several reasons, but mostly this: They’re not prisoners of their memories.

They live in the present and — at least in my limited experience — are less concerned about what they are missing and more engaged with whatever novel activity is going on at the moment.

As for the adults … well, we’re doing the best we can. Our lives have slowed down in some ways, sped up in others and converged in almost every way. We, too, are remarkably resilient.

But one of the greatest common burdens of daily life right now — not to be confused by the heaviest burdens of being sick, caring for the sick or dealing with a blindside recession — is that as you get older you view everything that is happening now through the lens of the cumulative experience of what has already happened.

Adults often have to remind themselves to stay in the present; for young kids, it seems to be the default setting.

Our pasts are deeply contextualized, and the weight of that context and experience comes rushing forward when reality is altered even a little — like wearing a bandanna to the grocery store or having someone set a bag of takeout food on the ground and back away so you can pick it up or even just the wide loops walkers and cyclists make now to avoid each other.

Maybe this explains why I have barely watched any TV — maybe an hour in the last three weeks — in the midst of our new (temporary) reality. Some of it is time, of which there is far less with three little kids at home and work-life blending together in ways that are both exhausting and wonderful.

But a lot of it is this: I’d say 80% of the TV I used to watch was live sports. And now there are pretty much 0% live sports happening. I really dislike watching any game where I know the result, so replayed games aren’t really my thing (unless it’s some random game involving two teams I don’t normally follow, which oddly might be the kind of game I would watch).

What little snippets I have seen of replayed vintage games — many of them all-time classics — seemed to me a mixture of strangeness, sadness and comfort … probably in that order.

Maybe you’ve experienced this with replayed games or other TV you are watching, but it is JARRING to see people so close together — fans packed tightly in the stands, basketball players careening off each other.

Why is Michael Jordan not social distancing?

At the time, of course, these things were completely normal. Even a month ago, they were completely normal.

Knowing they are not normal now is strange — and sad. Too much past experience makes us keenly aware of everything we used to have that we can’t have right now, even if we are dutifully giving up that freedom for the greater good.

A lot of you, though, have successfully suppressed that voice and allowed yourselves to relive a past sports glory relatively context-free. Those games provide a certain comfort and sense of normalcy, which I completely understand and maybe in some ways envy.

Whatever it is that’s bringing you joy and comfort right now is a victory. Maybe I’ll be ready and have the time at some point to watch some of those old games, too.

As for me right now, the morning chill is starting to wear off and the kids are getting restless. I think it might be time to go see the spider.

Will the Vikings pick a QB in first three rounds of NFL Draft?

It’s now April 1, and this is no joke: After a horrendous month of March, we can at least start to try to think about warmer weather, better times ahead and actual things on the sports calendar.

Chief among them: The NFL Draft, which is going on as scheduled April 23-25 — albeit in a different form, with prospects and their families not in attendance and everything being handled virtually. (You can still boo Roger Goodell from a safe distance, however).

On the most recent Access Vikings podcast, we talked about the Vikings’ draft strategy — and whether they might pick a quarterback with a meaningful selection. Let’s say that means sometime in the first three rounds, when Minnesota has five choices — two firsts (including one from Buffalo in the Stefon Diggs trade), a second and two thirds (including a compensatory pick).

Here are three reasons it makes sense that they would pick a QB with one of those five picks — and three reasons it doesn’t make sense.

DRAFT A QUARTERBACK? YES!

1 Kirk Cousins’ contract: You’ll actually see this category show up in both sections. Here’s why it appears on the “yes” side: His extension, agreed to a couple weeks ago, only added two years to his deal for three years total. And it does not, as our Ben Goessling noted on the podcast, include a no-trade clause (which was part of his original deal). Even if Cousins remains the starter here all three years, that’s a short enough period of time to consider either a succession plan or a backup plan as early as this draft.

2 Speaking of which, the Vikings clearly want a better backup quarterback in 2020. A month ago at the Scouting Combine, head coach Mike Zimmer said this about the No. 2 spot: “We want to be able to have somebody who, if he has to go in for three games, can win those three games. It’s not to be another coach for Kirk, OK? It’s for somebody who can help you with that, but at the end of the day he’s got to be able to play, too.”

That didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of 2019 backup Sean Mannion. The Vikings did bring back Mannion on a veteran minimum deal for 2020, but they could easily cut him with little penalty if they found someone they liked more in the draft and that player beat out Mannion for the backup spot. And that player — let’s say he was taken with the No. 89 pick in the third round — would be on a rookie scale deal making about as Mannion with far more upside.

3 A drafted QB almost certainly would be, at best, a backup in 2020 and probably 2021. If that’s as good as he was, it would still be worth it. But what if he developed into a truly special player — a Russell Wilson type (also a third-round pick)? Taking a shot with a reasonably high pick is the Vikings’ most viable path to hit a home run, even if Cousins is an above-average option right now who led the Vikings to a playoff win last season.

DRAFT A QB? NO WAY!

1 Cousins’ health and contract push quarterback pretty low on the priority list. If the Vikings were going into the draft without having extended Cousins, this would be a much different conversation. But his high-dollar deal over the next three years — combined with the fact that he has been healthy for every start over the last five years — could mean that finding another QB (even as a backup) isn’t urgent in the draft a few weeks from now. Honestly, the time to do it was the 2019 draft — so they could have a year to evaluate before having to decide on a Cousins extension.

2 Perhaps the biggest reason to think the Vikings won’t take a QB in the first three rounds is that it’s simply not in their DNA to pick one unless they absolutely need one (Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, Christian Ponder in 2011, Tarvaris Jackson in 2006). We can argue the merits of this approach, but history is history.

3 They have a lot of other roster holes to fill. The Vikings need offensive linemen, defensive linemen, defensive backs and a skilled wide receiver — among other things — after having a lot of roster turnover in free agency (much of it necessitated by salary cap issues and a desire to get younger). With so many positions of need, drafting a QB could be seen logically as a luxury.

Maybe what ends up happening is some sort of compromise — drafting a QB, but maybe a little later like the fourth or fifth round. We’ll have plenty of time to mull it over and look for clues in the next few weeks.

Marcus Carr testing NBA Draft? It makes some sense if you consider …

Gophers men’s basketball followers were prepared for one early NBA departure — dominant big man Daniel Oturu — but two? Guard Marcus Carr?

That wasn’t really on the radar for most of us until Monday night when Carr posted on Instagram that he is declaring for the June NBA draft.

Though Carr said he is not hiring an agent, thus making him eligible to return — and our Marcus Fuller reports per sources that Richard Pitino has been told Carr wants to return to the Gophers next season even though he is gathering information about his pro career — the end of his Instagram post was the one that really caught my eye: “No matter what happens, my time here at the University of Minnesota has provided me with an unbelievable opportunity and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Those seem to be the words of someone who is giving at least some serious weight to leaving.

While some of the key numbers in the decision are 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists — all of Carr’s averages with the Gophers last year, in his first year after transferring from Pitt — some more important numbers are probably these: 21 and 3.

The 21 represents Carr’s age when the NBA Draft is slated to be held in late June. And the three is the number of years he’s been in school — one at Pitt, one sitting out after transferring and one with the Gophers. Though he’s relatively young for having been in college three years already (he doesn’t turn 21 until early June), a quick look at the top of the NBA prospect list shows that Carr is already “old” for a first-round pick.

Only two players in this first round mock draft are older than Carr, and only two have been in college for three years. The rest are freshmen, sophomores or international players. Carr doesn’t figure to get drafted even if he does leave, but even getting a jump on his pro career overseas or in the G-League could have appeal.

Carr is in a similar position in some ways to Amir Coffey a season ago. Coffey left the Gophers after his junior year despite not having much draft buzz and ended up getting a two-way contract with the NBA’s Clippers after going undrafted.

Those situations aren’t perfect matches. Coffey was comparatively a full year older than Carr at the time of his decision, and Coffey was also comparatively more accomplished. But just as Coffey might have looked at his situation and decided he couldn’t help himself any more by staying in school, Carr might be doing the same.

The other factor that could weigh in Carr’s decision is the relative uncertainty of all sports right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. What will the college or NBA seasons look like next year? Will they go on as planned? Will they be interrupted or otherwise impacted? Will they be wiped out altogether?

We can hope it’s the first answer, but at this point we don’t really know. And maybe that uncertainty is pushing Carr to at least want to get on the radar of professional teams now — instead of a year from now, after a year of uncertainty.

In any event just like Coffey’s decision, Carr’s announcement Monday makes more sense when you take everything into account. He could very well return, which would obviously be a boon to the Gophers’ hopes next season. But there are also viable reasons he won’t return.

NFL Draft will go on as scheduled — but will rookies suffer the most?

Roger Goodell, in very on-brand fashion, distributed an NFL-wide memo Thursday to teams saying the April 23-25 Draft will go on as planned while also warning that anyone who dares criticize the plan publicly “serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”

This is hardly surprising for a league that, so far, has been proceeding with barely any meaningful acknowledgement that we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic — though, to be fair, a league that is in its offseason does need to be ready for the resumption of more regular activities, whenever they might occur.

With the NFL it’s often the approach, not the end result, that makes you hold your nose.

The draft will be significantly changed in style — it won’t be a glamorous affair in Las Vegas, nor will players or families be present on-site — but not really substance. There will still be 255 picks, and those players will be distributed to 32 teams. A lot of the scouting work has already been done, and the NFL Combine happened before the shutdown.

What comes after the draft, however, could be quite different from normal years — and could be detrimental to rookies and teams like the Vikings who might be leaning heavily on young players in 2020.

The Vikings have 12 total picks — including five picks in the first three rounds (two firsts, a second and two thirds). They presumably will be using those premium choices to restock positions of need, including cornerback and offensive line.

The NFL recently ordered team facilities to be shut down for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. A realist would concluded that facilities will be shut down well beyond just those two weeks as teams — like the rest of us, and perhaps even more so given how close together athletes work — exercise an abundance of caution.

While nobody can accurately predict how the next few months will play out with this pandemic — and certainly there are a million questions more important than how it impacts football — let’s say NFL teams feel confident they can re-open facilities in mid-June.

That would be about six weeks later than the usual rookie mini-camp window (slated for May 1-4 or May 8-11 this year). It would be close to a month after OTAs usually start. Veterans would be able to catch up pretty easily. But young players learning new systems, plays and techniques would be significantly behind.

It wouldn’t be as extreme in this scenario as the 2011 lockout — which didn’t end until late July, and during which teams couldn’t sign free agents nor could coaches communicate with players — but one of the major narratives coming out of that work stoppage was the impact on young players (including Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder).

None of this is a reason to postpone the draft — even if that was reportedly the recommendation of general managers. It will be useful for teams to know their rosters ahead of time for whenever activities presumably return to something resembling normal.

But it does make you wonder what the impact will be on NFL teams — particularly one like the Vikings, with so many picks and a high likelihood of needing to rely on those picks immediately — even if the regular season manages to start on time.

Virtual happy hour debate: Best Twins team of the last 20 years?

Jim Souhan and I had a fun discussion on Wednesday’s Twins Insider podcast: What was the best Twins team of the last 20 years? That encompasses all eight playoff seasons from 2002-present, providing plenty of fodder for debate.

It’s glorious outside, so I suggest you talk about this OUTSIDE during your virtual happy hour. Everything is portable. You can do it.

Items for discussion: Is the answer the 2019 Twins because they won the most games (101)? Is it the 2002 Twins because they were the only Twins team to advance in the playoffs in any of those  seasons? Maybe it’s the 2006 Twins because that team featured an MVP (Justin Morneau), batting champ (Joe Mauer) and Cy Young (Johan Santana). I’d listen to an argument for 2004 (should have beaten the Yankees in the playoffs) or 2010 (strong veteran team that looked built for a run before, you know, Yankees.

If you burn through that one, Souhan and I also discussed this: Take any Twins player from any Twins season in the last 20 years and put him on another Twins team from the last 20 years. What one swap gives that new team the best chance to win it all?

Souhan probably had the correct answer: Put 2006-era Johan Santana on the 2019 Twins — solving an obvious problem (top-notch starting pitching) for an otherwise loaded team. I also wondered if putting MVP Joe Mauer from 2009 on the 2004 Twins (the year Mauer got hurt and they leaned on Henry Blanco at catcher) might have made enough of a postseason difference.

Maybe you want 2006 Nick Punto on all of those teams for his HUSTLE AND GRIT. The most painful answer, of course, is to put the first four months of 2006 Francisco Liriano on the postseason roster that season. If he hadn’t been injured late that season, the Twins just might have won it all.

Stay home. Stay safe. And tell me how the discussion plays out.

Game 163 replay: Distance makes (almost) everything seem small

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small.

Yes, that’s the opening lyric from “Let it Go,” which yes is from “Frozen,” which yes has been playing in heavy rotation at our house as our five person kingdom of isolation (three of them ages 5, 3 and 3 months) navigates the challenges and joys of working, learning and playing while staying home.

But let’s apply it to sports for a moment — and particularly to Game 163 of the 2009 MLB season between the Twins and Tigers, the replay of which starts at 10:15 a.m. Thursday on Twitter and on the Twins web site.

A day after that game — still the best professional game I’ve ever helped cover — I could have told you everything about it. A little over 10 years later? I was surprised to re-learn some of the very basic details from the deadline story I wrote and just re-read.

The Tigers took a 3-0 lead? The Tigers also led 5-4 in the 10th before the Twins tied it thanks to a misplay? News to me.

I only remember two things about that game, really, because distance has made everything else seem small: 1) Carlos Gomez scoring the winning run on an Alexi Casilla single in the bottom of the 12th. 2) Brandon Inge being grazed by a pitch with the bases loaded in the top of that inning, but having it go uncalled (excellent Brian Peterson photo above). The Tigers did not score.

The second piece was the main subject of the story I wrote. I still very much remember talking to Inge in the dingy visitors clubhosue at the Metrodome, in what was the second-to-last Twins game in that building. He was polite, earnest, immensely disappointed and full of truth. He called it “the greatest game I’ve ever played in,” but he couldn’t stop replaying all the what-if moments.

“No matter what we did, it seemed like it wasn’t meant to be,” Inge said that night.

It’s a good reminder that for every story of immense sports joy, there’s an equal reaction of heartbreak. Minnesota fans know the pain side of the equation all too well.

But if you want to remember that joy — and maybe rediscover some things you forgot — I urge you to watch the replay of Game 163.

Virtual happy hour debate: Second-best Timberwolves player of all-time?

I’ve been doing my best to provide you with virtual happy hour topics, and today I want to try something a little different. Instead of just giving you three things from the news of the day, here is a subject you can debate over a beverage of choice shared through the warm glow of a screen:

Who is the second-best player in Timberwolves history?

This assumes the obvious, that Kevin Garnett is the best player in Wolves history. If you want to debate that, you are on your own. Get a few cans of Four Loko and have at it. (By the way, did you know Four Loko is in the hard seltzer game? 12% alcohol).

As for the topic at hand: We have a leader in the clubhouse for second-best, but we hardly have an agreement. I’ve been engaged in this debate for the last 30 minutes or so on Twitter, though I have not yet begun my virtual happy hour AS FAR AS YOU KNOW.

My vote goes along with the consensus, achieved through two separate Twitter polls. The first offered just two choices: Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love. The second added Sam Cassell and Jimmy Butler to the mix.

KAT was the winner in both cases by close to a 2 to 1 margin, though in the second poll the other two options seemed to siphon more votes from him than Love.

I think Towns is the right answer, and advanced stats tend to agree, but people certainly have their own opinions and favorites.

Maybe you will have an epiphany?

Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak remains undefeated against Twitter foes

The Major League Baseball Season, which has been postponed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, would have started Thursday.

Stat lines that would have started to fill up this week are going to be stuck on zero at least into May — except for one.

Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak improved to 1-0 this week, albeit against a Twitter foes instead of anyone on the field.

Dobnak, as you’ll recall, made an improbable rise from obscurity to Game 2 playoff starter for last year’s 101-win Twins, compiling a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings. His story is great, and his look is even better: a Fu Manchu-style mustache and sport specs are the centerpieces.

On Tuesday, though, a Twitter account dared to take on the mighty Dobnak with this premise: “Push this button and you get to be a professional athlete. the only catch is that you have to be randy dobnak. do you push it? … i mean, even putting looks aside. my name would be randy dobnak. man. hard one.”

That’s just not very nice. But: Pretty much everyone who replied to the tweet said that yes, they’d love to be Dobnak — complimenting everything from his look to his story to his Major League status.

The best was yet to come, though: Dobnak — who has a history of handling himself well on Twitter — himself found the tweet and replied: “Honestly I would probably push it but idk that’s just me.”

The original tweet has fewer than 300 likes; Dobnak’s reply has more than 20,000.

And that is a VERY high VORT — Value Over Replacement Tweet.