Ex-Wolves guard Ridnour traded for fourth time in less than a week

?????????????The joke among those who live a vagabond lifestyle, whereby they might need to leave town at a moment’s notice, is that they shouldn’t buy any green bananas.

Forget that. Luke Ridnour shouldn’t buy any bananas. He shouldn’t buy anything at all. He should live in an airport. Green bananas? His offseason is bananas.

On Tuesday, Ridnour was traded from Oklahoma City to Toronto. This in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad … but it marked the FOURTH TIME IN LESS THAN WEEK that Ridnour was traded.

The first three trades involved last Thursday’s draft night, when he first went from Orlando to Memphis … then Memphis to Charlotte … then Charlotte to Oklahoma City.

The worst part is that Ridnour has a non-guaranteed contract, which means he is very likely to get released or … wait for it … traded again.

You’ll recall that Ridnour spent three full, luxurious seasons with the Wolves between 2010 and 2013, playing a full 82 games as a combo guard in his final season here before being moved in the three-team trade that netted the Wolves Kevin Martin.

He’s been a part of eight trades in his career, a stunning number of which involved players who spent time with the Wolves (even in trades that didn’t have anything to do with Minnesota). Here is a list of players affiliated with the Wolves who have been parts of Luke Ridnour trades:

Ray Allen (orignally drafted by Wolves, traded for Stephon Marbury), Kevin Ollie (played for Wolves in 2008-09 season), Joe Smith (obviously), Mo Williams (a Wolf as recently as last season), Kevin Martin (current Wolf), Gary Neal (played here last year), Jeff Adrien (same) and Ramon Sessions (all 82 games for Wolves in 2009-10).

And below you will find a travel log I made of the distance Ridnour would have covered if, just for fun, he had actually gone to the home cities of all the teams involved in his trades over the past week.

Starting point: Orlando.

First flight: Orlando to Memphis. Distance: 700 miles

Second flight: Memphis to Charlotte. Distance: 520 miles

Third flight: Charlotte to Oklahoma City. Distance: 940 miles

Fourth flight: Oklahoma City to Toronto. Distance: 1,110 miles

Brett Favre dons Packers jersey for first time since ’08 for SI cover

Sports Illustrated has a “Where are they now” series this week, one of those slow summer ideas that periodicals come up with from time to time (in fact, I might be doing one later this summer).

The cover man? Brett Favre. Of particular interest is his choice of attire. Per SI.com (you have to buy the magazine for the full story):

Favre, who still holds NFL records for wins as starter, completions, attempts, yards, times sacked, and most passes intercepted, donned that No. 4 Packers jersey for this week’s “Where Are They Now?” issue.

It’s first time that Favre has worn that dark green jersey since January 20, 2008, when his last pass as a member of the Packers was intercepted during an overtime loss in the NFC championship game. ​​​The day after the SI photo shoot, Favre reflected on wearing No. 4 again.

“It was so big on me,” Favre says. “It felt like a nightgown. That’s not my world anymore.”

You can see for yourself below in this tweet from SI’s Joan Niesen.

Lack of taking walks is haunting Twins

walkswillhauntThere are multiple reasons to explain the Twins’ recent offensive woes, and the most notable among them might be an expected one: they have cooled off considerably in the clutch. As of late May, the Twins were hitting .299 with runners in scoring position and .286 with two outs and RISP, and both marks were among the best in MLB. Just a month later, those overall numbers have dipped to .288 with RISP and .256 with two outs and RISP, meaning June has been pretty brutal for the Twins in the clutch.

(Sweet “Walks will haunt” Dome photo via @KirbysLeftEye).

Clutch hitting, however, was something most of us figured wasn’t sustainable. That’s an ebb and flow thing. For a bigger picture look at why the Twins aren’t scoring runs — at 4.17 per game they rank 10th in the American League after scoring 4.41 per game to rank 5th in the AL a season ago — a simple stat stands out: walks, or lack thereof.

The 2014 Twins walked 544 times — 3.36 times per game, ranking 2nd in the American League. It was a big part of the reason they had a team on-base percentage of .324, also good for second in the AL. And when you have more guys on base, you score runs.

The 2015 Twins have walked 181 times — 2.41 times per game, almost a full walk less than last year, to rank 13th among the 15 AL clubs this season. As a result, their team OBP has dipped to .302, also 13th in the AL, even though the team batting average from year to year (.254 last year, .249 this year) is not much different.

It’s hard to say if it’s a shift in approach by Twins hitters, a reflection of some patient hitters no longer being part of the team, a shift in approach from opposing pitchers to throw more strikes and force the Twins to hit, a little bit of sample size/luck … or some combination of some/all of these things.

If we take a little bit of a deeper dive into the numbers, we do find that the Twins are not going as far into at bats this season as they did last season.

Last year, Twins hitters saw 3.99 pitches per at bat, which was higher than the league average of 3.86.

This year, Twins hitters are seeing 3.77 pitches per at bat, lower than the league average of 3.82.

Being aggressive and going after pitches earlier in the count aren’t necessarily bad things, since it can lead batters to get more favorable pitches to hit. But if Twins hitters are swinging early and making outs — or even swinging early and having about as much success when putting the ball in play as they did when they were taking more walks — the results aren’t pretty.

And in the case of the Twins this season vs. last year, I’d say the correlation between 1 fewer walk taken per game and about 1/4 of a run scored fewer per game is pretty strong.

Vikings getting national attention as team on the rise

It’s late June, when all Super Bowl titles are won.

Scratch that, we’re about as far from the Super Bowl as possible.

Late June is the time when NFL folks start to try to determine the contenders and pretenders — which includes determining which teams might be in a position to surprise.

The Vikings appear to be a trendy “surprise” pick to go from 7-9 a season ago to a winning record and possibly a playoff berth this season. The latest to give the Vikings praise? ESPN’s John Clayton. The reasons he cites — Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and a strong defense — are all solid ones.

It’s not a stretch to expect a healthy Peterson to add 30 yards a game to the Vikings running offense, which would be worth around two or three points per game. That type of improvement should make the Vikings a playoff team. Since 2003, teams that have made the playoffs averaged 25.2 points a game. Any offense that can put up between 23.5-25 points per game is playoff worthy. If coach Mike Zimmer can continue to work his magic with the defense — the Vikings went from 32nd in points allowed in 2013 to 11th last season — Minnesota could jump from 7-9 to 9-7 or maybe 10-6.

While it’s prudent to be cautious before a single game has been played, I agree that 10-6 isn’t all that far-fetched. To me, it all hinges on the offensive line. If that unit protects Bridgewater, the offense will be fine. If not, progress will stall.

Tall guy pretends he was chosen in NBA draft, has epic night

If you’re close to 7 feet tall and have some free time in late June next year, might I suggest going to the NBA Draft and pretending you are a prospect?

You’re pretty much guaranteed to have an epic night, as Connor Toole did (for a professionally shot video, by the way, that gets NSFW toward the end when ladies start trying to take their tops off).

Ethically, it’s clearly wrong to pretend you were just drafted. But the video is an interesting comment on fame, at the very least, with the selfies, free shots and, ahem, attention that ensued.

Have a look-see here (this is your second NSFW warning).

Final thoughts on Towns and Tyus after wild draft night

tyusWhat a night. Everything was pretty much going according to plan. The assembled media was hovering around a single telephone in the Wolves’ new practice facility – in a high-tech world, we can be remarkably lo-fi in some cases – waiting for No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns to dial in on a conference call. Most of the free world had expected the Wolves to take Towns; the conference call and then a quick media appearance by Flip Saunders would cap a big night for Minnesota, but one that went pretty much according to plan.

But as we waited for Towns to call (a shocking amount of this job is waiting), Tyus Jones kept sliding in the draft. Houston didn’t take him at No. 18. Suddenly the draft was in the 20s, and still no Tyus. With each passing pick, there grew a possibility that the Wolves – in need of another point guard to go with Ricky Rubio – would make the bold and popular move to trade up and grab the former Apple Valley star.

And then, of course, at the exact moment – literally the same second – that Towns’ voice came through on the conference call, those monitoring the Jones situation on Twitter caught word that Cleveland had drafted and traded him to the Wolves.

What followed was chaos, with some amusement at the start. A media member asked Towns about playing with Jones. Towns, who was watching the draft on TV at that point while on the call, started talking about Jones in hypotheticals while thinking Jones was going to Cleveland because that’s what was happening on TV. Several reporters on the call kept trying to tell him that no, in fact, Tyus was joining him in Minnesota. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but it was right out of Abbott and Costello.

From there, it was a blur for the next two hours. You can see all of the video we produced last night right here. Some observations from the night:

*You can call the Jones decision a “homer” choice if you want, but even looked at in purely objective basketball terms it made a lot of sense. Saunders has been watching Jones play since he was a sophomore in high school (remember, Flip hung around the U of M folks a lot and there was a notion he might become the coach before Richard Pitino go the job. If so, he would have had to try to recruit Jones). The Wolves needed another ballhandler. And the price they paid for Jones – a player who has always risen to the occasion in pressure situations – was fair.

*The beauty of having the No. 1 pick and grabbing Towns was underscored by the volatility in the draft that followed. With D’Angelo Russell going to the Lakers in a surprise at No. 2, it became more clear that there was a consensus number one pick, and then there was the rest of the draft.

*The Wolves now have the most promising young nucleus they’ve ever had – and that includes the KG/Marbury era. That doesn’t mean it will translate into wins, but the potential is there.

*The best moment I saw at the Jones draft party came when Flip, Glen Taylor and other Wolves executives arrived. All of them gave Jones big hugs, and Flip explained to him all the wheeling and dealing he had gone through during the night in order to get Jones. He punctuated  the story by telling him, in a joking tone but also with rather colorful language, that he had better work hard to prove that it was all worth it.

Based on the energy of the fan base Thursday, the whole night was worth it. Now we’ll see what happens on the court.

Critical road trip will tell us a lot about this year’s Twins

perkinsThe 2014 Twins used a well-timed late June home series against the White Sox to stop a swoon after a promising start to their season, sweeping Chicago to push their record to 36-38 and restoring hope that, after a 23-21 start, things could in fact be different after a string of brutal losing seasons.

As it turned out, that was not the case. After that sweep of the White Sox, the Twins went on the road on June 24 and proceeded to lose five consecutive games to fall to 36-43. They won their next one,  but they were never better than 6 games under .500 for the rest of the season, which proved to be the best of their last four years but was still another 90-loss campaign at 70-92.

This year’s Twins team is coming off a similarly timed and successful home series against the White Sox, taking 2 of 3 after knocking around ace Chris Sale on Wednesday. Now they are set to embark on a 10-game road trip, and while it’s perhaps unfair to say this trip will define their season it’s not too far-fetched to think it will.

Because for as different as this Twins season has felt so far, they’re really not all that far off from where they were a season ago. This year’s version is 39-33, four games ahead of the 36-38 mark last year’s squad had played to at this same general juncture. If the 2015 Twins can expand that lead on the 2014 Twins at the same pace, they will finish around .500 this season — most certainly an improvement.

But it is instructive to remember that Twins teams during their 2011-14 funk have tended to start out better than they finish. Before Aug. 1 in each of those four seasons, their winning percentage was .444. After Aug. 1, their winning percentage was .345.

There are a number of reasons to think this year is, in fact, different — and it begins with the starting pitching, which has been so much better than in past seasons. Good starting pitching tends to stop prolonged slides, and there is also reason to believe the team’s collective recent offensive funk won’t last forever.

But still, this is a dangerous time. If the Twins can make it through this 10-game road trip — during which they are expected to get Ervin Santana back — without the wheels coming off, we will have an important piece of evidence to suggest this year will be different through the finish. If not, look out. Because we’ve seen this story before, and it hasn’t ended well.

Love reportedly opting out, making Wolves trade potentially more lopsided

lebron2Kevin Love is reportedly opting out of his contract with Cleveland, a move that is confusingly both expected and contradictory to what Love himself said recently about not opting out.

Financially, it makes sense; Love can make more money next year, even on a one-year deal, than he can if he would have played out the final year of his deal at $16.7 million.

And Cleveland could very well still re-sign him, either for just a year to make a short-term run at a title or for the long haul.

Dan Devine at Yahoo has a very nice breakdown of all the what-ifs and scenarios, while also nicely outlining that while the relationship between Love and LeBron was decidedly awkward at times last season, the Cavs did their best work when Love was healthy.

For Minnesota’s purposes, just know this: Love opting out at least creates the possibility that he will leave Cleveland after just one less-than-ideal season, possibly for the Lakers (Love and Okafor would be a nice 1-2 punch, even if every game would be in the 120s for both teams), the Celtics or even Portland. Cleveland could pay him more money, but how much the Cavs (and de-facto GM LeBron James) want Love and vice-versa is certainly in question.

If he does leave Cleveland, and the Cavs get only one title-less season out of the trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to the Wolves, it will go from being a trade that already looked pretty good for Minnesota to being one that might end up on all of those “Top 10 Best/Worst Trades” features that pop up during slow times online and on ESPN.

Regardless, it will be another fun summer of Love, figuring where he fits in and where he fits out.

Flip won’t tip hand, but signs still point to Towns

flipFlip Saunders met with the local media Wednesday morning for the final time before he makes arguably the most important draft pick in franchise history — and one for which he said the anticipation among the Wolves’ fan base compares to nearly 20 years ago when Minnesota added Stephon Marbury to go with Kevin Garnett, forming the type of dynamic duo (albeit all-too-briefly in the case of KG and Steph) that current fans can envision next season with Andrew Wiggins and Thursday’s top pick.

Signs have been pointing toward the Wolves taking Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns, to the extent that most of the free world expects it to happen and those writing about it are saying it more confidently with each passing day. But the one man who could put an end to any lingering doubts about whether it will be Towns declined to do so Wednesday — not because he has any doubts about who he is going to take but because, well, he doesn’t have anything to gain by telling us who it is.

There’s no reason to do it,” Saunders said during a news conference at the team’s new practice facility, a building Flip said impressed draft prospects when they came in for workouts. He added this, just to cast that shadow of doubt: “Something crazy can happen.”

Kentucky head coach John Calipari used pretty much that same last phrase recently when talking about Towns and whether he would be the top pick, saying it would take something crazy for it to not be Towns. Combine that nugget with Saunders’ declaration Wednesday that, “I think we have an idea” of who the Wolves are going to take and that, “We are pretty comfortable right now,” and the evidence for Towns, regardless of official confirmation, is pretty strong.

Sprinkle in the praise Saunders gave to Towns on Wednesday, saying he rates as the draft’s top player in terms of analytics plus has an underrated offensive game to go with strong pick-and-roll defense, and you have another clue that there really won’t be much mystery Thursday night. Add in Flip’s comments that the Wolves plan to address their ballhandling and shooting later in the draft and/or in free agency, and you get another clue yet.

When asked if he’s worried about making a mistake at the top of the draft or feeling pressure because he has the top pick, Saunders quickly dismissed both notions. Teams that get in trouble in the draft are ones who pick for need and not simply to add top talent, he said. “We’re taking the best player. We’re not drafting for need,” he said, adding later that, “This has been the least-stressful draft” because he doesn’t have to worry about not getting the player he wants since nobody picks in front of Minnesota. (For the record, Saunders did say that a week before last year’s draft he wrote Zach LaVine’s name on a piece of paper as the player he wanted).

Saunders did take some time to marvel and maybe even pat himself on the back a little, recalling the position the franchise was in a year ago with the Kevin Love situation looming and the Wolves charting a typically aimless course. Things are certainly better now; Saunders said things even have a chance to be “special” if everything works out the way he and the Wolves hope.

A big piece will be revealed Thursday night. There might not be much mystery, but there will still be plenty of intrigue.

Ranking the best leadoff hitters in Twins history

Byron Buxton made his debut in the leadoff spot for the Twins on Monday, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored and very much looking the part of a No. 1 hitter.

It led to this thought: Who are the best leadoff hitters in Twins history? Here is a list of my top 5, spanning 1961 to the present, with a minimum of 700 plate appearances for Minnesota as a leadoff hitter (with major credit to Baseball Reference, which sorts out all this information).

1 Chuck Knoblauch: Easily the greatest leadoff hitter in Twins history and arguably one of the greatest leadoff hitters of the past 30 years, at least during his time in Minnesota. He was patient enough to draw walks, he had pop and he stole bases.

Consider that Knoblauch had a .399 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter for the Twins from 1991-97 in more than 3,000 plate appearances in that role. Now consider Ricky Henderson, widely regarded as the best leadoff hitter of all-time, had a career OBP of .401.

2 Cesar Tovar: Had 3,378 career plate appearances as a Twins leadoff hitter, the most in Minnesota history. He only walked 219 times as a leadoff hitter, but he only struck out 218 times – a minuscule amount. He could steal bases (45 in 1969) and he could drive the ball (59 extra-base hits in 1970, including 13 triples). He was a legitimately above-average leadoff hitter for a long time.

3 Shannon Stewart: Had an excellent .358 on-base percentage in nearly 1,500 plate appearances as a Twins leadoff hitter from 2003-06, including a robust .384 mark in 2003 when he nearly single-handedly transformed Minnesota’s season after being acquired mid-year.

4 Denard Span: The last prototypical leadoff hitter the Twins had before putting Buxton in that role Monday, Span had a .354 career on-base percentage as a No. 1 hitter for Minnesota in 2,569 plate appearances in that role. His 2009 season remains singularly impressive and perhaps underrated: .311 batting average, .392 on-base percentage and 23 stolen bases – with 143 of his starts coming as a leadoff hitter that season.

5 Lyman Bostock: A very promising start for Bostock was cut short first by his free agency departure in 1978 to the Angels and then tragically when he was murdered in September that year. He might have been a 1970s version of Kirby Puckett had things gone differently, but in his limited role as a leadoff man for the Twins (715 career plate appearances), his .363 OBP along with solid power really stand out.

Honorable mention: Brian Dozier and Jacque Jones (both scored runs in bunches thanks in part to power, but neither was a prototypical leadoff man); Shane Mack (underrated as a hitter and especially as a leadoff hitter); Kirby Puckett (A good leadoff man when put in that role, though he rarely walked); Dan Gladden (Dynamite in the 1987 postseason); Lenny Green (.350 OBP as primary leadoff hitter for Twins during their first three seasons in Minnesota).