Joakim Noah for $18 million a year? Forget it, Wolves fans, the Knicks can have him

noahThe true madness of this year’s NBA free agent class — the first group to cash in on the bloated TV contract that will goose the salary cap from $70 million to $94 million from last year to this year — won’t come from superstars like Kevin Durant or LeBron James.

Insomuch as anyone deserves to make tens of millions of dollars a year to play a game, the very best of the best do.

The real ridiculousness will be in the overpaid middle class. When this rising tide lifts all boats, they will be there starting Friday — ready to upgrade to yachts.

Among the most notable players in this mix: Joakim Noah. Wolves fans for a while thought Noah — the 31-year-old former Bulls big man coming off an injury-marred season in which he averaged just 4.3 points — might be a good fit to rejoin former coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

But if a report from the Washington Post is accurate, you can forget that — and gladly. The Post reports Noah is “almost certainly” going to sign with the Knicks once free agency officially begins Friday, at a price tag of $18 million per season.

This is not a misprint: $18 million per season.

If that’s the going rate for a guy like Noah this year, the Wolves are best off waiting this thing out. As this piece suggests, Minnesota is still likely to trade Ricky Rubio — and after the free agent rush leaves some teams broke and others desperate, dealing him will likely be the smartest and most cost-effective way to upgrade the roster.

But good for the Knicks. They’re gearing up for a pretty nice run at the 2011 NBA title.

Five Twins players who could be traded in the next month

plouffeOn the latest edition of the Twins Insider podcast, beat writer Phil Miller and I took a look ahead to the MLB trading deadline. It might seem far off, but today is the final day of June — and the non-waiver deadline is the final day of July. That means the next month could get plenty busy for the Twins — especially considering GM Terry Ryan said recently that he anticipates the team being active in the trade market because the Twins are, in his words, “struggling here big-time.”

Here are five players who could be dealt in the next month for a variety of reasons:

*Trevor Plouffe: This is the obvious one. If the Twins are committed to ending the Miguel Sano outfield experiment and returning him to third base — pop flies off his head notwithstanding — then trading Plouffe would free up the position.

The downside of trading Plouffe now — as opposed to this past offseason, when some thought he should have been dealt to make room for Sano immediately at third base — is that he’s in the midst of a down year. He’s missed some time because of injuries and his OPS (.659) is nearly 100 points lower than it was the previous two seasons.

Still, Plouffe would be an upgrade at third base for plenty of teams. He has extra-base power to all fields, he’s turned himself into a solid fielder (though those metrics have dipped this year) and he’s under a reasonable contract ($7.25 million this year, arbitration-eligible in 2017). I don’t imagine he would fetch a massive haul in return, but even a modest deal could be a win-win with the right team.

*Brian Dozier: With essentially one scorching hot month, the conversation around Dozier has changed from “should the Twins bench him?” to “Dozier his having the best year of his career.”  His current batting average (.261), slugging percentage (.467) and OPS (.811) would all be career-highs.

His resurgence has led to an interesting quandary for the Twins: should they keep Dozier, who is under a team-friendly contract in 2017 and 2018 for $15 million total ($6 million then $9 million) and re-commit to the idea that he’s a player to build around when times get better … or should they “sell high” while Dozier is hot, potentially maximizing the return and opening up a position for the quite possibly Major League-ready Jorge Polanco at second base?

An All-Star last season, Dozier’s combination of power, speed, solid glove and reasonable contract should be enticing to trade partners. Of all the players on the roster, he is the one who I believe would bring the biggest return. In the right deal, this could make sense.

*Kurt Suzuki: Here’s another player who has played himself into trade consideration with a hot stretch. After looking washed up in April and May, Suzuki has been fantastic in June — posting a .377 batting average and a 1.011 OPS.

Of the 28 MLB catchers with at least 150 plate appearances this year, Suzuki is 6th in batting average (.280) and and 9th in OPS (.743). In other words, he could be an offensive upgrade for a lot of teams.

In the mean time, John Ryan Murphy — who struggled badly with the Twins to start the year after being acquired for Aaron Hicks — has rebounded at Rochester to hit nearly .300 in June with some pop. He could be ready soon for another try in the majors, making Suzuki expendable in a lost season.

*Eduardo Nunez: He’s by far the biggest bright spot on this year’s Twins and someone who has a great chance to go from bench player to All-Star thanks to a great three months.

Nunez is hitting for power (11 homers, .487 slugging percentage) and average (.316) while also flashing speed with 18 steals. He’s signed for a very modest $1.475 million in 2016, so any team acquiring him wouldn’t be taking on much salary. He can play three infield positions and can even jump into the outfield in a pinch.

The Twins would seem to be in another great “sell-high” position with Nunez, who is in the midst of a career year and could genuinely help a contender.

*Ervin Santana: He’s been inconsistent this season, with the numbers adding up to an ugly 2-7 record and 4.64 ERA. Still, Santana has a track record and still has enough stuff to make you think you’ll have a decent chance to win whenever he’s on the mound. You can’t say that about a lot of Twins pitchers this year.

His contract ($13.5 million in both 2017 and 2018) would appear to be a stumbling block, but if there is a contender that can add payroll and is desperate for pitching — perhaps any number of teams in the AL East? — he could be a good fit.

According to oddsmakers, the Wolves will sign zero big-time free agents

noahE-mails pitching online betting odds appear in my inbox nearly daily. Roughly 95 percent are deleted, sight unseen. Two percent are glanced at quickly, then deleted. Another two percent get read, pondered and then deleted.

And roughly one percent catch my eye in a way that makes them somewhat relevant or useful.

Congratulations, NBA free agency oddsmaker e-mail sender of Wednesday, June 29, 2016: you are the one percent.

The subject today was the odds that certain players would sign with certain teams in NBA free agency. For instance: the odds are 5/2 that Kevin Durant will re-sign with the Thunder, but Golden State isn’t far off at 4/1. Other teams are in the mix, too.

This e-mail was (marginally) relevant to me on this specific day because a colleague earlier Wednesday had pitched to me the idea of creating my own list of odds that certain players would sign with the Timberwolves. I considered the idea, but I also considered that I really don’t have a clue — nor am I sure that the Wolves are really going to be major players (or should be major players) in this year’s big money free agency frenzy.

Sure, if they could pry away a guy like Allen Crabbe from Portland (a restricted guy, so good luck) that would be keen. But really this year is about maybe adding some “glue guys” to go with a young core and seeing what Tom Thibodeau can do with it all.

And, well, the e-mail from the oddsmakers seemed to validate this thought. There were 17 players listed — ostensibly the biggest names in free agency this year. Most of them had anywhere from 4-6 teams listed with official odds to sign them, as well as FIELD if you wanted to bet on the collection of teams beyond those listed.

But nowhere among the 17 players were the Wolves listed — not even with Joakim Noah, given even money odds by the site to sign with the Knicks (with the Wizards, Nets and Bulls as other betting options).

That doesn’t mean none of the 17 will wind up with the Wolves. But at least according to the oddsmakers you shouldn’t bet on it. In fact, unless you’re willing to play the long shot of FIELD, you flat-out can’t bet on it.

Great debates: Who’s in better shape for the future — Wild or Wolves?

townsThis year’s Great Baseball Road Trip, which concluded Sunday, featured a long drive from Minneapolis to Denver (thankfully, it was just a one-way drive, with a flight home). Those 13 or so hours in the car, split over two days, gave the five guys in the vehicle plenty of time to embrace some sports debates.

Among the ones that grew the most heated was a discussion of Minnesota teams that are in the best shape for the future. After acknowledging the Lynx dynasty (best chance to win immediately) and that the Vikings have the best mix of present and future potential, eventually the gloves came off.

The biggest dust-up came over a discussion of the Timberwolves and Wild — a discussion that very much embodies the spirit of what it means to be a modern sports fan.

On the one hand, there is the Wild: a team that has made the playoffs four consecutive years — including advancing to the second round twice — and still has quite a few core players to go with a new coaching staff.

On the other hand, there are the Wolves: a team that won 13 more games last year than it did the year before, added another top-five draft pick along with a new coach, and seems to be loaded with potential as talented young core players mature.

So basically what we ended up having is an argument over what constitutes success — and also how we define “the future.”

Shockingly, I took the side of the Wolves — strongly, initially, though you’ll see some compromise in a little bit. I’ll admit to having a wicked blind spot when it comes to the local NBA team, and I’ll also admit that I find it easier to get excited about a bad team with the potential for greatness than a good team with the potential to remain good — which is how I would define the Wolves and Wild, respectively.

Longtime friend Rocket — we’re talking almost 30 years now, so we’ve had our share of great debates — was the strongest on the side of the Wild (shocking, again, since he’s a hockey guy and has been on this side of the argument for years).

So, success: I very much dislike some of the modern sports fan thinking that turns every non-championship season into a narrative of a trash year. So I don’t think what the Wild has done over the last four years should be taken lightly. That said, the concern from the outset on my end was that this was a team built to be good not great — and that it would hit a certain ceiling, a la the 1997-2004 Timberwolves and 2002-2010 Twins when it came to the playoffs. That sentiment has largely played out.

But when measured against the Timberwolves of the past four years, the Wild has accomplished so very much more. That said, the Wolves *seem* to be building a team that has a higher ceiling. Where that will take them is anyone’s guess, and it is is fair to snicker at the constant notion of potential before there is even, you know, a single winning season on the books.

The nature of both the NHL and NBA also factors into and complicates the argument. Basically: in the NHL, underdogs historically have had a much better chance of getting hot and making a playoff run — so being good, as the Wild has been, is sometimes good enough. In the NBA, it almost always takes an elite team to win a title. So in that regard, perhaps the way both franchises are currently constructed is proper, though not perfect.

Where I left it eventually — and where there was some middle ground in the vehicle, though not an enthusiastic consensus — was here: if we’re talking about “best shape for the future” as defined by the ability to make the playoffs and have a chance to do damage once there, the Wild and Wolves break down like this:

*Next season, I’d pick the Wild.

*In two season, it would be a coin flip.

*In three seasons, I would pick the Wolves.

It makes sense when you consider that  Zach Parise, arguably the Wild’s best player, is 31 — and Karl-Anthony Towns, arguably the Wolves’ best player, is 20.

All of those, of course, are points in the future — which we are staring at from the present. The further we cast our gaze into the future, the harder it is to predict. That’s an edge to the Wild. The more we live in the past, the more we’re destined to be blind to what’s ahead. That’s an edge to the Wolves.

Like all great debates that have no clear immediate answer, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Ex-Vikings WR Troy Williamson reflects on time in Minnesota, wanting to fight Brad Childress

troywilliamsonI had a chance to chat Tuesday with Troy Williamson, the 2005 first-round draft choice of the Vikings. He was chosen No. 7 overall with the pick the Vikings got from Oakland in the trade for Randy Moss — forever linking the two wide receivers. While Moss was a legend here, Williamson … well, he was not. He struggled with dropped passes and his confidence sagged. He wound up catching just 79 passes in three seasons with the Vikings before being traded to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. By 2010, he was out of the NFL.

These days, Williamson lives in Georgia with his wife and four kids. He has several business ventures and is a motivational speaker. There will be a more complete Q&A with Williamson in Sunday’s print edition (and online), but a few of his thoughts seemed good enough — and refreshingly honest — to share ahead of time.

*I asked Williamson about his dropped passes when he was with the Vikings and whether stories of him having bad depth perception — for which he had specific eye exercises prescribed to him — played a role.

“That didn’t have anything to do with it,” Williamson said of his depth perception. “I had every physical attribute to be an elite or even a good receiver in the NFL. I always go back to my mental game, as far as reading too much into things people were saying in the papers. When I was in college or high school I never read the papers, I never looked at what anyone said. That took a big mental toll on me. I’d say that was the biggest thing. Any player I talk to now that’s going into the NFL, I tell them football of course is physical but it’s more mental than anything. When I look now at prospects who don’t pan out, I go back to my own situation as far as having all the tools but not having it there mentally when it came down to it.”

*Williamson’s rookie season, 2005, was the year of the Vikings’ Love Boat scandal. Here’s what he remembers from that time:

“It was mind-boggling because that was really the first time I saw how the NFL life is and some of the stuff that goes on,” he said. “It was kind of blew my mind, some of the stuff that could actually happen in the position that we were in. It actually kind of put me on a path to stay away from some stuff like that because it will get you put in the spotlight that you don’t want to be in.”

*In Williamson’s final season in Minnesota, head coach Brad Childress took away a game check because Williamson went to South Carolina after his grandmother died. It created enough acrimony that when Williamson was with the Jaguars a year later he said he wanted to fight Childress.

“For me, it was about not understanding the importance of family and some of the things I had going on back home,” Williamson said. “And I never really got a true apology for that. He went back and gave me the game check back — which I donated to charity to show it wasn’t even about the money — but that was because the veterans like Antoine Winfield and Bryant McKinnie went back at it. They know the importance of family and other things bigger than football. So that was the time that I lost all respect (for Childress). After that it was tough playing for him, and I was kind of glad I got to leave Minnesota and get out from under him.”

Lifelong Vikings fan named public address announcer at U.S. Bank Stadium

alanroachAlan Roach, a Minnesota native and lifelong Vikings fan who has been the public address voice of eight Super Bowls and numerous other high-profile events, was announced Monday as the P.A. announcer at the new U.S. Bank Stadium.

In an interview with Vikings.com, Roach said, “I’m just thrilled to do this. It’s the coolest thing I’m about to ever do.”

Lest we downplay the significance of the in-stadium voice for a team, let’s remember the likes of Bob Casey (famous with the Twins for more than four decades) or Jules Perlt and Dick Jonckowski (longtime PA announcers for Gophers basketball). The right voice can set a certain mood and tone.

Roach has a classic deep and smooth voice, which — when combined with a love for the Vikings he says extends back into early childhood — should play well at the new stadium.

Roach was the longtime public address announcer of the Broncos, and on his personal web site he thanked Denver fans while also saying the Vikings job was the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

You can read more about Roach here, as well as listen to a video compilation of his previous work.

Wolves free agency roundup (and why a splashy trade might make sense)

noahNBA free agency begins Friday, when the clock starts ticking on the negotiating window with players. They can then be signed starting on July 7. The Wolves don’t figure to be extravagant players in the market for a couple reasons:

1) Historically they’ve had a hard time luring top-tier free agents (like Kevin Durant) to Minnesota. Even if that could change at some point given the growth potential of the team, it doesn’t appear to be the case with Durant — who reportedly is set to meet with six teams, none of them being the Wolves.

2) They’re a team built from the bottom up, using high draft picks. Guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are on relatively modest contracts now, but someday they will get paid big (more on that in a minute). If the Wolves spend foolishly now, they could pay for it later with a clogged up cap.

That said, this free agency period is fascinating league-wide — with the Wolves included. Here are a few items of note as we head toward Friday:

*Joakim Noah, the former Bulls big man, is considered a great fit to sign with his former coach Tom Thibodeau, in Minnesota. But the Derrick Rose trade to New York might be throwing a wrench into those plans. Rose is already recruiting Noah to play with the Knicks and the New York Post reported that there might be some mutual interest on Noah’s part. Washington could also throw a ton of money at Noah. (Again, more on that in a minute).

*Other free agent names of note: Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, DeMar DeRozan, Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parsons, Bismack Biyombo and Arron Afflalo.

*That free agent list isn’t all that exciting, right? Either a player would appear to be out of the Wolves’ reach or could be exceedingly overpaid this year. Why? Because this year’s crop of free agents will be the first to cash in on the expected crazy jump in the NBA salary cap, thanks to 2016-17 being the first season of the league’s ridiculously lucrative new 9-year, $24 billion TV contract. The salary cap is projected to go from $70 million to $94 million, and the max contracts will jump accordingly.

*That salary cap jump is going to make a player like Ricky Rubio (under contract for the next three seasons at roughly $14 million per year) seem like a better value. Combined with the fact that the Wolves just drafted point guard Kris Dunn — and despite any assertions that Dunn and Rubio can play together — that could help Minnesota find a trade partner if they are, indeed, shopping Rubio (and when it comes from Woj, you don’t doubt it).

*That cap jump is also part of the reason a trade for Jimmy Butler still makes sense if the Wolves decide they want to keep Rubio and if those trade talks can be rekindled after cooling down post-draft. Butler signed his max deal last offseason at five years for roughly $90 million ($18 million per year). His max contract this offseason reportedly would be roughly $22.2 million per year with that cap jump. So basically any player who is locked up long term right now and is productive is going to look like a relative bargain for a while (I use the term relative because all the money is obscene).

The flip side of that is if the pieces required to get Butler are, say, Dunn and Zach LaVine the Wolves would be trading away two players still on rookie scale deals for a big contract. But if the Wolves aren’t going to be major free agency players and the cap is going way up, their best chance at getting an already-established star to complement their young core at a “reasonable” price is through a trade like that one.

*It’s way too soon to wonder how the Wolves are going to afford to pay all of their young players eventually given how expensive contracts are going to be throughout the life of the deal. The salary increases will be in step with increased revenues and increased cap room. But in the short-term, the jump from $70 million to $94 million is going to create a very interesting free agent market — and perhaps trade market — in the league.

Bulls trade Derrick Rose; how might that impact Wolves, Jimmy Butler?

rosethibsNow that we’ve had 12 minutes to digest the news that Derrick Rose — the former league MVP — has been traded by the Bulls to the Knicks for what amounts to a few decent but spare parts, let’s move on to the big question that’s on the minds of Timberwolves fans who are just coming to the news themselves: what, if anything, does this trade mean for any possible deal involving Bulls guard Jimmy Butler.

For quick review: a report suggests the Wolves could be in the mix to trade for Butler, a very good two-way player — but it’s unclear what beyond the No. 5 pick would be required to complete the deal.

Now, the discussion of how (if at all) the Rose news might give us insight into the Bulls’ plans as they pertain to Butler. Really, it could be viewed in either of these disparate ways:

1) The Bulls’ trade of Rose is a signal that they are in a full-on rebuilding mode, increasing the likelihood that if they could get the right deal for Butler — who will turn 27 before the season starts and signed a rich five-year contract last offseason — they would do it. This is certainly plausible, since we have seen teams enter into “fire sales,” quickly following one trade with more.

2) The Bulls’ trade of Rose is a signal that Butler is the player they intend to build around for the future and therefore this lessens the likelihood of a Butler trade. Rose and Butler were said to have a less-than-idea relationship. Rose had just one year left on his contract, and there were hardly any guarantees he will still be with the Bulls after next season. Maybe Butler won the power struggle?

And there is always the possibility that 3) The Bulls won’t trade with their old coach, Tom Thibodeau, regardless of whether they want to deal Butler. And let’s not forget 4) This Rose trade doesn’t matter at all one way or the other.

NBA rumor season: it’s fantastic!

The 10 most overpaid NFL veterans? Two Vikings make one list

petersonkalilWe’re in the midst of what is really the only quiet six-week period the NFL offers anymore. Things ramp up with the opening of training camp in late July, on-field news continues through the Super Bowl in early February, then free agency/draft speculation carries the next few months, followed by various OTAs and minicamp through the middle of June.

But mid-June to late July … that’s when everyone tries to catch their breath. And with a paucity of fresh news out there to feed the content machine, NFL writers at this time of year — if they’re not taking a much-deserved break — start churning out lists and think pieces. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this; in fact, some of the best writing comes from being able to step back and take a larger view of things.

That’s my two-paragraph windup to a recent item on ESPN.com on the 10 most overpaid NFL veterans this year. It’s labeled an Insider piece and it’s written by Nathan Jahnke — Pro Football Focus’ director of analytics — so this isn’t just someone coming up with 10 names off the top of his head. In this case, Jahnke determines the difference between a player’s projected value in dollars in 2016 and his cap hit in 2016 to determine who is overpaid.

That’s certainly a fair way to do it — at least in a vacuum. And the most interesting thing to note from this year’s list, at least as it pertains to this audience: Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil checks in at No. 5 on the list (with a cap hit of $11.1 million but just $800K in projected worth for a minus-$10.3 million net) while running back Adrian Peterson is No. 10 (minus-$9 million net).

Eli Manning is deemed the most overpriced veteran, while Packers linebacker Clay Matthews also notably makes the list.

A case can be built that the Vikings on the list are accurate. (It should be noted that Peterson also made last year’s list at No. 7, then went on to lead the league in rushing). Kalil is the beneficiary of being a high draft pick and having his fifth-year option picked up, largely because the Vikings had limited other options. Peterson is still a gifted athlete even at age 31, but he has shown limited versatility in a league that is increasingly pass-focused.

Within the context of the Vikings, though, both players are useful — and neither contract is really hurting the team because 1) neither of them are on the books for any guaranteed cap space beyond this season and 2) the Vikings have enough young players and otherwise modest contracts on their 2016 rosters to be able to comfortably absorb Peterson and Kalil under the cap this year. (One such player, versatile offensive lineman Joe Berger, made Jahnke’s list of the 10 most underpaid veterans).

So while in the greater comparison to all 32 NFL teams, taking into account projected value, we can deem Kalil and Peterson “overpaid,” their relative value to the Vikings is different. And neither player’s contract is keeping the Vikings from competing in 2016 and beyond.

Here’s how to follow the most interesting regular-season game in WNBA history

The Lynx and Sparks are playing in Los Angeles today in an unprecedented battle of unbeaten WNBA teams. I’d say the fact that both teams are a combined 23-0 in a conference in which no other team is above .500 qualifies this as the most interesting regular-season game in WNBA history.

I’d also say it’s a shame that it’s happening on a Tuesday afternoon. Ideally, it would be in prime time, or at least on a weekend. But schedules are made in advance, and we take what we can get. If you are able to be near a computer or TV, here is how you can follow the game today — a 2:30 tip-off, Central time:

*If you have NBA TV, the game is being shown on that channel. As of last year, the channel was in roughly half of U.S. homes that had cable or satellite. It is not, however, being shown locally on FSN. “It wasn’t part of the original broadcast schedule and we are not in a position to absorb the additional cost of producing the game,” Mike Dimond, Senior VP and GM of FOX Sports North, told the Star Tribune on Tuesday morning.

*You can buy a streaming package. A single game is just $1.99.

*The Star Tribune will have a live blog.