Kris Dunn makes a whole bunch of friends in Minnesota with one tweet

Timberwolves guard Kris Dunn doesn’t tweet very often. In fact, he’s only tweeted 67 times from his @KrisDunn3 verified account, which has been in operation since April of 2016.

But you don’t have to use Twitter often to use it well.

With one short, simple tweet during a glorious sunny afternoon Wednesday, Dunn made a bunch of friends in Minnesota.

If you’ve lived here long enough, you know that Minnesotans love it when outsiders love it here. Dunn, a Connecticut native who played his college ball at Providence — neither of which would be confused for warm-weather places — seems to have an affinity for Minnesota. He had more than 500 retweets and 1,500 likes on his tweet just two hours after posting it. A few of the replies:

Can you correctly spell the names of these 10 Minnesota sports figures?

dougIn an era of autocorrect and also instant critiques, nobody is a spelling expert but everyone is a spelling judge.

And spelling is at a premium Wednesday as youngsters do battle in the National Spelling Bee.

With that in mind, let’s have a little spelling bee of our own. There are plenty of Minnesota sports figures over the years who have had names that are hard to spell. Let’s run through 10 of them here and see how many you can get right.

I’ll even use them all in a sentence. Answers on the link at the bottom of the page.

1. Jim P. — This former Lynx assistant coach and current Timberwolves TV analyst on Fox Sports North played for the Gophers and enjoyed a long NBA career. He’s famous enough that I should know how to spell his name, but for some reason I don’t always get it right on the first try.

2. Jim K. — A former Vikings tight end who played at the University of North Dakota. His last name kind of rhymes with flying saucer, but good luck spelling it.

3. Doug M. — The former Twins first baseman and current manager of their Class A team in Fort Myers, he routinely made as many great defensive plays in a week as there are letters in his last name.

4. Nino N. — This Wild forward was obtained from the Islanders for Cal Clutterbuck, one of GM Chuck Fletcher’s best moves. He had a career-high 25 goals last season. But as hard as his shot is, spelling Nino’s last name is even harder.

5. T.N. — You have to get both the first and last name correct for this former Twins shortstop from Japan who came to symbolize (and contributed to) the organization’s descent into bad baseball starting in 2011.

6. C.C. — This former Vikings wide receiver and 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee had great hands. If you spell his name wrong, you have nobody to blame but yourself — not a fall guy.

7. Sara G. — Around the office, this Gophers softball ace is known simply by her first name and last initial because of how difficult her name is to spell. It’s almost as hard as it is to hit her pitches.

8. Ace N. — Speaking of aces, this Minnesota Kicks legend hailed from South Africa and was considered one of the greatest soccer players that country ever produced. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 2006.

9. A.J. P. — This former Twins catcher hit a memorable home run in the 2002 American League Division Series and was later traded to San Francisco in a deal that netted the Twins Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. Minnesota fans then spent the next decade-plus booing him for some strange reason.

10. N.B. — We’ll end with another one where you need to get both parts of the name right. That’s how tricky it is to spell the name of this current Timberwolves forward who was emerging last season before a season-ending injury cut his season short.

OK, ready? Click here for the answer key to see how you did.

Which Viking is one of the most underrated NFL players ever?

purplepeopleWe’ve reached that point in the year when you’re going to start seeing a lot of lists on sports web sites — yes, even more than usual. It’s not exactly a dead period (it never is), but things are slowing down. June will have finals and drafts. July? Close to crickets.

So get used to a lot of “evergreen” content, the types of things that could run any time but are best saved for when not much actual news is being made.

With that as a backdrop, some lists are better than others. And a recent list on Bleacher Report of the 25 most underrated players in NFL history seemed particularly well-considered and researched.

It acknowledged that the list is completely subjective but set some strong ground rules: to make the list, a player can’t be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or be a recent finalist; he can’t have been an offensive skill position player who won a Super Bowl; and anyone who played on a Super Bowl dynasty from the 1960s through 2000s was eliminated as well.

Given that backdrop, maybe it isn’t too surprising that one Vikings player ranked particularly high on the list.

The man: Jim Marshall, who checked in at No. 2 (and rightfully so). Marshall was an iron man who started 289 consecutive games (including playoffs) for one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. His fellow defensive linemen Carl Eller and Alan Page are both in the Hall of Fame, as are safety Paul Krause, offensive lineman Mick Tinglehoff, quarterback Fran Tarkenton and head coach Bud Grant from those great Vikings teams.

Marshall? He was a beast, but he might be best-known for that ill-fated wrong-way touchdown.

No other Vikings made the list of 25, though there are certainly some other worthy candidates.

Of the 100 most famous pro athletes in the world, none play in Minnesota

ronaldoAfter spending some time with ESPN’s project on the 100 most famous professional athletes in the world Tuesday, plenty of interesting themes emerged.

First, of course, you have to attempt to define fame. ESPN did that by looking at athlete salaries and querying journalists to come up with a pool of athletes, then generating a formula based on “athletes’ endorsements, their following on the social media Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and Google search popularity.” Only current pro athletes were considered — no retired athletes or amateur athletes.

(Full disclosure: the methodology of the project was devised by Ben Alamar, a friend of mine. I didn’t even realize it was his project until a few minutes ago).

So who made the cut? Well …

*Nobody from Minnesota. That’s right, out of the most 100 famous professional athletes in the world right now, none play for Minnesota’s pro sports teams. That might seem a little surprising considering the possibilities (Karl-Anthony Towns? Maya Moore?), but Minnesota is shut out.

*If you dig deeper into the list, though, it’s not really too surprising that nobody local is on there. After all, only 21 of the 100 athletes — barley one fifth — play for pro sports teams in the United States. The rest are either individual stars, overseas stars or both. The same ratio holds true for the top 10, where only LeBron James (No. 2) and Kevin Durant (No. 9) make the cut from U.S. team sports.

It’s a good reminder of the global nature of sports fame. Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 1), Lionel Messi (No. 3) and Roger Federer (No. 4) can attest to that.

That said, 35 of the 100 athletes are Americans — by far the single largest representation from one country.

*Guess how many players from MLB, NHL or WNBA are in the top 100. Lower. Lower. Lower. It’s zero. Nobody. No Sidney Crosby, no Mike Trout, no Bryce Harper, no Moore (as already noted). Of the 21 U.S. team sport athletes, 13 are NBA players and eight are in the NFL (though none of the top 20 are in the NFL).

*The first woman to crack the list? MMA figher Ronda Rousey at No. 16, followed quickly by tennis player Serena Williams at No. 19. Overall, though, only eight of the top 100 are females.

You can quibble with the definition of fame being tied to endorsements, Google searches and social media presence, but that seems like a pretty fair way to cross sports and continents. Based on Towns’ increasing social media and endorsement presence, I’d guess he has the best chance of any current local athlete to make the list someday.

So really, what is the Timberwolves’ plan at point guard?

thibsTwo reports, both coming from the same New York writer, are enough to at least revisit the Timberwolves’ point guard situation heading into the summer.

The first, from ESPN’s Ian Begley (who covers the Knicks), says former Bulls guard Derrick Rose could be a free agent target of the Timberwolves.

The second, also from Begley, indicates that there are some members of the Knicks organization who still might be interested in trying to engineer a trade for Ricky Rubio.

These items have been repackaged plenty of other places, but Begley’s reporting seems to be the only fresh indication of either of those things being a possibility (as has happened in the past with Timberwolves rumors). Since he covers the Knicks, we could logically assume both reports were generated from New York sources, not Minnesota sources. We don’t know that for sure, and that’s not to say the reports aren’t credible, but it can help shape how we think about them.

It’s also helpful to remember that Rubio and Rose were linked in trade rumors at the NBA deadline in the middle of last season. And in case you missed it, the esteemed Jonny K. reported a couple weeks ago that Rubio has changed agents and is now represented by Jeff Schwartz (the agent who represented Kevin Love when he was traded a few years back).

As it stands, here are what appear to be the Wolves’ point guard options going into 2017-18:

1) Do nothing. Keep Rubio, whose post-deadline stretch of play included improved shooting and offensive aggressiveness. See if another year in Tom Thibodeau’s system, combined with the maturation of players around him, proves to be a winning combination. Keep second-year point guard Kris Dunn coming off the bench and sometimes playing in tandem with Rubio or Tyus Jones.

This seems to be the safest thing and probably the smartest thing. But teams don’t always do the safest or smartest thing.

2) Aggressively pursue a Rubio trade this offseason. Thibodeau has seemed to be heading toward this conclusion since he took over as coach and basketball boss. Dunn is his hand-picked point guard in waiting. Rubio himself has grown weary of trade rumors and losing in Minnesota. He could very well be interested in moving on as well (even if it’s not smart to read too much into his switch to Schwartz as his agent).

From there, the Wolves could either give the keys to Dunn as the starter and Jones as a backup or — and here’s where the Rose rumors make at least a tiny bit of sense — sign a bridge point guard as a starter. Maybe Rose, 28, could be interested in a short-term deal to show he’s healthy and productive before trying for one more huge contract in a year or two.

This would be a bigger gamble, of course. Even when Rubio wasn’t shooting well or often last season, the Wolves’ offense was far more efficient with him on the floor than when Dunn played. Rose’s best days were with Thibodeau in Chicago, but that was many years and injuries ago.

There is still time to sort all of this out. But with or without those two Begley reports, I wouldn’t consider the Wolves’ point guard situation for next season to be settled at this point.

The Twins need bullpen help, but is there any relief in sight?

chargoisThe Twins have a bullpen problem.

Some of it is temporary, owing to Sunday’s 15-inning marathon that left even the more trustworthy relievers depleted. Enough of those pitchers will get enough rest at some point to be effective again. It won’t be easy considering the Twins only have two off days between now and the All-Star break and also have two doubleheaders in that span. But a 15-inning game is a unique circumstance.

Much of the bullpen problem, though, boils down to a lack of depth — and really, if we’re being honest, a that means a lack of quality arms.

Closer Brandon Kintzler had been very good before Sunday’s blown save. Tyler Duffey has excelled. Taylor Rogers has been pretty good. Craig Breslow had been, too, until Monday. None of those guys has a long enough track record to make you think their relative success is guaranteed to continue. And after them, the bullpen has been a mess. Losing Trevor May for the season didn’t help. The struggles of free agent pickup Matt Belisle and workhorse Ryan Pressly haven’t helped.

It adds up to a bullpen ERA of 4.90 — a number inflated by Monday’s brutal 11-run eighth and three-run ninth — but runs are runs. The Twins are now 27th in MLB in bullpen ERA.

To combat the problem so far, the Twins have largely served up uninspired choices: claiming Adam Wilk from the Mets and bringing up the likes of Drew Rucinski, Buddy Boshers and Jason Wheeler. If you’re a Twins fan who has been hearing for more than a year about the bullpen cavalry of hard throwers from the minor leagues coming to save the day soon, you might be wondering where the heck these guys are.

And that might be the most troubling part of all.

J.T. Chargois (pictured), who showed promise late last year with the Twins, had a rough spring and pitched in only two games for Class AAA Rochester before going on the disabled list with elbow problems. He hasn’t pitched in more than a month.

Nick Burdi, a hard thrower who was dominating at Class AA Chattanooga and might have been an option to help, learned this week that he has a torn UCL and will need Tommy John surgery.

Mason Melotakis is a hard-throwing lefty who is doing well at Chattanooga,  but he’ll be 26 next month and isn’t quite the prospect he once was. Other bullpen pitchers off to strong starts at either Rochester or Chattanooga like Alan Busenitz or Nik Turley are similarly older and don’t have track records suggesting their hot starts are necessarily sustainable. Rucinski, who has struggled with the Twins, had a 2.95 ERA and more than a strikeout per nine innings at Rochester. Making the jump is hard.

The Twins will probably have no choice but to give some of those guys a shot if the bullpen continues to be overworked and ineffective. But when it comes to surefire help … well, I’m not telling you there’s no relief in sight, but the options aren’t as great as you (or the Twins) might have hoped.

Here’s Stephen A. Smith making horrible NBA Finals predictions

smithThe NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and Warriors won’t begin until Thursday (the first day of June!) and could stretch as far as June 18 if it goes a full seven games. For anyone who accuses the NFL of being a 12-month season, just look at the NBA. The draft is a week after the finals end! Training camps open in late September!

I digress. This isn’t a rant about the league schedule. Rather, let’s just take a moment to talk about those finals. The only thing with a greater certainty going into the playoffs than the likelihood of these two teams meeting for a third year in a row was the probability that ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith will be wrong when picking the winner.

He had the Warriors winning last year (whoops!) and the Cavs two years ago (whoops again!).

But his history goes far deeper than just Cavs/Warriors. Please enjoy this amazing video compilation of Smith incorrectly predicting the winner of every NBA Finals since 2011.

Twins pitcher Trevor May is writing about his Tommy John rehab

mayRemember Trevor May?

You probably should since the Twins pitcher, who tore his UCL in spring training and underwent Tommy John surgery, figured to be a prominent member of a thin bullpen this season or a candidate to join the rotation. In the midst of Minnesota’s 25-18 start and generally serviceable work from the pitching staff, though, we haven’t heard May’s name come up much.

Going forward, though, you can expect to hear more of May — directly from him, in fact. May started writing about his recovery and how he’s coping with the injury for MLB Trade Rumors. His first entry was Thursday — describing how having to undergo Tommy John surgery is awful, but he’s trying to make the most of the situation.

Writes May: “I can’t live my dream on the field this year, but I can still live it off the field. … I’m a professional baseball player rehabbing his elbow, a partnered Twitch Streamer, a DJ, a Social Media connoisseur, an E-Sports Entrepreneur, a gaming tournament organizer and commentator, and obviously an exceptional writer. I am Trevor May, and this is my year after Tommy John surgery.”

Indeed, May has always had eclectic tastes and strikes me as someone who thinks deeply about life far beyond baseball. It should be interesting to follow him through the highs and lows of his journey to return from the torn elbow ligament — a process that typically takes at least a calendar year and would put him on pace to return in 2018.

1967-68 North Stars: an underrated heartbreak

north starsDuring Thursday’s NHL Eastern Conference finals Game 7, a graphic flashed once the Penguins and Senators prepared to head to double overtime: there had only been three times previously in NHL history when Game 7 of a conference final (or NHL semifinal, as they were back in the day) went two overtimes or more.

And one of those three times came during the 1967-68 season, when the North Stars lost to St. Louis.

Wait, what?

Either I need to brush up on my North Stars history or this is an underrated moment in the lore of Minnesota sports heartbreak.

Maybe both?

In any event, it sent me scurrying to Hockey Reference for further investigation.

The 1967-68 season was, as you probably know, the year the NHL doubled in size from its original six teams to 12. The North Stars were one of six expansion teams that season. Minnesota finished fourth in the geographically confusing “West Division,” a grouping that also included fellow expansion teams Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Eight teams made the postseason. The North Stars knocked off the Kings in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs (winning 9-4 in Game 7), putting them one series away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season. They faced St. Louis — also an expansion team that season — for the right to play what turned out to be Montreal from the East.

Minnesota took a 2-1 series lead but lost the next two games in overtime. The North Stars took Game 6, setting up the Game 7 showdown in St. Louis.

The game stayed tied 0-0 deep into the third period before Minnesota’s Walt McKechnie scored at the 16:49 mark for a 1-0 lead for the visitors. Minnesota was three minutes away from a berth in the Cup Finals. But St. Louis scored just 31 seconds after Minnesota did, forcing overtime. Ron Schock scored 2:50 into the second overtime for the Blues, ending Minnesota’s season. St. Louis went on to get swept by Montreal, losing all four games by one goal.

Maybe you already knew all this, but I’m not sure I knew any of it. Losing the final three games of a series in overtime, the last of which came in double overtime of Game 7, with a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line?

I don’t care if the NHL only had 12 teams back then, including a bunch of newbies. That’s a heartbreaker in my book.

Don’t overlook Molitor when dishing out kudos to Twins

molitorSo much has changed for the Twins in 2017 compared to 2016 that it might be hard to remember some of the talking points that dominated the discussion mere months ago.

We tend to have short-term memories when a team that was 25-54 on July 1 last season is 25-18 on May 25 this season.

Much has been made of the Twins’ defensive improvement, Miguel Sano’s offensive dominance, Ervin Santana’s pitching brilliance and Jose Berrios’ sudden emergence (among other story lines).

But let’s not overlook manager Paul Molitor in this equation.

Molitor, remember, is working as a rare “lame duck” — in the final year of a three-year contract. It’s not like college football or basketball, where coaches routinely get deep extensions to make recruits feel a sense of stability, but it is still unusual for a professional head coach or manager to be in Molitor’s situation.

When former Twins GM Terry Ryan was fired last July, owner Jim Pohlad made the equally unusual statement that whomever took over the seat could eventually replace Molitor if they wanted, “but for 2017, Paul will be our manager.” It was natural to wonder if that statement would handcuff the Twins’ search for new personnel bosses and/or create an awkward situation for Molitor.

Stories after Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired suggested that Molitor was eager to work with them and open to organizational changes they wanted to implement. Still, there was a sense of “will the new guys want to hire their own manager?” hanging over the Twins.

Instead, at least through nearly two months, Molitor has guided the Twins into first place in the AL Central with a style that seems to complement Falvey and Levine’s emphasis on both analytics and relationships.

He’s generally pushed the right buttons with a mix-and-match lineup while making gut decisions — like leaving Ervin Santana in to finish off a shutout in a 2-0 victory at Baltimore — that have worked out. I can’t remember the Twins scoring a run this season without seeing Molitor on the top step of the dugout doling out congratulations.

When things went off the rails in last year’s 59-103 season, it was fair to criticize Molitor. Now it’s equally fair to praise him. This is his third season — one good, one bad, and one in progress that looks pretty nice.

Maybe 2016 was the outlier, not 2015? If so, we should expect to see more of Molitor beyond 2017.