Is 2018 Laquon Treadwell’s time to shine for Vikings?

I know. I almost can’t believe I wrote that headline. But this is the final day of May, when anything is possible in the NFL. So here goes my best pitch for why Laquon Treadwell could be an important part of the Vikings’ offense in 2018:

*The third-year receiver actually made some incremental progress last season, catching 20 passes and getting into all 16 games. It was nearly impossible not to improve on an injury-filled rookie year in which he only caught one pass, but Treadwell did improve.

*At 6-2, 215, Treadwell has good size. When he was drafted in 2016, the talk was that he could be a red zone target. In two seasons, he has zero touchdown catches and hasn’t really been used in that manner. But that could change under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who values tall receivers and back of the end zone throws when operating in the red zone.

*The Vikings clearly haven’t given up on Treadwell, as he was working with the first team offense during OTAs this week. Again, this is just May — a time to get looks and parse options. But if that continues into minicamp and training camp, it could be an indication that the Vikings think they have a role for Treadwell.

*If Treadwell is going to shine for the Vikings, it’s basically now or never. He’s on the third year of his rookie deal, and he should be motivated. If it doesn’t happen this year, the “bust” label will start to grow.

*Kirk Cousins has a history of spreading the ball around. Eight different Washington players caught at least 20 passes last season, and in 2016 Washington had three wide receivers who caught at least 56 passes.

We talked about a lot of these things on this week’s Access Vikings podcast. You can listen and download here.

An MLB wild goose chase, Blyleven’s amazing feat (and more)

What’s in The Cooler today? Glad you asked. Here we go:

*Reader Anders checks in and demands — or more like politely asks via Twitter — that Wednesday night’s literal wild goose chase in the Tigers/Angels game “has to make” the cut for today’s Cooler. Anders, I wholeheartedly agree. In case you didn’t see it, a Canada goose got on the field during the game and interrupted play while several folks tried (unsuccessfully) to nab it. The goose then flew up toward the stands and crashed into a scoreboard.

The Tigers reported that the “rally goose” — they put together an offensive rally to win the game after the incident — was fine and was released outside the ballpark.

*OK, so maybe some of you already knew this but I just saw a pretty cool fact about former Twins pitcher and current Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven via that tremendous Super 70s Sports Twitter feed:

It’s hard to imagine that feat being duplicated anytime soon. While plenty of pitchers are competing into their 40s these days, it is extremely rare for any player — especially a pitcher — to make his MLB debut before turning 20.

*One of the best saves I’ve seen in a long time — and one that changed the complexion of the NHL Finals — came late in Washington’s 3-2 victory over Vegas on Wednesday. Braden Holtby absolutely robbed former Wild prospect Alex Tuch, and I’m still not sure how he did it.

*The NBA Finals start tonight, and very few people are giving the Cavaliers much of a chance against the heavily favored Warriors. But ESPN’s Zach Lowe at least takes an interesting look at how the Cavs might try to slow down Golden State and make this a series.

*OK, shameless Star Tribune promotion: We’re doing a very cool high school awards event this year on June 26 at Target Field to honor the best plays, athletes, teams, coaches and more from this past season. Spread the word!

Why has the Twins’ offense been so bad? They have a home run problem

Tuesday night’s 2-1, 14-inning loss to the Royals was the breaking point — or at least the latest breaking point — for some Twins fans who have watched their squad sputter this season largely because of an anemic offense.

Considered a likely strength going into this season after the young Twins lineup ranked No. 7 in MLB last season with 815 runs scored, the offense instead has produced the second-fewest runs (202) in the majors this season.

They’ve played fewer games than every other team in baseball, so on a per-game basis they rank in the mid-20s. But still: it’s bad. The Twins are scoring almost exactly one run fewer per game this year than last: 5.03 in 2017 to 4.04 this year.

As I set out on a brief journey this afternoon to examine the “why” instead of just the “what,” I hit some dead ends. Maybe they aren’t walking as much, I wondered at the outset? Nope, their walk rate last year (3.66 per game) is nearly identical to this year (3.62). Maybe they aren’t getting as many extra base hits? Again, it’s nearly identical.

What about clutch hitting? Maybe we’re getting closer to the problem. The Twins are No. 13 in batting average with runners in scoring position and No. 16 in slugging percentage with RISP this season. The Twins were No. 11 and No. 9 in those categories a year ago, so this should account for at least a little of the discrepancy.

But we don’t get to the real answer until we simplify even more and look at the most direct way to score a run: the home run.

Last year’s Twins were middle of the pack when it comes to the long ball. That’s what 206 home runs in a season gets you these days — a No. 16 ranking. But that was plenty, particularly when considering some other factors.

This year? The Twins have hit just 48 home runs in 50 games. They went from 1.27 homers a game to 0.96 so far. That’s a problem already. And here’s the bigger problem within that problem:

Last year, of the Twins’ 206 home runs, 84 came with men on base and 122 were solo. So 41 percent came with runners on base. The breakdown: 55 two-run homers, 25 three-run homers and four grand slams. That adds up to 323 runs scored off of home runs out of 815 — a full 40 percent of their runs, and almost exactly 2 runs per game coming on home runs.

This year, of the Twins’ 48 home runs, only 16 have come with men on base with 32 being solo. So that’s 33 percent with runners on. And of those 16 with men on base, 14 were two-run shots to go with 1 three-run homer and 1 grand slam. I count 67 runs coming via the home run — 33 percent of their total runs, and just 1.34 runs per game on homers.

They’re scoring about two-thirds of a run fewer per game on home runs this year than they were last year. There’s two-thirds of the problem for an offense that’s scoring one run fewer per game overall.

It’s not rocket science. The Twins need Miguel Sano, Brian Dozier and co. to start hitting more bombs and to do it more frequently with runners on base.

Is an NBA exec sabotoging his team via anonymous Twitter accounts?

It’s a single subject day here at The Cooler because there might not be a more fascinating tale told this year than the one that dropped Tuesday night via The Ringer.

Let’s try to unpack the story and the aftermath in five parts:

*So the story is complicated, but the upshot is this: The Ringer received an anonymous tip that five different nameless Twitter accounts shared some very strange similarities that made them appear to all be run by one person: Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but the accounts, as scrutinized by The Ringer, revealed a lot of damaging information about the 76ers that also made Colangelo look good in the process. The site summarized that the tweets:

    • Criticize NBA players, including Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel
    • Publicly debate the decisions of his own coaching staff, as well as critique former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri
    • Telegraph the 2017 trade in which the Sixers acquired the no. 1 overall pick that would become Markelle Fultz
    • Disclose nonpublic medical information about Okafor and gossip about Embiid and Fultz to members of the national and Philadelphia media.

*But wait, doesn’t that seem far-fetched? Why on earth would the executive for an NBA team do that? Well, on the second part that’s a good question. There seems to be no logical ground to do it other than perhaps jealousy that Hinkie and the players he acquired continue to get credit for the 76ers’ success even though Colangelo is now in charge.

On the first part, it absolutely seems far-fetched. But if you read the entire Ringer piece, it builds a very strong case.

*Colangelo admitted that one of the five accounts belonged to him and that he used it to monitor the tweets of those close to the team. That in and of itself is pretty normal these days. I imagine a lot (perhaps the majority) of sports executives have anonymous Twitter accounts to do that very thing, including those in Minnesota. But again, there is strong circumstantial evidence suggesting the other four accounts also belong to Colangelo. He says he is “not familiar with any of the other accounts” brought to his attention and he didn’t know who was “behind them or what their motives may be in using them.”

*That said, the 76ers are taking this seriously and said in a statement Wednesday morning that they have “commenced an independent investigation into the matter. We will report the results of that investigation as soon as it is concluded.”

*The Twitter reaction to the story was massive, including Embiid joining the fray to tweet that he doesn’t believe the story because “that would just be insane.”

Yes, Joel. The whole thing is insane. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The human brain is conditioned to discredit things that it can’t fathom or process, which means we have to be extra vigilant about such things.

Maybe we’ll find out this is some elaborate hoax perpetrated by someone trying to frame Colangelo or maybe we’ll find out that Colangelo really was this reckless. Let’s let Woj have the final word, in two parts:

Teddy Bridgewater generating buzz with strong spring for Jets

If the running Twin Cities Twitter/media joke question “How’s Teddy lookin’?” came to a sad end first with Teddy Bridgewater’s awful preseason injury in 2016 and then the Vikings’ decision to move on from the QB in favor of Kirk Cousins this past offseason, allow me to revive it now in happier times.

How’s Teddy lookin’? Pretty good. Really good, actually.

That’s according to folks in the New York media, who have been watching Bridgewater closely during early practice sessions with the Jets and have been generating some buzz on Teddy’s behalf.

The New York Daily news reported that Bridgewater looked like the best QB on the field for the Jets last week during the first day of OTAs, and that the former Vikings QB could, in fact, end up being the Jets’ Week 1 starter ahead of rookie Sam Darnold or veteran safety net Josh McCown.

ESPN added to the mix by saying Bridgewater looked good all week and that his play could alter the QB mix for the Jets.

That’s great news for Vikings fans rooting for Bridgewater from afar — a number that, percentage-wise, has to be as close to a 100 percent consensus as is humanly possible.

At the very least, if Bridgewater continues to perform well and pass his health benchmarks, he could be an attractive trade option for a team that becomes suddenly QB-needy in training camp because of an injury or underperformance.

Tweet could cost Cleveland Browns player $12 million (and a lot of fan support)

Damarious Randall, the former Packers safety traded to the Browns in March, doesn’t seem to have crunched the numbers or considered the full impact of his statement before launching an ill-fated tweet Monday night after the Warriors defeated the Rockets.

Randall is a big Warriors fan, and that victory put them into the finals where they’ll face the Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive year. Now, Randall shouldn’t be expected just to root for the Cavs just because his new team happens to share a city with the franchise.

The Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns took a lot of grief for rooting for the Eagles over the Vikings, but what’s a guy supposed to do?

That said, at least Towns had the good sense not to turn his rooting interest into a full-blown financial risk.

But Randall? Well, here’s the key tweet:

So, yeah, he was probably expecting a little action. He probably wasn’t expecting 120,000 retweets (and rising rapidly). Assuming he’s talking about an NFL Browns jersey, those go for $99.99. So as of now, he’s on the hook for $12 million worth of jerseys. (Maybe it’s a fitting punishment for putting an apostrophe in “retweets.” If that’s the only way someone can learn that plural is not the same as possessive, so be it).

And if you thought he might notice those numbers climbing and issue a tweet saying he wasn’t serious, Randall doubled down and said he was serious.

So Randall is getting hammered by Browns/Cavs fans who don’t like that he’s rooting for the Warriors, plus he’s on record with a claim that — if carried out fully — puts him on the hook to pay out more than he’s made in his NFL career. That said, the Warriors are huge favorites against the Cavaliers. He could place a sizable bet on the Cavs to cover some or all of his potential losses — or he could just trust that Golden State is going to take care of business and earn him some free publicity in the process.

Ted Cruz takes another loss, Seattle could be the next Vegas (and more)

Here we go with the latest installment of The Cooler:

*Ted Cruz, the U.S. Senator from Texas who made a failed run at the Republican nomination for President in 2016, was at Game 7 of the Warriors vs. Rockets game Monday in Houston. How do we know that for sure? Cruz tweeted a picture of himself in the arena wearing a Rockets shirt, imploring a Houston victory and using the hashtag #ClutchCity. And then, uh, the Rockets missed 27 consecutive three pointers during a 101-92 loss that sent the Warriors to the NBA Finals against Cleveland for the fourth consecutive year.

*Almost as amazing as the Vegas run to the Stanley Cup Finals is the collection of pregame introduction shows the team has put together. It was no different before Monday’s Game 1 victory over Washington. Feast your eyes:

*Speaking of Vegas, there have been rumblings from NHL owners (including the Wild’s Craig Leipold) about not liking the expansion format that helped launch the Golden Knights’ unlikely run this season, but Commissioner Gary Bettman said the rules will be the same for Seattle when that city presumably gets a franchise expansion approved in the near future. The format wasn’t nearly as generous when the Wild entered the league in 2000.

*The Twins sputtered to a 21-27 record through 48 games, but nobody should give up hope. Of their final 114 games, 66 are against the historically bad American League Central. That’s 58 percent, including a stretch of 11 in a row and 17 out of 20 that started Monday with an 8-5 win over Kansas City.

*In a ranking of nearly 300 U.S. cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul came in 26th on Wallet Hub’s list of the best ones for basketball fans. That ranking includes college and NBA, but curiously doesn’t seem to include the WNBA. I have to imagine the area would have fared even better with the Lynx included. You can see a breakdown of the findings here, including a note that the Wolves score big points for arena accessibility while the Gophers fare poorly in the area of ticket prices.

Everything to know about possible Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler extensions

I had a chance to chat Friday afternoon with Bobby Marks, a front office insider for ESPN who used to be an assistant GM with the NBA’s Nets.

Marks generated great interest in the Twin Cities on Thursday when he tweeted about Karl-Anthony Towns and the possibility that he can earn $188 million on a five-year extension after being named third-team All-NBA.

Twitter isn’t the best place for nuance, so our follow up discussion revealed a lot of great information from Marks, who has a far more detailed working knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement than me. Here are some key details as you head into a long weekend:

*At the baseline, Towns is eligible for a five-year, $156.5 million extension this summer (a figure that represents 25 percent of the salary cap). Being named All-NBA heading into his extension does not guarantee his extension will escalate to $188 million as it would if he was, say, heading into his second contract. That’s just the maximum number he could get. But Marks said it does provide a certain amount of leverage to Towns and his agent, Leon Rose, heading into negotiations.

“It didn’t trigger anything yesterday,” Marks said, “but it did set things in motion.”

Rose also represents Joel Embiid, and when he negotiated Embiid’s max extension last summer it included incentives that if he reached certain honors he could earn an additional $30 million. It wouldn’t be surprising, Marks said, if Rose seeks a similar deal for Towns.

*If Towns is traded this summer — which most people, including Marks, still consider unlikely — he would still be eligible for the same type of contract extension with a new team.

The only way he would potentially lose money is by playing out his contract and reaching restricted free agency because the Wolves can offer more in an extension than other teams can pony up in an offer sheet. Given all that, it sure seems likely Towns will sign an extension this summer.

*Jimmy Butler, who was also named third team all-NBA, would have been eligible for a five-year, $219 million supermax extension in Chicago had he achieved the same thing with the Bulls. But because he was traded, he is not.

Instead, Marks said, the best way for Butler to maximize his earnings would be to play out his contract with the Wolves (one more year before he can opt out) and then sign a five-year, $187 million deal with Minnesota.

According to Marks, Butler doesn’t figure to be in a hurry to sign an extension with the Wolves this summer because they can only — and I realize all of this is absurd money — offer him roughly four years and $100 million this summer because of contract rules surrounding veterans who are traded. Next summer they will be able to offer Butler more money and years than another team. The most a team other than the Wolves could offer is four years, $139 million if Butler reaches free agency next summer while the Wolves can give him $48 million more and an extra year.

Then again, Butler could decide to take an extension this summer as both a team-friendly gesture and to guarantee his future earnings. If he doesn’t sign an extension this summer and gets hurt next season, he could potentially be leaving a lot of guaranteed money on the table.

*Can the Wolves afford Towns, Butler and Andrew Wiggins, who already signed a max extension last summer that is set to kick in? Marks said yes, but it gets tricky. The Wolves would probably be paying the luxury tax, and that figure could climb depending on how much Towns and Butler get.

It also puts pressure on finding finding effective lower-cost players to fill out the roster.

“Guys like Tyus Jones, Justin Patton and the pick they have in the draft this year, they’d really have to nail those,” Marks said.

Looks like Vikings WR Stefon Diggs is going to be on ‘Family Feud’

Per an Instagram post from Bucs DE Gerald McCoy, it looks like Vikings WR Stefon Diggs is part of a team of NFL players who will be making an upcoming appearance on a celebrity version of the game show “Family Feud.”

Joining McCoy and Diggs on a team of five, it looks like QB Tyrod Taylor, defensive end Arik Armstead and running back LeGarrette Blount.

We can only hope Diggs’ performance on the show is as memorable as that of former teammate Teddy Bridgewater, who made a 2016 appearance.

Is Twins’ division among the worst in MLB history?

Welcome to the new morning post concept, which I’ve decided to call “The Cooler.” It works on three levels (in my head), but I’m not going to explain them because there’s nothing worse than explaining why you think you’re clever. Let’s just say these are five things you might want to discuss around the water cooler (1) to make you feel cooler (2) even as I act as the cooler-downer of hot takes (3). Here we go:

*ESPN’s David Schoenfield takes a look at the American League Central and concludes that the division has a chance to be one of the worst in MLB history in a long time. Cleveland leads at 24-24, while the Twins are just 1.5 games back. It gets a lot worse from there.

How bad is it? AL Central teams are just 54-98 when playing against teams outside the division. The Twins are a prime example, having gone 6-2 against division foes (they’ve only played the White Sox and Tigers so far) and 15-22 against everyone else. It’s still early, of course. Both Cleveland and the Twins had greater expectations this season and could rebound from slow starts. If they don’t, though, this could indeed be one of the worst divisions in history.

*The Twins face the Mariners’ James Paxton in the first game of their series in Seattle on Friday night, which is as good an excuse as any to remind you that the last time Paxton pitched against the Twins it was home opening day at Target Field and an eagle landed on him.

*

*Former Twins pitcher Bartolo Colon turned 45 (!) and the Rangers celebrated by smashing his face into a cake.

*Before he was injured late in the Rockets’ 98-94 win over the Warriors, giving Houston a 3-2 lead and pushing the defending champs to the brink of elimination, Houston’s Chris Paul knocked down a huge shot over Steph Curry and celebrated with … um … I guess that’s a shimmy?

*In case you missed it Thursday, both Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns landed on the All-NBA third team. There are just five players on each team, meaning they were deemed two of the 15 best players in the NBA. Only two other teams had two players named All-NBA: the Warriors (Kevin Durant and Steph Curry) and the Thunder (Russell Westbrook and Paul George).