Ex-Wolves boss David Kahn now owns and runs a pro team in Paris

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler. Programming note: This is the last edition for a couple of weeks because of a much-needed vacation. I will resume rambling consistently on Aug. 13. For now, let’s get to it.

*In a wonderful bit of serendipity, I received a flurry of direct messages on Twitter from a European journalist wondering about former Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn.

It was a reminder that I had seen — and then totally forgotten — some very important Kahn news a couple weeks back: He has resurfaced in the basketball world as the owner and president of the club Paris Basketball.

The club is slated to compete next season in the second division French Pro B League, but if you’re wondering if Kahn has greater aspirations than that … he does!

“In fact, we have two very important ones,” Kahn said when asked about the club’s objectives in an interview with L’ Equipe“The first is to be the team that will play in the new Arena (“Porte de la Chapelle” in the summer of 2024), and play in EuroLeague in 2022. For me, it’s totally incredible that Paris doesn’t play in EuroLeague. We want to place this club on the map of the big European basketball clubs.”

Playing in EuroLeague in 2022 would be a significant step. Jonny Flynn, who by then will be 33 years old and who has not played in any pro league since 2014 because of injuries, very well could be the starting point guard. (That part is just speculation on my part).

One of the questions from the overseas journalist, by the way, asked me to pick Kahn’s worst move as Wolves boss and implored me to pick just one. It sounds hard, but really it’s pretty easy.

*Through all their ups and downs this year, the Twins are remarkably just two games behind last year’s pace. They were 50-51 at this time last year and 48-53 this year. The big difference in the standings is that the wild card is pretty much out of reach this year, while last season it was up for grabs.

But the Twins improved to 7 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central with last night’s thrilling 2-1 win at Fenway. It should be noted that Minnesota and Cleveland play each other 10 times between July 30 (Monday) and Aug. 30.

*Dale Murphy was my favorite baseball player growing up and probably the one athlete I truly idolized. Wright Thompson is one of my favorite writers. Wright Thompson did a long profile piece catching up with Murphy, which was pretty much summed up my childhood and was a must-read for me. You should check it out, too.

Wild GM Fenton hasn’t shown off ‘outside the box’ thinking yet

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes you just have to make something happen. Let’s get to it:

*Two months ago, Paul Fenton was introduced as the Wild general manager, replacing nine-year GM Chuck Fletcher. The key word of the day was “tweak,” repeated by Fenton and Wild owner Craig Leipold to describe how they believed the Wild roster wasn’t in need of a major overhaul or reconstruction for the franchise to compete for a Stanley Cup.

But on that same day, Fenton — who gained a reputation as an assistant GM in Nashville for being part of a group that wasn’t afraid to make blockbuster trades — said this:

“I like to think outside the box. I like our people who think outside the box. When you look at the moves we made there, we made hockey trades. We were able to make hockey trades and a lot of times in this new [salary] cap world that we have, you’re not able to do that. But we have a creative set of people that looked at the situation, tried to evaluate it and then make the right call.”

He also said this: “I’ll look at small trades. I’ll look at big trades. Whatever is going to improve this organization going forward to give us a chance to win the Stanley Cup, we’re going to look.”

So far, though, Fenton may have looked. But he has not leaped. The Wild’s offseason transaction log shows zero trades. The outside free agent additions have been mostly depth guys, while the two most significant moves to-date are resigning Matt Dumba and — on Wednesday — forward Jason Zucker.

“Right now, I’m very comfortable with the lineup we have,” Fenton said Wednesday.

Meet the new Wild. Same as the old Wild.

At least for now.

This probably shouldn’t be shocking given a few circumstances. Given tight salary cap parameters and a seeming edict from Leipold not to go overboard with deals, Fenton can only do so much. He quite possibly has also found that the players the Wild might like to trade don’t have a ton of value, while Zucker and Dumba are young players the Wild is wise to keep long-term.

There’s also this: Two months on the job is a short time to evaluate a roster. Fenton hasn’t even really seen his group interact on the ice up close, as he also noted Wednesday.

Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had a quiet first offseason before taking a deeper plunge into free agency this year. Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden with the Wolves made minor moves in Year 1 before overhauling the roster via the Jimmy Butler trade and several veteran free agent signings in Year 2.

The difference for the Wild compared to those other teams is that a patient approach can only stretch so far, given that three of the seven players now under contract for $5 million or more per season are well on the wrong side of 30 years old (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu).

Trading for the sake of trading is seldom prudent, and keeping intact the core of a team that topped 100 points each of the last two seasons — playoff flameouts aside — is a defensible position.

But two months in, Fenton to a degree has changed his tone. If you’re waiting for him to take more risks and think outside the box, it looks like you’re going to have to be patient.

*The Twins swept the Blue Jays with a 12-6 win on Wednesday, but it was not without some adventures in the outfield by Max Kepler. Sometimes he looks very graceful. Other times …

*There are a lot of perks to being Kirk Cousins, and one of them appears to be free Reuben sandwiches for life!

Ranking 1-6: Playoff formats in major U.S. pro sports leagues

Minnesota pro sports fans are getting accustomed to the postseason lately, with the Lynx, Twins, Vikings, Wild and Wolves all having qualified in succession while Minnesota United is attempting to make a late rally and reach the postseason this year.

As such, it struck me recently that each of the six teams’ leagues have different postseason formats in one way or another. Here, then, is an attempt to rank all six formats in order of best to worst. Note: This is not a ranking of which league has the best postseason, just which one has the best format. Here we go:

1 MLB: I wasn’t sure I was going to like the Wild Card when it was initially added, and I certainly wasn’t sure about the second Wild Card. But now I’m completely sold.

Having two Wild Card teams compete in a one-game playoff adds significance to winning a division title while still keeping plenty of teams in the playoff race. And MLB accomplishes this while still having the lowest percentage of teams (10 of 30, 33 percent) make the playoffs of any of the six top U.S. leagues.

2 NFL: Football is a close second with a pretty straight-forward process. Six teams in each conference make it, the top two in each get first-round byes — a huge reward in terms of rest and automatic advancement — and the bracket is re-seeded after each round.

With 12 of 32 teams (38 percent) making the playoffs, just getting in is still an accomplishment, while excellence is definitely rewarded.

3 WNBA: I like that the league takes conferences out of play and gives the top eight teams regardless of conference their playoff berths. And the format – double bye for the top two seeds into the semifinals, single bye for the next two and single-elimination playoffs for Nos. 5-8 — definitely rewards the best teams.

What I don’t love is that the second round, between the winners of the 5-8 games and the 3-4 seeds, is also single-elimination. And it seems excessive that eight of 12 WNBA teams (67 percent) make the playoffs.

4 MLS: It’s very similar to the NFL in that the top six in each conference make the playoffs and the top two teams get byes.

What’s strange is that the conference semifinals and finals are both two-match, aggregate goal series while the league final (MLS Cup) is a single match. That facet needs some rethinking. MLS also has more than half (12 of 23) of its teams currently make the playoffs.

5 NBA: The league could take a cue from the WNBA and seed playoff teams 1-16 regardless of conference instead of clinging to the top eight in each conference.

And with 53 percent (16 of 30) teams making the postseason, the NBA has the second-highest percentage of teams that reach the playoffs of the six leagues.

6 NHL: Very similar to the NBA, with eight teams in each conference making it, but with the bizarre insistence on the top three in each division plus two wild cards making it, as well as brackets determined along division lines.

The league with arguably the most compelling playoff action has arguably the worst format, which is a shame.

T.J. Oshie ate Cap’n Crunch out of the Stanley Cup in Hockeytown USA

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where we are ignoring rumors ahead of the nonwaiver blog trading deadline. Let’s get started:

*The Stanley Cup spent the day in Warroad, T.J. Oshie’s small Minnesota hometown more affectionately known as Hockeytown USA.

From the looks of it, the Cup got quite a tour, with several excellent photos circulating around social media. My two personal favorites:

The Washington Capitals official twitter feed shows Oshie eating Cap’n Crunch out of the Cup.

And Grand Forks Herald hockey writer Brad Schlossman has a great side-by-side photo tweet of Oshie and fellow Warroad hero and Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin circa yesterday and 2005.

Oshie spent most of the day in Warroad and then flew to Minneapolis, where his day with the Cup concluded with a private party. There, along with fellow Capitals Shane Gersich and Travis Boyd, some shenanigans ensued. Here’s Gersich doing a Cup stand.

Add those to the millions of stories the Cup can tell.

*As trade rumors continue to swirl around the Twins with the nonwaiver deadline less than a week away, they just won’t quite go away in the AL Central race. They’ve picked up two games in the last two days on Cleveland, getting within 7.5 of the lead again. Cleveland has one more today against red-hot Pittsburgh before three with Detroit. After that, they come to Target Field for a three-game series that falls right in the midst of the deadline. It’s a shame that series wasn’t a week earlier because Twins management will likely have had to make its buy/sell decision by then.

*DeMar DeRozan opened up to ESPN about the trade that sent him from Toronto to San Antonio, and there is some pretty revealing stuff in there.

*It was an up-and-down first 25 games for the Lynx, but they arrived at their All-Star break — with the game Saturday at Target Center — in pretty good shape all things considered. By defeating the Liberty on Tuesday for their third consecutive win, the Lynx improved to 15-10 — tied for third-best in the WNBA and just a game behind Atlanta for the second-best record.

Those distinctions are important in the WNBA, where under the current playoff format teams are seeded 1-8 for the playoffs, with the top two seeds getting double byes and the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds getting single byes.

The post-break schedule is intense. There are just nine games remaining, including three in a span of four days right out of the break against three of the league’s best teams. How the Lynx fare against Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta in that demanding stretch could determine their ultimate position.

Kevin Love gets huge contract extension, is now the face of Cavaliers

It’s strange for me to think of Kevin Love as anything but young, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things he still is.

But in NBA terms, he’s not young. He was drafted a decade ago, acquired by the Wolves in a swap for O.J. Mayo that remains one of Kevin McHale’s best moves, and traded to Cleveland four summers ago.

His NBA career consists of 10 interesting seasons and two distinct eras: As the face of a constantly rebuilding Wolves team, where he put up massive numbers when healthy; and as a complementary piece with the Cavaliers after joining LeBron in Cleveland via trade following The Decision, Part II.

And now? Love is still in Cleveland as kind of the last man standing, more or less ready to resume his role as the face of a rebuild.

Kyrie Irving went to Boston a year ago. LeBron bolted for the Lakers a few weeks ago. Love? He just agreed to a four-year, $120 million extension with Cleveland. Love, who turns 30 in September, had a year left on his deal. He’ll be approaching 35 when this deal expires.

Love, a five-time All-Star who has averaged 17.1 points in his four seasons with Cleveland, figures to take on more of a primary scoring role again with James out of the picture.

His game should age reasonably well as long as his body holds up, but the deal does bring with it a health dose of skepticism. From SI.com, for instance, there is this:

Love is a consummate pro and likable face of the team who can help bridge the gap toward whatever it is that comes next. But while he’s been admirably consistent as a rebounder and three-point threat and worked himself into incredible shape in this stage of his career, he does little to protect the rim and remains a defensive vulnerability.

Interestingly, Love and the player he was dealt for — Andrew Wiggins — are now under contract for the same length and nearly the same terms. If you were the Wolves, which would you rather have for the next five years?

If Kirk Cousins is a second-tier QB, the Vikings will go far

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where small things make a big difference. Let’s go:

*ESPN.com (Insider required) did its NFL QB rankings by “tiers” for the fifth year in a row. Mike Sando puts the list together with the help of voting by 50 league insiders (mainly coaches and executives), dividing the 32 projected starters into four tiers.

They’re still ranked 1-32, but I like the tier system because it also differentiates between clusters of guys. Tier 1 is reserved for stars who can carry their teams.

Tier 2 is for a “quarterback can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.

And Tier 3 is is a legitimate starter, but needs a heavier running game and/or defense to win.

Tier 4 is for recycled veterans and unproven rookies.

Four QBs are in Tier 1: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. That seems about right, though I might drop Big Ben into Tier 2 and just keep that top three.

After that it gets interesting and relevant to the Vikings. There’s a whole cluster of 10 quarterbacks in Tier 2, as voted on by the insiders. It has guys like Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford. But it does not have Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who checks in at No. 15 overall as the first QB in Tier 3.

Cousins is clearly being paid like at least a Tier 2 QB, and he was in that tier a year ago. The tier system might be the best way to define what Cousins needs to be with the Vikings in order to achieve great levels of success.

If Cousins can be a Tier 2 QB, carry the Vikings sometimes and elevate his game with special plays — which Minnesota clearly believes, given the talent around him, he can do — the Vikings have a chance to win the Super Bowl. A Tier 1, future Hall of Fame QB is obviously preferable, but any team with a Tier 2 QB has a quarterback good enough to win it all.

If Cousins plays more like a Tier 3 QB, relying more heavily on the run game and defense without really taking over when he needs to, the Vikings can still be good. They are probably even still a playoff team. But their margin for error come playoff time is diminished, as are their Super Bowl chances.

Cousins needs to be in that second tier and play something like the No. 8-12 best QB in the league instead of around 15. That will define the next three seasons for the Vikings more than anything else.

*Former NFL receiver Chad Johnson — formerly Ochocinco, formerly Johnson before that — is known for being a generous tipper. He left a $260 whopper on a $140 bill, and explained on the receipt that it was because he had 260 yards in a game against the Chargers once. He also added “I love you” on the receipt, because of course he did.

*Remember, kids: Always hustle. Gary Sanchez didn’t heed that advice, and it cost him dearly at the end of the Yankees’ 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay.

Twins’ length of game problem is really a Lance Lynn problem

The Star Tribune last week concluded an excellent three-part series on the state of Major League Baseball, and among the very good data in the stories there was a number that jumped out:

While the average nine-inning MLB game has been reduced by six minutes this season, from 3 hours, 5 minutes a year ago to 2:59 now, Twins games have been exceedingly long. Counting extra-inning games, the average Twins game as of last week had lasted 3:13 — longest in the majors.

There are surely several reasons, and it’s not fair to blame just one player. But I will say this: After crunching the numbers, it appears — no surprise — that a lot of the extra time can be attributed to starting pitcher Lance Lynn.

Using game-by-game data from Baseball Reference, I took a look at all 18 starts by Lynn this season in non-extra-inning games. Only two of those games finished in fewer than three hours. Three of them lasted at least 3 hours, 40 minutes — three of the six longest nine-innings Twins games this year — and another five lasted at least 3:20.

On average, Lynn’s 18 starts in nine-inning games have lasted 3 hours, 18 minutes. And lest you think Lynn is getting picked on for some recency bias and his laborious five-inning, 118-pitch effort in Saturday’s loss against the Royals, that game actually ended in 3:11 and brought his average down.

All other Twins pitchers entering Monday have started 69 games that ended in nine innings. Of those games, roughly half have taken more than three hours (36) and half have been under three hours (33).

The average time for a non-Lynn nine inning game is 3 hours, 3 minutes – so 15 minutes shorter than his starts, and much closer to that 2:59 league average for a nine-inning game this year.

If you’re looking for length of game hero on the Twins’ staff, it’s All-Star and Tuesday starter Jose Berrios. The average length of a Berrios start is 2:57 (21 minutes faster than Lynn), and it was even better before his last start, a 3:45 marathon in a 19-6 loss to the Rays in which the bullpen did much of the damage.

Eight of the 14 fastest Twins games this season — all 2 hours, 45 minutes or less — have been started by Berrios.

All in all, if you have watched every inning of every Twins game this year, you’ve spent 3 hours, 20 minutes more watching nine-inning games started by Lynn than those started by Berrios, even though Berrios has more starts (19 to 18) that fit the bill.

Looking for reasons? Start here: Berrios has walked fewer than half (29) as many hitters as Lynn (61) and is averaging 3.74 pitches per hitter — about half a pitch fewer per batter than Lynn, who checks in at 4.22.

Those who have watched Twins games – including starts by Berrios and Lynn in particular – won’t be terribly surprised by any of this, but it is rather startling to see the numbers.

Ramos for Capps, Part II? Cleveland deals catching prospect for relievers

If you want to make Minnesota sports fans instantly angry, you … well … you have a lot of options.

But one thing you can definitely do is mention the 2010 midyear trade that brought relief pitcher Matt Capps to the Twins for catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

Capps was a PROVEN CLOSER and All-Star that year. In fairness to the Twins and Capps, he was good in 2010 — getting 16 saves with a 2.00 ERA after the trade as the Twins won the AL Central (and predictably were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS).

Ramos was deemed expendable because Joe Mauer was the franchise catcher. It was a decent theory … until various injuries and an eventual position switch left the Twins and their fans thirsty for a catcher for many years thereafter.

I bring this up because Cleveland, the team the Twins are chasing this year, just made a similar trade. Granted, the primary pitcher the Indians got in their trade with San Diego — Minnesota’s own Brad Hand! — is better than Capps. He’s a lefty, a two-time All-Star and he has swing-and-miss stuff.

But Cleveland had to part with highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in the trade. Mejia, just 22, had a great season at Class AA in 2017 and has been solid at Class AAA this year. He is ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law.

Hand and fellow reliever Adam Cimber, who was also part of the deal, should help shore up Cleveland’s atrocious bullpen and get them into the playoffs, where the Indians will likely lose to a better team.

And a couple years from now? Cleveland fans might have the same level of regret that Twins fans have over Capps/Ramos.

Loons’ Darwin Quintero is example of the power of spending

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes I can’t really tell where I’m going, either.

*Merely spending money on players is no guarantee of success in sports.

It makes the fans happy at the time, sure, and an increased payroll increases the margin for error. But the moves themselves still must be prudent and well-considered to have a good chance of working out. (See: Twins and free agent starting pitching).

I will confess to not knowing much about Darwin Quintero before Minnesota signed him as the franchise’s first designated player early this season.

I do know that United fans had been clamoring for such a transaction since the franchise’s move to MLS in 2017. They supported the Loons quite well through a first season played on a shoestring player budget. Year 2 needed to bring an increase in quality as United geared up for a Year 3 move to its permanent home of Allianz Field.

Enter Quintero, a 5-foot-5, 30-year-old whirlwind from Colombia. He signed for a reported $200,000 transfer fee and $1.5 million annual salary. Those aren’t huge numbers in the context of global soccer or the other major men’s pro sports teams in town. Kirk Cousins will make almost 20 times as much next year with the Vikings.

But it was a significant leap for United. And the return on investment so far has been spectacular.

Appearing in just 15 of the Loons’ 20 matches after joining with the season in progress, Quintero has a team-high eight goals to go with four assists. He’s starred in United’s two most recent matches, a pair of wins that have the Loons back at least to the fringes of playoff contention.

Here’s his tally Wednesday in a win against New England — a demonstration of his work ethic and quality.

The crowded Minnesota sports market and the nature of soccer itself are very much matters of the survival of the fittest. With the help of Darwin, United is emerging on both fronts.

*Speaking of United, the team released photos of the under-construction Allianz Field lit up at night. It’s a sight to behold.

*The Nemanja Bjelica saga has another potential twist. The former Wolves forward agreed to a one-year deal two weeks ago with the 76ers but backed out this week and said he was returning to Europe to play next season because of family considerations. Now, though, the NBA’s Kings have made contact about a long-term deal.

It makes sense that Bjeli could change his mind again since the Kings are in position to offer the stability he craves. But what a weird, wild offseason for him.

Amid offseason of rumors, Karl-Anthony Towns sidesteps instead of squashes

It’s been an offseason filled with rumors and reports about Timberwolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns, so Wednesday seemed like the perfect opportunity for Towns to take his size 20 shoes and squash them all.

But with a media availability scheduled at Towns’ basketball camp at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Towns instead used his deft footwork uncommon for a big man to sidestep the big topics.

Before the session began, one of the camp organizers informed the large assembled media contingency that Towns would only be answering questions about his camp and said the interview would be shut down if we deviated from that script.

So if you were wondering where things stand with the massive contract extension the Wolves can offer and Towns can accept this summer? Or maybe you were curious about Towns’ reaction to player development coach Vince Legarza, who did extensive pregame work with Towns, being let go?


Maybe you were uneasy about an ESPN podcast in May that suggested Towns and the Wolves are “not in a good place internally and sparked trade chatter. Perhaps things got more concerning when a different report a couple weeks ago said Jimmy Butler has a beef with Towns and his attitude.

Hey, we tried. The best the group could get were some sincere platitudes about working with kids and some read-between-the-lines comments that kicked the can down the road for another day.

First, the kids. Towns has always looked comfortable, affable and playful in these settings. This was the third year he’s had a basketball camp in Minnesota, and he should be commended for it.

“You just see them learn something new they’ve never seen before or heard before,” Towns said, “and you see their eyes light up for how much they want to learn the game of basketball.”

But when he was asked if he could envision himself hosting the camp in the same Providence Academy gym for the next five or six years – kudos to KSTP’s Darren Wolfson for the clever question phrasing, attempting to get a hint at Towns’ long-term future in Minnesota – Towns demurred.

“Um, I don’t know,” he said. “This is a really nice place.”

Towns said he spent his summer unwinding for a change, which included a trip to Italy. When he said he “forgot what it is to live a normal life and have a vacation,” it was a reminder of his transition. He’s no longer a wide-eyed rookie. He’s a young star at a seeming crossroads.

“It’s amazing. (Kevin Garnett) told me you blink and time flies. I remember doing my first (camp) in Minnesota, being so excited, finding a way to win Rookie of the Year and really celebrating with the campers,” Towns said. “Then you blink and I’m already going into my fourth year. So many more things have happened in my life. It’s an intriguing thing.”

How the rest of his career will play out remains to be seen. Maybe all this offseason chatter is just noise and Towns will sign a max contract with the Wolves while declaring all is well. But if you wanted clarity Wednesday, Towns offered anything but that.

“I think I’ve done a lot of things here. I’m very proud of the things I’ve been able to do so far,” Towns said in response to the final question of the session about whether he considers Minnesota a second home. “But I have a lot of things that have to be talked about, so I’ll move on.”