What should the Timberwolves realistically expect in a Jimmy Butler trade?

It’s been nine days since news emerged that Jimmy Butler requested a trade from the Timberwolves. It seems like it’s been longer, right? That’s what happens when a situation feels urgent and is examined with such scrutiny. So if you’re thinking: Are the Wolves EVER going to make this trade? … well, I imagine the answer is yes. And really, it’s not strange that it hasn’t happened yet.

What is noticeable is that in the last couple days, the reporting on a potential Butler swap has shifted (at least somewhat) from rival teams griping about mixed messages from the Wolves to actual interest. Information seems to be drying up, which — contrary to what it might seem — could be an indication that actual talks are getting more serious.

ESPN reported early Thursday that talks between the Wolves and Heat were ongoing, but asking price was a sticking point. The lead of that story was this:

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ asking price to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler remains quality veterans, top prospects, future assets and salary-cap relief, which is presently too steep of a package for interested teams, league sources told ESPN.

The story also suggested teams are skeptical that Wolves coach/basketball president Tom Thibodeau really wants to trade Butler, but that could also be interpreted that teams are frustrated because Thibodeau has set — at least initially — a high asking price. Isn’t that how you negotiate? Start high and come down to an agreeable middle.

Plugged in Houston-based reporter Mark Berman chimed in late Thursday with a tweet that the Rockets are “making a strong effort” to land Butler. If so, that’s good news for the Wolves. Multiple teams with serious interest is how you set a market. The ESPN story also mentioned Houston, along with the Clippers and Cavaliers.

As for specific players the Wolves could get in a deal with either team, I’ll mostly leave that to all the frantic Trade Machine experts. I think a Miami deal centered around low-cost wing Josh Richardson and talented but costly big man Hassan Whiteside would be fair, especially if the Heat would take on Gorgui Dieng’s contract in the deal. Houston has fewer assets, but something built around Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker could be attractive to Thibodeau and his bid to return to the playoffs.

I’m more interested in trying to examine what type of deal the Wolves might be able to make based on similar NBA deals in recent history. What I’ve found in that pursuit is:

The timing of this potential trade is very rare and makes it hard to sort out the potential return.

I don’t have a complete list of every trade ever made in the NBA, but The Score did a pretty thorough list of 12 NBA blockbuster trades of the past decade — a good starting point, since a Butler deal would perhaps fall under that category.

What we find there is not surprising: big trades usually happen either right around the draft/start of free agency or at the trade deadline. Five of the 12 deals on that list happened between June 28 and July 12 and another four were around the trade deadline. (The Wolves’ acquisition of Butler in 2017, which didn’t make the list, was a draft night move as well).

Of the other three: The Dwight Howard trade on Aug. 10 was a complicated four-team affair that took a while to hammer out.

The Kyrie Irving trade happened Aug. 30. News of his trade request broke July 24, and the meeting in which he requested the trade happened a week earlier. The deal took a while, but it still happened well before camp opened and had a two-month head start on Butler.

The real outlier — and only real comparison, timing-wise to Butler — was the Oklahoma City trade of James Harden to the Rockets. That happened on Oct. 27, 2012 — three days before the start of the regular season on Oct. 30. Considering the NBA moved its schedule up and now opens Oct. 16, the Butler deal will be somewhat on that timeline.

Like Butler, Harden was a year from reaching free agency. He couldn’t reach a deal on an extension with the Thunder, who were offering four years, $55.5 million. He wanted the max, which then was four years for $60 million. That right there tells you how much has changed, by the way, since the max extension Butler wants is five years, $190 million — more than three times the total value of Harden’s deal. It seems crazy in retrospect to think the Thunder balked at $4.5 million more over four years, but I digress.

Harden was the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and was 23 years old. It’s hard to compare his value to Butler’s, but the Thunder received in return: Kevin Martin (a quality veteran), Jeremy Lamb (the No. 12 pick in that year’s draft), two future first-round picks (one of which became Steven Adams) and a second-rounder. It was also a cost-effective move.

The deal didn’t turn out great since Harden went on to become an MVP, Lamb was solid but not great and Martin left after one year. But the haul, at least on its face, would seem to satisfy all four things the Wolves apparently covet based on ESPN’s report.

For a more comparable player and situation — albeit with different timing — maybe we should look at another Oklahoma City trade: the deal they made to get Paul George last summer after he requested a trade from Indiana with a year left on his contract.

The Pacers received Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return. While the initial verdict seemed to be that Indiana was fleeced, Oladipo blossomed in his first year with the Pacers and will make far less the next three seasons than George will. Sabonis had a solid first year and is under contract for two more years on a cheap rookie scale deal.

The Pacers didn’t get a future asset, but they got salary relief, a quality young veteran in Oladipo and a promising young player in Sabonis.

The Thunder made the deal with no assurances that George would be around for more than a year. Indeed, it seemed like he would bolt for the Lakers after that year, but instead he re-upped with OKC.

George is a two-way wing like Butler, is roughly the same age as Butler and in a recent SI.com ranking he came in as the 11th-best player in the league while Butler came in 10th. They’re about as similar as two players can be.

That trade, of course, happened in late June — when any team considering a big move could then also calculate how to shape the rest of its roster in relation. That’s the trick with Butler: It’s not that the Wolves can’t find a taker, but any team seriously interested in a deal has to consider both the short-term and long-term implications.

I’d say if the Wolves can pull off a comparable deal to the one the Pacers got, they would come out looking pretty nice. The Pacers actually improved from 42 to 48 wins in the season after the trade and pushed the LeBron-led Cavaliers to seven games in an opening round playoff series before losing.

Long story short: It doesn’t seem so far-fetched that the Wolves will be able to get most — if not all — of that reported wish list in a Butler swap. It might just take a little more time and patience.

The flattering and unflattering Cousins vs. Culpepper comparisons

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where we’re not afraid to make quick judgments. Let’s get to it:

*The Vikings were quick to point Thursday night that quarterback Kirk Cousins set a team record for most passing yards through four games in a season. He now has 1,387 yards, topping the 1,341 that Daunte Culpepper had through four games in 2004. That’s a pace for more than 5,500, which would be a team record by a long shot and an NFL record as well.

Cousins is also just the third Vikings QB to post multiple 400-yard passing games in the same season — with Culpepper in 2004 and Warren Moon in 1994 being the others.

Cousins is clearly a dangerous passer who can put points on the board. It is certainly not his fault that the Vikings defense suddenly looks like the 2013 version instead of the 2015-17 version and can’t stop anyone through the air (a fact that has head coach Mike Zimmer flummoxed and concerned).

If Zimmer’s constant refrain is that if you give him 21 points he’s more than likely to bring home a victory, then the 31 Cousins put up Thursday against the Rams should have been enough. Alas, it wasn’t.

However: Within the context of the good things Cousins has done, we must revisit the bad — and here, again, we find a comparison to Culpepper, albeit this time in a negative light.

Mark Craig covered this extensively leading up to Thursday’s game, so I won’t belabor the point, but: the fumbles. They are a problem for Cousins. They have been a critical factor in both Vikings losses this season, with two early lost fumbles against the Bills setting the tone in that ugly loss and Thursday’s strip sack turnover denying the Vikings a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes of a 38-31 loss.

Again, Cousins had done enough to win already. So this isn’t to say Cousins was the reason the Vikings lost.

But it that third lost fumble means: He currently leads the NFL in that stat (albeit with one more game played than most players). He also leads the NFL since the start of the 2015 season with 35 fumbles (and has four total this year, one that was recovered by the Vikings).

This stands in stark contrast to last season, when primary Vikings starter Case Keenum fumbled exactly one time.

But it does not stand in contrast to Culpepper, whose fumbling is remembered about as much as his overall brilliance. That 2004 season I already referenced? Daunte threw for 4,717 yards, 39 TDs and just 11 INTs while also running for 406 yards. Similar to Cousins, it wasn’t Daunte’s fault that the Vikings seldom could stop opponents on defense.

Culpepper, though, had a bad fumbling problem. He appeared in 81 games as a Viking and had 81 fumbles in those games. That’s easy math: 1 per game, which means 16 a season. It was particularly bad in 2002, when he put the ball on the ground a league-high 23 times. If Twitter was around back then, I can only imagine the number of “small hands” takes we would have been subjected to every week.

The more-than-average number of fumbles from Daunte didn’t negate his overall body of work, but they were certainly a factor in a lot of games and a concern in general. The same can be said of Cousins.

*By the way, if you’re clamoring for the Vikings to bring in more players (like, say, Brian Robison) it’s good to remember that they are about $150,000 under the salary cap. They are pretty much what they are, unless they restructure or extend someone.

*The Undefeated has an update on Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson and her amazing offseason:

Brunson, the only player with five WNBA championship rings, has her hands full this offseason between the launch of her Twin Cities food truck business, Sweet Gypsy Waffle, and the arrival of her and wife Bobbi Jo’s first child, Graham Matteo Lamar Brunson. Their baby boy is due on Oct. 13, and the couple is relieved the date doesn’t fall on a Friday.

*Willians Watch: Astudillo drove in four runs Thursday and is now hitting .357. However: he did strike out! That gives him three strikeouts this year, matching his home run total. He can be forgiven for his first K in more than 50 at bats, though, because his scoreboard picture is glorious.

Here’s Jimmy Butler, still in Minneapolis, getting heckled while shooting hoops

I don’t have much of a Jimmy Butler update except this: He’s apparently still in Minnesota and worked out again Thursday at the Life Time Minneapolis Athletic Club downtown.

And it was there that Tom Carter of Minneapolis not only spotted him but decided to have some fun — walking in on his Butler’s shooting session and trying to get him to believe that he’s been traded to the Kings.

Butler, of course, requested a trade from the Timberwolves last week. The team opened camp Tuesday and he’s been absent — with the excuse being a lingering hand injury. He’s been spotted at several local gyms since then. (You can see in the video that he has his right hand bandaged, by the way).

The rest of the Wolves left for California on Thursday for about a week and will play their preseason opener Saturday at Golden State. Butler lives in California but is still here.

Please, just let this be resolved soon.

Anyway, Tom was nice enough to let us use his video. Here it is:

Rams and Vikings offer a contrast in QB spending, strategy

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where we can’t believe there’s a good Thursday night football game, either. Let’s get to it:

*ESPN’s Bill Barnwell takes a deep dive into an interesting question I’ve thought a decent amount about over the last few years, particularly as it has pertained to the Vikings: Is the cost-control of a young quarterback on a rookie-scale contract so valuable that it is preferable to having an above-average but expensive QB in his prime? And to take it a step further, is that value so great that teams should constantly cycle through QBs every four years and start over before a QB they have developed gets too expensive?

On the first point, there is an interesting contrast right now between the two teams playing tonight: the Rams and Vikings. The Rams have third-year QB Jared Goff counting about $7.6 million against their cap this year (and about $27 million total over his first four years). The Vikings have Kirk Cousins counting for $84 million guaranteed over the next three years, including $24 million this year.

The Vikings have been creative with salaries and were able to keep their strong defense largely intact even while signing Cousins, but at some point his deal figures to stress them into making tough salary decisions. The Rams, with far more money to play with because they have a starting QB who makes relatively little money, not only kept their fearsome defense intact but added to it significantly in the offseason with extensions and signings.

As Barnwell points out, the Seahawks (with Russell Wilson) won a Super Bowl and should have won another using this model, while the Eagles did the same last year (even after having to turn to Nick Foles after Carson Wentz was hurt). In the modern NFL, it seems as though either that model or paying heavily for a truly elite QB like Tom Brady are very viable title-winning options.

From a football standpoint, that was of course one of the truly devastating things about Teddy Bridgewater’s injury. The Vikings missed out on years 3 and 4 (and potentially a reasonably priced fifth-year option) of Bridgewater’s relatively inexpensive rookie deal in 2016 and 2017 while he was hurt and instead had to devote cap space to Sam Bradford’s much more expensive deal. That impacted their ability to make other meaningful upgrades to, I don’t know, maybe the offensive line?

The Vikings could have made a version of that decision this offseason and re-signed Bridgewater on a low-cost deal while using money saved to bolster other areas. They chose stability with Cousins, and it’s hard to really blame them. That model could certainly work, as there are instances of above-average QBs like Cousins excelling in the postseason with a strong supporting cast around them (like Eli Manning twice in New York or Joe Flacco in Baltimore) on the way to a Super Bowl.

But as Barnwell points out, Baltimore has been hamstrung by Flacco’s rich contract ever since winning the Super Bowl.

As for the Rams? They will have to decide in a couple years whether Goff is worth an extension or if, as Barnwell notes, the more prudent move is to draft his eventual replacement soon and keep cycling through young, cheap QB labor. It’s risky, but then again so is devoting so much cap space to a QB who might not be worth it both in terms of performance and what it means for the rest of the roster.

*Brian Dozier got off to a hot start with the Dodgers after they acquired him from the Twins at the trade deadline, but he’s been in a hideous slump lately. Dozier is just 4 for his last 52, with most of those at bats coming in September as the Dodgers have tried to lock up a playoff spot. He was on the bench both Tuesday and Wednesday.

*This Twitter thread is an example of the Internet being good.

Vikings’ debacle vs. Bills: Sign of bad things ahead or a bump in the road?

To paraphrase Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, life — and Minnesota Vikings seasons — can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.

Within this notion of hindsight and the present is the human tendency to look back on past events and declare resulting chains of events to be obvious. This is, of course, too easy when you already know what happened.

True prescience is about seeing things before they happen and living them in the moment.

In life — and with the Minnesota Vikings — this is much harder.

Sometimes a sign of what is going to happen next is clear. And sometimes we just want to think it’s clear in order to fit a narrative.

This all brings us to the 27-6 Vikings’ loss to the Bills on Sunday and what, exactly, it means in the grand scheme of things.

Was it a warning sign that everything is about to crumble and the Vikings aren’t what we thought they were? Or was it closer to a fluky bump in the road for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations?

To gauge such things, looking at history — understanding backwards — can be helpful. But in the case of the Vikings, it really only muddies the waters.

The four most interesting Vikings season in recent memory — for better or worse — came in 2010, 2015, 2016 and 2017. You could argue that 2012 was compelling, but really it was because Adrian Peterson willed the Vikings into the playoffs by rushing for 2,097 yards, and he somehow did so while carrying Christian Ponder in addition to a football.

In each of those other four seasons, there was an exceedingly negative moment — one that, at the time, might have seemed like a sign that more bad things were on the horizon.

*The 2010 Vikings lost their opener, a rematch with the Saints, but the real uh-oh moment came when they lost at home to a mediocre Dolphins team 14-10 in Week 2. Peterson was stuffed on fourth and goal from the 1 in the closing minutes.

That was the first signal that 2010 was not a continuation of the magic from the previous season. Early losses led to desperate moves like the second go-round of Randy Moss. Brad Childress was fired. The roof literally caved in.

*In 2015, the Vikings lost 20-3 to San Francisco in their opener on Monday Night. It was a thoroughly disappointing game in all facets. The Vikings looked like they were sleepwalking through a total failure. And then … the bad vibes suddenly vanished. They won seven of their next eight games and finished 11-5, winning the division and setting up the Blair Walsh playoff game.

*In 2016, the Vikings started 5-0 before a clunky performance in a loss to the Eagles. Sam Bradford was sacked six times, but the game seemed like it turned mostly on strange turnovers. But then … it happened again in a 20-10 Halloween loss to the Bears. The Vikings were still 5-2, but it felt like the season was on the brink of collapse. Turns out it was, as they finished 8-8.

*And the 2017 Vikings lost 14-7 at home to Detroit, falling to 2-2. Bradford was already out and Dalvin Cook tore his ACL in the loss. It felt like the Vikings would be lucky to finish .500. Instead, they went 13-3.

That’s four seasons: Two in which the warning sign foretold bad times ahead and twice when things seemingly turned around just like that. To anyone who says the Vikings’ 2018 season is 100 percent dead after one loss, I’d say it’s probably more like a coin flip how it moves forward.

And of all these comparisons to the Buffalo loss, the 2015 opener seems like the most apt one. The Vikings had better hope that is the case.

Sports Illustrated examines the odd phenomenon of Joe Mauer

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where you can know something exists without fully understanding it. Let’s get to it:

*We’re in the midst of an unsure and very subdued possible final week of Joe Mauer’s career, which means Mauer is getting some more attention than usual but not as much as one might expect.

That said, the potential end of his career is not playing out how many of us would have imagined a decade or so ago, when Mauer was on a Hall of Fame trajectory and looked as though he might go down as one of the greatest catchers — and perhaps the greatest Twin — ever.

Concussions, age, shifting, the awfulness of the Twins since 2011 … all of them have robbed Mauer in some way. And, of course, the $184 million contract he signed in 2010 that kicked in during the 2011 season has undoubtedly altered public perception.

In some ways, Mauer’s career is upside down. He won three batting titles and an MVP award by the time he was 26, and during those years he was vastly underpaid. But contracts are based on past performance, and since that MVP year in 2009 (and an underrated follow-up in 2010, the year he signed the deal), Mauer has had two vintage years (2012 and 2013), one pretty good year (2017) and five mediocre seasons spanning his contract.

It adds up to a strange legacy, one that Sports Illustrated recently probed. A hometown player such as Mauer, one of the Twins’ best players in history (but clearly not the best), should be bathing in glory if this is, indeed, his final week.

And sure, there are plenty of fans cognizant of his contributions and aware of his place in history who are cheering extra loud for a few final moments.

But there is also a decent segment of Twins fandom counting down the days until his $23 million a year deal is off the books. And there is another segment that views his potential departure from the playing field with a collective shrug.

Maybe a divided legacy is appropriate. As the only Twins player spanning the positive vibes of last decade and the negative vibes of this decade, Mauer is — fair or not — both a symbol and symptom of what went wrong.

One thing is for sure: These last eight years haven’t played out as anyone imagined, and maybe sad is the best way to describe that feeling.

*Eduardo Escobar, one of several Twins traded during the middle of this lost season, homered for the Diamondbacks to help Arizona defeat the Dodgers — and Brian Dozier, another traded Twins player. The blast trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to half a game over Colorado in the NL West, and it sure would be something if Escobar keeps Dozier out of the playoffs.

*FiveThirtyEight eschews the trade machine approach most of us have been taking to Jimmy Butler trades and examines which teams should actually make a strong play for him. The conclusion: Surprisingly few.

Jimmy Butler won’t play for Wolves, but he played a basketball game in Minneapolis

Jimmy Butler, who last week requested a trade from the Timberwolves, was at Target Center on Monday for his physical exam but did not participate in the Wolves’ media day.

But while he won’t play for the Wolves, he did find a new group of local players with whom to play basketball.

Multiple people told me Butler played in a pickup game Monday at the downtown Life Time Minneapolis Athletic Club, just a few blocks away from Target Center where media day was going on. Photographic evidence (above) confirms that he was, indeed there.

And on Tuesday, Butler was spotted doing a workout and getting some shots up at the Life Time Fitness in Plymouth while the rest of the Wolves were participating in the first day of training camp — and a practice rookie Josh Okogie described as “long, but cool.”

Officially, the Wolves are saying Butler will miss the first week of practice as he continues to rehab from offseason hand surgery. Clearly there is a difference between some noon ball with a bunch of rec players and the rigors of NBA camp, but it is an interesting strategy nonetheless.

It’s just nice that Butler was able to find some teammates in Minnesota to play with as he awaits a trade. Those who played with him on Monday, by the way, said it was a pretty cool experience.

On a day of posturing, Wolves’ Taj Gibson spoke the truth

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy. Let’s get to it:

At an eventful Timberwolves media day on Monday, head coach/basketball president Tom Thibodeau, GM Scott Layden and every player on the roster except Jimmy Butler, there was plenty of substance, plenty of posturing and the occasional injections of pure truth. Let’s break it down:

*Thibodeau and Layden spent the vast majority of their 25-minute session fielding questions about Butler’s trade request, and the only thing Thibodeau really wouldn’t answer was exactly what the Wolves would like in exchange for Butler and exactly what was said in the meeting between he and the Wolves’ star a week ago.

In listening back to the recording last night after being there in person during the day, the talking points were strikingly clear. Four different times, Thibodeau mentioned the Wolves winning 47 games last season. And four different times, Thibodeau or Layden mentioned Butler is a top-10 player.

The former could be interpreted as a sales pitch to Butler — especially when added to Thibodeau’s assertion that he won’t trade Butler unless the Wolves get the right deal and with ESPN’s reporting that Thibodeau tried again Monday to lobby Butler to stay in Minnesota —  while the latter is clearly aimed at trying to set the parameters for a Butler trade market.

When you wade through the posturing (and there’s clearly plenty of it coming from both ends, since rival executives cited anonymously in ESPN’s report have an incentive to paint a picture of disarray in an attempt to drive down the market and influence a quicker deal), you’re left with a plain truth that our Chip Scoggins laid out: A trade is inevitable, and Thibodeau’s job status is in question as a result.

*The next big hitter on the stage was Karl-Anthony Towns, fresh off agreeing to a $190 million contract extension last week mere hours after it became clear the Wolves were moving forward with attempts to trade Butler.

He tried to paint the timing as one big coincidence not related to any perceived conflicts with Butler. “That situation never had anything to do with Jimmy. It was a me and Glen Taylor situation,” Towns said. “It’s just two sides had to have great conversations and we had great conversations all summer. … We finally found common ground at an awkward time.”

Towns seemed sincere, and it’s also possible this deal has been done for a while and was announced at a point that it could deflect from the negativity of the Butler news. It’s probably not important if we ever really know. It’s just interesting.

*Andrew Wiggins, too, downplayed any strained relationship with Butler — including social media battles that played out last week.

“That whole situation is dead now,” Wiggins said.

*The moment of unfiltered truth came from Taj Gibson — Butler’s friend, Thibs’ guy and current teammate of KAT, Wiggins and the rest of the Wolves on the roster.

He said this absolutely is a distraction and that he was “in shock” when he heard the news. “You get hit with a right hook right before training camp,” Gibson said of his reaction to Butler’s trade request.

*And the best moment of reading between the lines came when I told Gorgui Dieng that from the outside looking in it seemed like last year wasn’t very enjoyable despite the winning. I asked him what it was like inside the locker room.

That’s why there’s a locker room,” he said.

*As for Butler? He was at Target Center on Monday for his physical exam. Gibson said he saw him and gave him a hug but that they didn’t talk much.

And while Butler didn’t participate in media day, multiple people told me he did play basketball again in Minneapolis — but it was at the downtown Life Time Minneapolis Athletic Club, just a few blocks away from Target Center, in a pickup game.

Officially, the Wolves are saying Butler will miss the first week of practice — training camp opens today — as he continues to rehab from offseason hand surgery. But everyone knows that’s just more posturing.

Sunday’s Vikings debacle felt way too much like 2016

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where every bad memory is seared into our brains. Let’s get to it:

*The 2016 Vikings had their season undone by a leaky offensive line. That team had a bad plan going in, and it only got worse as injuries stacked up. They started out 5-0 and were the talk of the NFL, but that quickly disintegrated into an 8-8 finish.

Those woes were mitigated by an upgrade to nearly adequate line play a year ago — and to the good work Case Keenum did under duress — but injuries again caused the line to break down late in the year and contributed to the 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC title game.

The line was again a concern this season, particularly as the retirement of Joe Berger, an injury to Nick Easton and the continued absence of Pat Elflein early in the year weighed on the matter. The history of new QB Kirk Cousins struggling under duress — including a fumbling problem — only added to the concern.

The Vikings had a bad plan coming into the season and tried to upgrade to adequate with some Band-aids. The offensive line was troubling in Game 1, better in Game 2 and a disaster in Game 3 against the previously winless Bills.

Cousins was under pressure all game and had two early game-changing fumbles. As the game wore on, it became clear that he didn’t trust his blockers and instead fired short passes all over the field.

It looked a disturbing amount like the 2016 season, when Sam Bradford set an NFL completion percentage record (71.6 percent) largely because he threw a ton of short passes to avoid pressure.

Cousins finished Sunday 40 for 55 (72.7 percent) for 296 yards. That’s 5.4 yards per attempt and a mere 7.4 yards per completion.

The sight of a Vikings QB wearing No. 8 and either running for his life, falling to the ground or getting the ball out quickly is all-too-familiar.

After their offseason and in-season moves to try to upgrade themselves in various areas, the Vikings have about enough cap space left to buy a cup of coffee.

Translation: the offensive line pretty much is what it is, and unless it gets better in a hurry the comparisons to 2016 will unfortunately continue.

*One thing to consider as you wonder how the Wolves will fare after the inevitable Jimmy Butler trade and put their faith in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins:

Butler was the main reason the Wolves jumped from 31 to 47 wins last year, but he wasn’t the only reason. The supporting cast around Towns and Wiggins this season is improved from what it was two years ago (and will get additional pieces in return for Butler), and if the bench is at least adequate — after being atrocious each of the last two seasons, particularly two seasons ago — it could help Minnesota remain competitive.

*Three games, three roughing the passer penalties for Clay Matthews. The first could have cost the Packers but didn’t in a win over the Bears. The second cost the Packers a win in what ended up a tie with the Vikings. And the third contributed to a loss to Washington.

The call against the Bears was correct. The next two calls were questionable at best. And so I’ll leave this right here:

Disgusting act? Crowell TD doesn’t draw Buck’s ire like Moss did

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where we understand that sometimes you run out of essential goods and need to improvise. Let’s get to it:

*In addition to performing nicely as an injury replacement on my fantasy football team Thursday night, Jets running back Isaiah Crowell somehow also managed to avoid the ire of Chief Booty-Related Touchdown Celebration Officer Joe Buck.

Buck, you might recall, was none too impressed when the Vikings played the Packers in the playoffs after the 2004 season and Randy Moss celebrated a TD at Lambeau Field with his “fake moon.” Buck’s sensibilities were so offended that he declared it a “disgusting act,” a call that lives on.

So what did Buck do Thursday when Crowell plunged into the Browns end zone (I promise this is not a pun) and then used the ball as a prop while mimicking the act of wiping one’s behind before firing the ball into the stands?

Not much, really. All Buck said was “and that will draw a flag every time” as the yellow hankies rained down.

Maybe the decreased magnitude of the game — not to downplay the Browns’ first win in forever — brought out the muted response? Or maybe Buck has mellowed in the 14 years since Moss?

*The Wolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns became the latest player on the team to decry published rumors and reports, writing on Instagram, “It’s funny when people use your name to better their lives and sell papers. Got no real info, but supposedly got ‘sources’.  But y’all keep falling for the lies.”

It’s unclear to what exactly KAT is referring, though if you’ve been online lately you might have a guess. If it’s something of a more personal nature, KAT is right: he shouldn’t have to address anything.

But if it turns out he’s upset about the perception that his relationship with Jimmy Butler is part of the reason Butler has reportedly requested a trade … well, like Butler — who has been silent except for making vague references on social media — Towns is free to attempt to set the record straight whenever he wants. He had that opportunity in mid-July during a media availability at a basketball camp he was hosting locally, but his camp made it clear he was only going to answer questions about the event.

This is a also good time to remind folks that the Wolves are slated to host media day on Monday for their upcoming season, and all players as well as head coach Tom Thibodeau are slated to talk then. It will be held at Target Center, and pending the results of the next 72 hours I can’t imagine it being anything less than a full-blown circus.

*The Butler saga, by the way, is a big enough national story that satirical Onion got in on it. What’s that they say? There is no such thing as negative publicity?