The Wolves have four point guards now — and none guaranteed for next year

The 2018-19 Timberwolves are living David Kahn’s best life.

Kahn, the former Wolves personnel boss known for drafting every point guard in sight — expect the one he should have drafted — surely would (does?) enjoy this incarnation of the team.

Before he was fired in January, former coach/basketball president Tom Thibodeau amassed four point guards on his roster. The first three — Jeff Teague, Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose — were here when the year started, while the fourth, Jerryd Bayless, arrived 13 games in as the third wheel in the Jimmy Butler trade.

This excess has somehow not felt excessive for much of the season, owing to sporadic nagging injuries to Teague and Rose and the ability of Rose to play off the ball in tandem with another point guard when all three were healthy. It was assumed that Bayless, who was injured when he arrived via trade in November, might not play at all.

But then Bayless got healthy … and one by one, the rest of the point guards were hurt at the same time. That’s been the status quo for the last three games, with Bayless playing heavy minutes as the starter. It turned out the Wolves needed all four point guards. Kahn would be PLEASED.

With Bayless providing key minutes as the Wolves have gone 4-2 in their last six games — including 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in the overtime win over Memphis on Wednesday, when Bayless played 43 minutes — it’s safe to say the Wolves have four established and competent point guards on their roster.

What’s even more unusual than that, though, is this: Any of the four could be gone within a week, and none of the four might be here next season.

Rose and Bayless are unrestricted free agents after this season. Jones is a restricted free agent — meaning the Wolves can match any offer an outside team gives him this summer if it reaches that point, but also that the Wolves can move on from him if they wish. Teague has one more year left on his three-year, $57 million deal but it’s a player option season meaning he could opt-out and test free agency. Teague would seem to be hard-pressed to get more than $19 million anywhere else next season, but if he sensed he could get a multi-year deal with more stability and/or decided he wanted a change of scenery with a team more obviously ready to contend, it isn’t far fetched to think Teague could leave.

The trade deadline is also one week away, next Thursday afternoon, and it’s conceivable any of the four could be dealt by then.

What’s more interesting, though, is what happens long-term. Here are the possibilities as I see them:

1 Status quo, minus a body or two: Teague’s decision will have a lot to do with how the Wolves proceed. Let’s say he opts into the final year of his deal. And let’s say the Wolves reach an agreement with Jones — or match an offer sheet from a competitor — on a multi-year deal that pays him, say, $7-8 million a season. And the Wolves grab a veteran for the minimum as a third point guard/insurance policy. That was basically the plan going into 2017-18, and it worked just fine. A multi-year deal for Jones would give him some security and let the Wolves know they have a potential starter on the roster once Teague’s contract is up. This would make even more sense if Ryan Saunders — who has a very good relationship with Jones — gets the permanent head coaching job. Rose and Bayless are out in this scenario.

2 One stays, everyone else goes: Let’s say Teague opts in, but the Wolves decide to part ways with the other three. In that scenario, they might use their 2019 first-round pick — likely to be in the lottery unless the Wolves rally to make the playoffs — to choose their point guard of the future. Their alignment next year is Teague/rookie/veteran third string, with the idea that the starting role is claimed the following season by the pick (with the possibility, too, of trying to sign Teague to a short-term extension if more development is needed).

Or let’s say Teague opts out. Then they could sign (or match) any offer for Jones and try to hit a home run in the draft, divvying up playing time according to merit. Or turn the keys over to Jones and give him a chance as the full-time, no-doubt starter while filling in behind him with low-cost veterans. Or try to re-sign Rose on a short-term deal while drafting a potential replacement.

3 All in on Rose: The current Wolves player with the greatest upside, at least offensively, is Rose. Before those nagging injuries started to impact his season, he was one of the team’s most important players and its most dynamic scorer. He’s a former MVP, after all. The risk, of course, is obvious: Injuries have derailed so much of his career, and trying to build around him could backfire in a big way. It’s also unclear whether he would want to sign here long-term after the firing of Thibodeau, his longtime coach and someone he credits for much of his success and for giving him a second chance. In this scenario, Teague would probably have to opt out. And the Wolves could either try to retain Jones as a backup/insurance policy, draft another point guard or sign someone else as a backup (maybe even Bayless).

4 Everyone goes: Let’s say Teague opts out or is traded, and the Wolves decide not to re-sign any of the other three. They could then either try to make a splash in free agency — Kemba Walker would be unlikely, but someone like Eric Bledsoe could be a fit — or bet big on drafting a point guard while adding a stabilizing veteran on a one-year deal as a hold-down-the-fort-starter/backup. Either option would be an admission that none of the options currently on the roster, whether for health reason or production reasons, is a core piece for a team trying to build itself into a contender.

5 Big trade: Perhaps the most intriguing deal I’ve seen floated came 10 days ago from Hardwood Paroxysm: With Memphis in free-fall and committed to starting over, the Wolves send Jones, Teague, Bayless, Andrew Wiggins and a future No. 1 pick to the Grizzlies for Mike Conley, Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green.

This deal would have to happen in the next week since some of the players being moved are impending free agents.

Memphis would get a crack at unlocking Wiggins’ potential, the chance to re-sign Jones and a future asset.

The Wolves would be giving up on the idea of Wiggins ever living up to his contract consistently and getting out from the final four years of his max deal. They’d also be giving up three of their four current point guards in addition to a future pick.

They’d be getting Conley — expensive at an average of $33 million per year over the next two seasons before his contract expires, and flirting with his decline years when he turns 32 just before the start of next season. But Conley is also one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the NBA, and if you think he and Marc Gasol are good together imagine Conley and Karl-Anthony Towns.

They Wolves would have more payroll flexibility next season (Conley makes about $10 million less than Wiggins and Teague combined), less two years from now (when only Conley and Wiggins are under contract among the players in the deal) and a ton more flexibility three and four years out (when they could move on from Conley if they wanted to, and be free from the obligations to Wiggins).

The Wolves could also revisit some form of this deal in the offseason, with Wiggins, Teague and a pick being the primary pieces moving out in exchange for Conley and some extra salary bodies.

I’m not sure exactly what I’d do if I was the Wolves, but the three ideas I’d be excited about as a fan are:

*Clear out everyone except Jones and let him run with the starters. He was No. 7 in the NBA among point guards last season in real plus-minus (and is still tops on the Wolves among point guards this season). His advanced numbers are good, and his skill set is enhanced by playing with better players. They could then try to add other key pieces in free agency and the draft.

*Take a big swing in the draft at adding a dynamic young point guard. The Butler trade didn’t trigger a rebuild, but it was a reset. The Wolves are at least one more great player away from any sort of real contention.

*Roll the dice on a trade for Conley, knowing that it would add a key piece and flexibility.

Comeback candidates illustrate Twins’ boom or bust volatility

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where everything is always relative. Let’s get to it:

*If you are busy rationalizing Thursday’s weather forecast because we will *almost* reach zero degrees and the “feels like” temperatures are at least better than they were Wednesday, I have some great news for you: Add a few degrees of internal warmth with the knowledge that less than two weeks from today, Twins pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Now, they probably aren’t taking you with them to Florida. But desperate Minnesotans have often taken solace in the first hint of the return of baseball — and the eventual release from winter’s constrictive embrace.

So let’s start the day with a leftover thought from TwinsFest and associated activities last weekend and this quote from General Manager Thad Levine: “We see a chance for massive improvement on this team if some combination of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jonathan Schoop and Michael Pineda return to their previous performance levels,” Levine said. “We really have perhaps an unusual abundance of variance and volatility on this team. 

Levine went on to say that if all or most of those players are contenders for Comeback Player of the Year, the Twins will be in great shape.

You can read this one of two ways — either as wishful (almost desperate) thinking or as realistic optimism. I would say it’s at least unusual for a team to have so many viable comeback player candidates, but the numbers at least show the potential is there — and that Levine is spot on when he talks about “variance and volatility.”

Consider that in 2017, Buxton (5.2), Schoop (5.2) and Sano (2.5) combined for 12.9 wins above replacement (per Baseball Reference). And that in 2018, they combined for a WAR of 0.6 (with Buxton and Sano both in negative territory).

Also figure in that Pineda, when healthy, historically has delivered a WAR of between 2 and 2.5 over a full season and that he didn’t pitch at all in 2018. Throw in Jason Castro if you want. The Twins catcher probably isn’t accomplished enough to be a comeback candidate, but he posted a 2.5 WAR in 2017 and 0.0 in a mostly injury-filled 2018.

That’s 17 wins the Twins could add from five players. Now, that’s not the same as just projecting 17 more wins and penciling in the Twins for 95 victories should those players return to previous levels of performance, since the players who stood in their places for the 2018 Twins delivered some value.

But they do speak to the boom-or-bust potential of the 2019 Twins, a team that could win 70 or 90 games and not be surprising in either case.

*Jackie Robinson, one of the greatest players and almost certainly the most important player in MLB history, would have turned 100 years old today. The New York Times is leading the way with multiple tributes to his legacy.

*Karl-Anthony Towns hit the game-winner for the Wolves in overtime, but the star of the game was point guard Jerryd Bayless. He played 43 minutes and was a plus-17 in a two-point victory, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. Not bad for a fourth option at point guard with Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones all injured.

The only thing to be mad about is that he missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation, denying us the chance to write the headline: “They went to Jerryd … and said Bayless out.”

The Greenway-Grand Rapids rivalry: 15 years after the coldest day I can remember

As cold as it was Wednesday — I don’t plan on stepping outside even for a minute, by the way, after getting a taste of what was to come on Tuesday night — my memory tells me I’ve lived through even colder moments.

Growing up in Grand Forks, N.D., provided several moments that are contenders for the top honor, including attending an outdoor UND football playoff game in December that still rattles my bones. But the extreme of the extreme came back in 2004, when I pitched the idea of going up to the Iron Range to experience what many told me was the best boys’ hockey rivalry in the state: Grand Rapids vs. Greenway. Plenty of rivalries claim this distinction, but there’s something about two smallish neighboring towns that nudged me up there.

Looking back in the Star Tribune archives at the story I wrote, it turns out that the game I went up there to cover as part of the reporting was on Jan. 30, 2004 — exactly 15 years ago. Temperatures reached 30 below, and school was canceled Thursday and Friday. But the game? They played.

Here, then, is the story that ran back then:

Mother Nature tried her best, but she should know better by now.

On Thursday and Friday, two of the coldest days in a decade in
one of the coldest parts of the state, classes were canceled at
Grand Rapids and Greenway (of Coleraine) high schools. Temperatures dipped to minus-30 (without the wind chill) and weather forecasts warned against exposed flesh. Cars made noises like wounded animals, if they started at all.

The question on everyone’s mind, naturally, was this: Was it cold
enough for Friday’s boys’ hockey game between Greenway and Grand
Rapids to be postponed?

Information and speculation began bouncing around Thursday,
though athletic directors from both schools said they wouldn’t make
a decision until Friday afternoon. A gentleman at a Grand Rapids
restaurant Thursday evening said he heard the game would be postponed.

The diehards kept repeating, “They’ll play” — and they were
right. You can mess with some things up here, but anything short of
a natural disaster means Greenway and Grand Rapids are going to
play some hockey. It’s too cold?

Put on your parka and drop the puck.

They do it twice a year (three times if they meet in the Section
7AA playoffs), and have been doing so for the past half-century.
Nobody has kept track of the all-time series record, but everyone
agrees it must be pretty close. The games almost always are
nail-biters, regardless of who has the better team.

And it’s never just a game — it’s an event. Grand Rapids
(population 7,764) and Coleraine (1,100) regularly pack 3,000 fans
into games. The towns are separated by a five-mile stretch of U.S.
Highway 169 and a deep philosophical chasm: Folks in Grand Rapids
think Greenway is a bastion of hockey evil. Residents of Coleraine
are convinced that description belongs to Grand Rapids.

“Everybody debates what the best rivalry is in the state,” said
Pat Guyer, 1981 Greenway graduate and former boys’ hockey coach.

Guyer leaned in, and in a matter-of-fact tone, added, “This is
the best.”

History

According to newspaper archives, the teams first met on Dec. 18,
1952, with Grand Rapids winning 4-0. Games were played outdoors
back then, of course.

Each school has taken turns getting the best of the rivalry since
then. Greenway carried the 1960s, making five state tournament
appearances and winning titles in 1967 and 1968. Grand Rapids came back to dominate the next decade, going to state every season from 1974-1981 and winning three championships in that span.

The rivalry took an increasingly bitter turn toward the end of
Rapids’ dominant run. Goaltender Jon Casey, a Coleraine native who
played at Greenway as a sophomore, moved to Grand Rapids as a
junior when his dad got a job at the Blandin paper mill in town.

As a senior during the 1979-80 season, Casey — who later went on
to play for the North Stars — led Grand Rapids to a state title.
Greenway was upended in the section playoffs, and folks in
Coleraine still are convinced that had Casey stayed with the
Raiders, they would have won their third state title instead of
Grand Rapids.

Some folks say the rivalry also plays out along economic lines.
Grand Rapids, with its Target and Home Depot stores, is a little
too high-falootin’ for the blue collar folks in Coleraine. This is
a relative measure — nobody in the Twin Cities would accuse Grand
Rapids of being white-collar — that should paint a pretty good
picture of where the towns stand.

“They’re only five miles apart — it’s almost like the towns are
one in the same,” said Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque, who also
played hockey at the school. “But they’re definitely separate.”

Advance tickets are sold at the high schools for Greenway-Grand
Rapids games, which typically sell out. Conduct at the games can
range from somewhat civil to downright nasty.

Dave Carlson, a Grand Rapids resident and longtime hockey scout,
recalled a game several years ago in which he cheered a Grand
Rapids goal and was promptly whacked to the ground by a Coleraine
woman fiercely swinging her purse.

At Coleraine’s Hodgins-Berado Arena last season, Greenway fans
threw a live chicken onto the ice. This only makes sense if you
know that Grand Rapids — formerly nicknamed “Indians” but now
“Thunderhawks” — are derisively referred to as “Thunderchickens” by Raiders fans.

“There have been fisticuffs in the past,” said Ted Anderson,
sports editor at the Grand Rapids Herald Review. “It’s been the
fans moreso than the players.”

The game

Directions from Hodgins-Berado Arena in Coleraine to the IRA
Civic Center in Grand Rapids are given thusly by a Coleraine
native: Instead of taking Highway 169, use a winding back road
(ice-packed? yes) until you get to Highway 38. Make a left and
you’ll slowly wind into town, and you can’t miss the arena.

The main objective: That way, you’ll be spared the displeasure of
driving through Grand Rapids.

Friday’s game in Rapids is a 7:30 p.m. start. By 6:15 — about
halfway through the junior varsity game — there are already about
1,000 people in what will eventually be, in spite of the weather,
another packed house.

Varsity players from both sides watch much of the JV third period
from one end of the rink, staring straight ahead and seemingly
willing the seconds off the clock. A Grand Rapids fan shouts “go
home” as Greenway JV players skate off after a 6-0 loss. One player
turns and offers back a gesture easy to identify even through
hockey gloves.

Grand Rapids varsity players are on the ice for warmups before
the JV handshakes are over. Grand Rapids defenseman Alex Goligoski and Greenway forward Reed Ylitalo, both seniors, bump each other and exchange shoves as they skate laps. Everybody knows what is at stake.

“Losing to Greenway is horrible,” said Goligoski, a Division I
prospect. “You get to the locker room and just sit there. You don’t
want to do anything.”

Greenway had that feeling earlier this season after losing 4-3 in
overtime to Rapids in Coleraine. The Raiders will use that game as
extra motivation.

“They got the first one on us, boys,” Greenway senior captain Joe
Schuster says in the locker room minutes before the opening
faceoff. “Let’s go get them! We owe them one!”

Raiders coach Gary “Bucky” Ohrn, who played in the rivalry
against LaRoque in high school, chimes in: “There’s not a lot that
has to be said. This game takes care of itself. I know how you feel
about this game. Enjoy it.”

And the game went exactly as Schuster had said — the Raiders just
owed ’em one. Greenway went up 1-0 after the first period and 2-1
after two. Rapids tied it 21 seconds into the third on a blast from
the right circle by Tom Stunyo.

Ylitalo spent part of Friday afternoon fighting a fire at his
grandmother’s house, and his father, Tom, was rushed to the
hospital because of smoke inhalation. But Ylitalo (with Tom in the
stands) had the most jump of any player in the third period. His
rush down the left side set up Ben Fearing’s go-ahead goal with six
minutes left and his breakaway goal with two minutes left was the
clincher in a 4-2 Greenway victory.

As Grand Rapids players slumped off the ice, Greenway players
piled into a wild locker room celebration as if they had won the
state tournament. Neither team is a standout this season (Greenway
still is below .500 even after the victory), but it doesn’t matter.

“There’s nothing better in your senior year than winning against
Rapids,” Ylitalo said.

Raiders players hustled out of their jerseys and shoulder pads,
throwing on letter jackets over their bare chests.

“We don’t shower in Rapids!” one shouted. “We shower at our rink!”

Ohrn was asked which route the team bus would be taking on the
way back to Coleraine. He grinned.

“You don’t want to drive through Rapids — unless you win,” he
said. “Our old bus driver, if we won, would drive through Rapids
honking the horn all the way through town.”

Yeo over Boudreau? Thawing out with some of your hottest sports takes

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, which has never been more appropriately named than it is today. Let’s get to it:

*You might have heard that it is cold outside. Almost everyone with a weather app has taken a screen shot of the current conditions and posted it on social media (hand raised), as if this was the DEFINITIVE PROOF that it is ridiculously cold. If that didn’t do it for you, step outside for three seconds. It’s awful.

By Saturday, though, it will be 40 degrees — which is almost as ridiculous as the “feels like” readings of 50-below we’re seeing now. And to send Minnesota in the proper direction for a thaw, I’ve asked you to post on Twitter your hottest sports takes (instead of your coldest weather app screen shots).

It seems as though quite a few of you cooped up and ready for a distraction, seeing as how there were quite a few responses. Here are some of the best, with my comments (image is one I apparently used in 2015):

Interesting. Overall I’m going to give this one a “no” rating, but this fact remains: The Wild has advanced past the first round of the playoffs three times in its existence. Two of those times came under Mike Yeo, and zero of those times came under Bruce Boudreau. That said, Boudreau has produced better regular seasons and arguably could have achieved similar results had he arrived earlier in the Wild’s window of contention.

IALTO.

Radical. Scorching hot. But if you’re going to make a bold move, do it from a position of depth instead of one that is very thin beyond Thielen and Stefon Diggs. I’m more intrigued with the idea of trading Xavier Rhodes, even if it might send Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer into a rage.

Well, Mauer delivered negative value on his $184 million contract, but he delivered massive over-value before that. FanGraphs says his production was worth $307 million over the life of his career — way more than he earned. If we take the long view, he was absolutely worth the money.

Ouch. That’s probably taking things too far, but average attendance at Gophers home games is down to 8,477 this season — less than 85 percent of capacity. Just a decade ago, they were at 100 percent capacity and drawing 10,000 a game. In 2012-13, the last year before Big Ten Hockey, the Gophers were over 99 percent capacity for home games. Whether you want to blame the new conference or some down years — it’s probably a combination of both and some other factors as well — Gophers men’s hockey isn’t what it once was.

Come on, man. I know this is mostly in jest and speaks more to Wiggins’ recent uptick in production than serious HOF credentials. Even being an All-Star at some point in his career would be an accomplishment given his overall arc.

Oddly specific, though I’m told this Chiken Fingerz guy is in cahoots with former blog commenter and guest post enthusiast Clarence Swamptown, who in 2011 correctly predicted the relocation of the NHL’s Atlanta franchise to Winnipeg. Maybe he knows something?

Usually the expression is “on,” not “in,” though I suppose the latter is even more uncomfortable. Nevertheless, no, Whalen is not on the hot seat after half a season (one that started with an undefeated nonconference run, by the way).

Ruining is harsh. But I think there is a discussion to be had about whether analytics in all sports hurt the on-field/court/ice experience for fans. In baseball, it’s resulted in more walks and strikeouts, which aren’t much fun to watch. In basketball, three-pointers are king. I’m not saying it’s definitively worse to watch, but the more we know about what drives production certainly has an impact not just on results but what we see.

Should you be mad at the Twins for their decreased payroll?

Even before colleague Phil Miller distilled some of the noise about the Twins’ 2019 payroll into a thoughtful, balanced and nuanced story this weekend, I kept having thoughts about the economics of baseball and the Twins.

And now, with Miller’s story as a backdrop, let’s take a little closer look at some of the issues at hand:

A BASEBALL PROBLEM, NOT A TWINS PROBLEM

With no salary cap in Major League Baseball — and more importantly no salary floor, or minimum a team must spend — there is a wide variance in spending whereby teams can spend as much or as little as they want. It might hurt attendance, but they will be cushioned by other increasing revenue streams from massive national TV contracts, MLB Advanced Media and other sources. Even the lowest-revenue team, the Oakland A’s, took in $210 million in revenue according to Forbes and operated at a profit.

In the NBA, by contrast, there is a salary cap AND a minimum of basketball related-revenue that teams must spend on player salaries — set between 49 and 51 percent a year, per the most recent collective bargaining agreement.

Twins officials have long said that their aim is right in that range: 50 percent of revenue going toward payroll. In reality, though, it has often fallen short — as Aaron Gleeman noted in a tweet that started a lot of this conversation.

Looking at previous year’s revenue and the next year’s payroll (which seems like a good way to do it), Gleeman — using Forbes revenue calculations and opening day payrolls — found that in each of the last seven years the Twins have fallen short of 50 percent. Their collective revenue was $1.621 billion in that span, while their payroll was $723 million — a shortage in spending, he notes, of $87.5 million over seven years, or about $12.5 million a year.

But here’s the thing: That doesn’t make the Twins unique. In fact, it makes them average. Expressed as a percentage, the Twins have spent 44.6 percent of previous year’s revenue on next year’s payroll in that span.

Looking at MLB as a whole, total revenues in 2017 (per Forbes) were $9.46 billion if you simply add up revenues from all 30 teams. And total payroll in 2018, per Spotrac, was $4.18 billion. As a percentage, MLB teams spent … 44.2 percent of revenue on payroll.

That’s not to say it’s right, or that if everyone is doing it the Twins should, too. But it does suggest the problem is more systemic than specific to one team.

The disincentive to spend, combined with a salary structure that underpays players early in their careers, combined with a system that doesn’t enforce a spending minimum as a percentage of revenue, is set up in favor of the owners not the players. It figures to be a major point of contention when the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

BUT THE TWINS ARE REALLY CHEAP THIS YEAR

The major point of contention this year is that the Twins aren’t just poised to miss the 50 percent mark by a little … they’re going to miss it by a lot. Even if revenue was flat and the Twins took in $261 million in 2018 (same as 2017, the last year for which figures are available), they’re on pace this year to have a payroll of about $100 million unless they do some more free agent shopping. That would be just 38 percent of revenue, and that’s assuming flat revenue.

That certainly reflects a business/philosophical decision — one that can be justified (more on that in a minute) but one that also has some fans justifiably irked. Miller got to the heart of it in an excellent story over the weekend with the perfect intro: Twins critics who grumbled for years about Joe Mauer’s $23 million annual salary aren’t going to be happy about who will cash those big checks in 2019, either: Jim Pohlad.

Quotes from within that story shed light on the Twins’ outlook for 2019 and beyond. Said Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey: “For teams that are outside the top few teams in payroll, when you look at it year to year, there’s a lot of variation in those clubs, in terms of performance. A lot of it has to come from your young players. Buying wins just through free agency is a little bit of fool’s gold. You need to invest in the group that you have, and I feel really good about ours.”

Added General Manager Thad Levine: “The best moves are made not when you’re trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open. We’re very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.”

Translation: They don’t know how good the Twins are going to be, and they’re using 2019 as a period of evaluation before making long-term commitments. If the team improves, they’ll add more players (and theoretically have even greater revenue if attendance improves along with the team).

This makes a good deal of sense, and it’s not an uncommon strategy — particularly for a team with a lot of young core players. Not only are the Twins waiting to see how the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios develop, but also they’re being mindful of not bogging down future payrolls with expensive free agents on long-term contracts because those core young players will get a lot more expensive as they get older.

Take the Astros, for example. After years of being awful (by their own design mostly), they had a big year in 2015. They won 86 games and made the postseason. Their revenues jumped up to $270 million. But they were still pretty young and had low-cost core players. They were also probably unsure whether their success was a trend or mirage. So their payroll in 2016 was just $103 million — 38 percent of the previous year’s revenue.

By 2018, revenues had continued to climb — but so did their payroll as they added expensive players (like Justin Verlander at the deadline in 2017) and some of their young core players reached arbitration. Their payroll last year was $163 million. It might just keep going up; Jose Altuve, who made $3.7 million in 2016, will start his five-year deal at $29 million per season in 2020. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman will see their salaries rise with arbitration.

The Twins are essentially budgeting for future spending on core players — or their replacements if they don’t pan out. But for now, a lot of those core players are still cheap.

BUT THEY CAN SPEND WHATEVER THEY WANT

Any payroll limitations are self-imposed in baseball, of course, since there is no salary cap. Even if the Twins set a goal of spending 50 percent of revenue on payroll, they could spend 60 or 70 percent if they wanted.

Here, though, it’s also important to remember that free agency is a two-way street. The Twins might want to make a serious run at Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but do those players really want to come here? It can be cold at the start and end of the season, and it’s certainly cold in the offseason. There are plenty of nice summer days, but there are also plenty of hot and humid ones. If players are being honest, this is not a top free agency destination.

That said, there are ways around that beyond just drafting and developing players — most notably trading for a big-ticket player on a long-term contract and supplementing with mid-level free agents.

If the Twins start being consistently competitive, revenues should climb. Per Forbes, they took in just $70 million in gate receipts in 2017, compared to $100 million in 2010 when Target Field opened (equivalent to $112 million in 2017 dollars).

I could see seasons when the Twins’ payroll reaches $140-150 million if Buxton and Sano become stars, and I think fans would be justifiably mad if Falvey and Levine didn’t make bolder moves in those seasons.

This year feels like an in-between season and a promise made about the future. How you feel about that in the present is a matter of perspective.

Imagine if the Super Bowl was in freezing Minneapolis this year …

The arrival of swear-at-the-sky cold temperatures this week juxtaposed with the scheduling of the Super Bowl has led countless Minnesotans to gaze wistfully into the distance and say (or tweet) to no one in particular, “Wow, it’s a good thing the Super Bowl isn’t in Minnesota this year.”

There’s nothing better than talking about the weather, unless it’s talking about the weather and comparing it to weather that’s already happened.

Granted, air temperatures flirting with minus-30 – not the “feels-like” temperature, we remind everyone, the actual thermometer reading – are a certifiable weather event. As much as I tell newcomers to the state that “it’s not usually like this” during cold snaps, it most certainly isn’t usually like this.

But on this point of being fortunate that the Super Bowl was last year and not this year? Well, it seems like there’s some revisionist history at work.

To some degree, I’ll agree — but only from a perception standpoint. See, the media starts to descend on a Super Bowl destination a full week before the game. There were plenty of media members already here last year on Monday for Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center (hey St. Paul, you mattered and contributed, too).

If national writers had been here for 30 below, they would have made sure nobody outside the region visited in the winter ever again. They still shivered and complained a year ago, but it was quaint.

For the actual fans, though — and there are some of them who manage to get tickets to the Super Bowl — it would have been way better this year. Yeah, the locals still would have had to deal with the pesky Patriots. But they would have been without the fresh NFC title game heartbreak and obnoxious righteousness of Eagles fans.

And the weather? Well, unlike those whose jobs require them to be at the Super Bowl site several days in advance, fans generally have other jobs and don’t arrive until Thursday night or even Friday for a Super Bowl weekend.

Last year, those fans showed up just as things were getting relatively cold here. The high temperature the Friday before the Super Bowl was 12, and the low was minus-8 last year. Super Bowl Sunday hovered around zero for much of the day.

This year? It’s supposed to be 40 degrees on Saturday and above 30 on Super Bowl Sunday. All the Dudes Who Love To Wear Shorts In The Winter will definitely be wearing shorts this weekend, and even someone from a warm-weather state would only experience moderate discomfort.

Our only concern had the Super Bowl been here this year would have been whether fans who aren’t from around here got the wrong idea and thought winters here really aren’t that bad and that we’re all soft.

In any event, the Super Bowl is not here. It’s in Atlanta (highs in the upper 40s to upper 50s this week).

Maybe we’ll just have to resume obsessing about the Final Four in Minneapolis in early April, when it could be anywhere from 10 degrees (record low on April 6) to 86 degrees (record high).

Win over Iowa puts Gophers on an NCAA tournament trajectory

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where a little snow and cold can’t keep us down. Let’s get to it:

*The Big Ten men’s basketball season is a rugged affair, and it’s only become more so this season with the expansion to a 20-game conference season.

A single game probably won’t define a team’s fate, but some are more important than others. The Gophers’ 92-87 victory over Iowa on Sunday felt like one of those “more important than others” types of wins.

It boosted the Gophers to 5-4 in the conference, netted them a win over a ranked team and sent their RPI soaring from No. 40 to No. 30. With a home win over Illinois — a chance to avenge an ugly loss earlier this month — Minnesota would reach the midpoint of the Big Ten season at 6-4. From there, it might just take four more wins to get to the NCAA tournament.

Aspirations should be higher than just making it, but the only way to build gradual goals is to keep banking wins. Sunday was a big one, particularly with some tough second-half games looming.

*In a move hinted and and speculated about for a while now, Pelicans star Anthony Davis has indicated he won’t re-sign with New Orleans and wants a trade. This is pretty much textbook NBA, with the Celtics and Lakers likely to be bidding for his services via trade this offseason.

Of note for Wolves fans: Davis can be a free agent in the summer of 2020 because the five-year max extension he signed at the end of his rookie contract contained a player option for the fifth season. Karl-Anthony Towns’ five-year deal, signed this past offseason and taking effect next year, does NOT have a player option. So the Wolves have another year beyond what the Pelicans had to convince Towns he should stay here beyond that deal.

*Speaking of guys named Anthony, trades and eyebrows, it at least raised my eyebrows a little Sunday when the Wolves’ Anthony Tolliver was a DNP against Utah.

The Wolves’ three-point marksman started the season in the rotation, then fell out of it for quite a while only to resurface amid injuries in January. He had appeared in every game in January, averaging 17.3 minutes this month, including 16 minutes against Utah on Friday when he was a plus-14 and made two big three-pointers.

It was mentioned multiple times on the Wolves broadcast that Tolliver could have helped space the floor in Sunday’s rematch loss to the Jazz.

It might have been as simple as interim coach Ryan Saunders liking the minutes he got from forward Luol Deng, who had 15 points and made 3 of 4 three-point attempts in 26 minutes.

But with the trade deadline approaching Feb. 7 and Tolliver perhaps an enticing piece for a team looking for a low-commitment shooter off the bench, his playing time at least bears watching.

10-year-old win science fair with project on Tom Brady cheating

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where the truth cannot be controversial. Let’s get to it:

*The NFL concluded years ago that Tom Brady cheated as part of the “Deflategate” scandal, eventually suspending Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season as punishment for under-inflated footballs used in the AFC title game against the Colts.

Now a 10-year-old in Kentucky named Ace Davis is taking things to another level. He entered a project on Brady and deflated footballs in his school science fair — and won. While his methodology might not be air-tight — Ace had his mom and sister throw footballs of various levels of inflation as a means of proving how Brady gained a competitive advantage — his trolling of the Patriots QB was rock-solid.

NFL Draft Diamonds did a short interview with him, including this golden response to how he came up with the idea for the project: “Because I hate Tom Brady, he’s been accused of cheating before, I want him to be caught.”

It’s safe to say which team Ace will be rooting for in next weekend’s Super Bowl.

*For all the latest breaking news on Russia, election tampering and connections to the White House, your one-stop source is now the Twitter feed of former NFL player Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco), who says he watched Roger Stone’s arrest unfold Friday morning.

*Reader Tony has a good question: Why have the Timberwolves been defending three-pointers better lately? I’ll need to examine things a little more closely, but in the small eight-game sample size of the Ryan Saunders Era things have improved.

Opponents are making 34.2 percent of three-pointers — making the Wolves eighth-best in the NBA during that span after being last (37.3 percent) in that metric at the time Tom Thibodeau was fired. If the trend continues, an examination of Saunders’ methods or what he is preaching will certainly be in order. Playing teams like the Lakers — 29th in the NBA in three-point percentage, and just 8 for 28 last night in a loss to the Wolves — sure helps.

*The Golden State Warriors defeated the Wizards in Washington on Thursday, but before that they met with former President Barack Obama. You might recall that there weren’t a lot of warm fuzzies exchanged between Warriors players and President Trump when they won the NBA title in 2017.

Tidying up rosters: Imagining Marie Kondo helping Minnesota sports teams

In case you somehow missed it, Marie Kondo is taking over the world one closet at a time.

Between her book and Netflix show — the latter just came out a few weeks ago and is titled “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” — her methods of minimalist-inspired decluttering as a means of transforming lives have become very popular.

While sort-of watching a couple episodes of her Netflix show and Kondo-ing my overflowing T-shirt drawer last weekend at the urging of my tidying up wife doesn’t qualify me as an expert, it does qualify me as someone who knows just enough to be dangerous.

Kondo is Japanese and her ideas are rooted in that country’s culture. Her KonMari Method is designed to, in its own words, “help more people tidy their spaces by choosing joy, and we are committed to developing the simplest and most effective tools to help you get there.”

Kondo encourages people to go through their belongings by category instead of by room and to ask themselves if these items “spark joy” in their lives. If they do, you keep as many things as you want. If they don’t, you thank them for the role they’ve played in your life and let go of them as part of a decluttering process.

Now, this usually is done with clothes, books and other mementos. But this here is a sports blog, and this blog post asks …

WHAT IF: The super-busy Marie Kondo, who no longer does the tidying up for you, was able to shake free and visit with key stakeholders in Minnesota sports. And also …

WHAT IF: She applied the KonMari method to the important decisions local teams have to make about their rosters?

This is a ridiculous premise, but I had the idea a week ago and I just can’t shake it. And it sparks joy. So let’s continue (all made-up Kondo dialogue is through her interpreter):

Marie Kondo visits Wild GM Paul Fenton

MK: Paul, tell me why I’m here.

PF: Marie, I inherited a team with a lot of decent-to-good players but not a lot of great ones. This team has been decent-to-good for a long time but never great. I’m really having a hard time deciding what to do — which players should stay and which players should go.

MK: I see. First, what I want you to do is take all your forwards, defensemen and goalies and put them in separate piles.

PF: Not … literally?

MK: No, figuratively. Good, now that you’ve done that, I need you to go through each player one by one and ask a simple question: Does this player continue to spark joy in my life? The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to get rid of anyone as long as they spark joy.

PF: Well, see, that’s the problem. A lot of them spark joy sometimes, and then other times they don’t. And then there are some players I couldn’t get rid of even if I wanted to.

MK: Interesting. Tell me more about the second part. A lot of people feel that way as they begin the process, but then they realize it feels good to let go.

PF: No, like it’s against the rules of their contracts. They can’t be traded. I’m not saying I would want to trade them necessarily, but it’s not even an option. Imagine having a shirt for more than six years … and knowing that you’re going to have it for six more, no matter what.

MK: In these cases, it’s most important to focus on the things you can control. And it sounds to me like you might need a little more time. I can squeeze you into my schedule again in mid-June, and we’ll need to make some tougher decisions by then.

Marie Kondo visits Vikings GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer

MK: I’ll start with you, Mike. What about football sparks joy to you?

MZ: Complementary football. Running the ball well on offense. Controlling the clock. Flipping field position with efficiency and good punt coverage. A nasty defense. Scoring 21 points and winning.

MK: Good, good. Rick?

RS: Winning without killing the salary cap. Drafting and developing long-term players. Trying to bring this franchise the Super Bowl it deserves.

MK: What about a consistently good offensive line?

RS and MZ, in unison: I wouldn’t know.

MK: Well, here’s what I know. This roster needs tidying up. And even though your lines of thinking might not be on parallel tracks, your futures are very much tied to each other. And you both need to be happy. This is how I propose you spark joy: Mike, you get to keep both Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson. But that’s it. No more first-round cornerbacks. Coach the guys you have into a top-five defense. Rick, you need to hit a home run in the draft. Choose an offensive lineman in the first round. It will spark joy, I promise. Use another high pick on a lineman. Find low-cost help in free agency. Do your jobs as well as you’ve ever done them in 2019, or else someone else might be figuring out what sparks joy.

Marie Kondo visits Twins bosses Thad Levine and Derek Falvey

MK: Tell me about your team.

DF: Well, we won 78 games last year and didn’t get a lot of help from the free agents we signed. Luckily, a lot of them were on one-year contracts, so we don’t still have them. Unfortunately, the fact that they were on one-year contracts might have contributed to their poor performances. They did not spark joy.

MK: Good, so you know what to avoid. And you didn’t repeat the mistake this year?

TL: Well … we did sign a lot of guys to one-year deals. But it’s going to be different this time. Actually, if you look at it our roster is pretty well set. There have been some complaints about our lower payroll, but we want to give our young players a chance to play next to some of these short-term veterans.

MK: OK, so it sounds like you don’t really need my help.

DF: Well … there is one player we aren’t sure about. He played really well for us last season, and he wouldn’t cost much money, but we’re not sure if we should keep him on the team.

MK: I’m sensing the problem. As you visualize him, does he spark joy? My guess is he doesn’t, but I don’t want to be presumptuous.

TL: Marie, he sparks SO MUCH joy. The fans love him. His teammates love him. Even his name, Willians, is lovable.

MK: I think you just answered your own question. You must keep this Willians fellow.

Scene: Marie Kondo visits Wolves GM Scott Layden

MK: Where’s Tom?

SL: Oh, you must not have followed the NBA news. Tom was fired a few weeks ago.

MK: I see. Well a good part of the tidying up has begun. He did not spark joy?

SL: I really shouldn’t answer that. But playing for the new coach, Ryan, seems to be sparking some joy in our players. I’m just not sure if it’s temporary or not. We have a lot of long-term questions to answer, but not a lot of stakeholders who are guaranteed to be here for a long time.

MK: It sounds like there are pressures of time?

SL: Well, the trade deadline is a couple weeks away. We have a lot of guys we could move if we decide to go that route.

MK: I need to ask you to put all those players into a pile, in your mind. And ask yourself: Does this player spark joy?

SL: There’s a point guard. He’s pretty young still, and he’s a local legend. He sparks joy.

MK: You should keep that point guard. You remember what happened the last time you traded a point guard who sparked joy. Some fans never forgave Tom.

SL: *wipes away tears* Oh, Ricky.

Marie Kondo visits Lynx coach/GM Cheryl Reeve

MK: Cheryl, are you OK?

CR: Yes, yes. It’s just been a weird year. For seven years everything was about as great as it could be. But the last year was tough. One player who sparked joy retired. Some others are contemplating their futures. I just don’t know if it’s time to make big changes.

MK: Does your team still spark joy?

CR: Absolutely.

MK: Remember that with my method you don’t have to get rid of anything or anybody. You’ll know when the time is right if they no longer spark joy.

Marie Kondo visits United sporting director Manny Lagos and coach Adrian Heath

MK: Hello gentlemen. How can I help you?

ML: Well … this is probably a problem you’re not used to, but we’re not really trying to get rid of things. We’re trying to add things. Imagine someone getting a big promotion, and then finally having enough money to move from a small apartment into their own big house. That’s kind of what we’re doing.

MK: I understand. I just want to caution you. You still need to make sure that the things you can afford — players, in your case — spark joy. I don’t want to come back here in August and find your field cluttered with what you didn’t really want.

AH: Not giving up a million goals would spark joy for me.

MK: Well that’s a good place to start.

Baseball Prospectus top 101 list: How should we view Twins’ prospects?

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes it’s all about framing. Let’s get to it:

*Baseball Prospectus on Wednesday released its list of the top 101 prospects, and depending on how you want to look at it the list has both relatively bad and good news for the Twins.

If you’re framing it only in terms of the top 101, you might view it as a negative that the Twins only have three players on the list. That’s not bad in a vacuum, but they’ve had more prospects on similar lists in recent years.

If you want to re-frame the list, though, you’ll find that all three of those top 101 players are also in the top 40. So what the Twins might lack in quantity they are making up for in perceived quality. Those three: shortstop Royce Lewis (No. 8); RHP Brusdar Graterol (No. 33) and outfielder Alex Kirilloff (No. 39).

Lewis has earned his place on this list by turning in two very good professional seasons since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. He cooled off a little once he reached high-A ball in Fort Myers, but he had barely turned 19. He’s on a promising arc and is making the Twins look smart for choosing him instead of Brendan McKay (No. 42 on the list) or Hunter Greene (No. 75) with that much-debated top pick.

Graterol and Kirilloff also turned in big years in 2018, and like Lewis they made it as far as Fort Myers at relatively young ages. Having three prospects in the top 40 is a very good thing.

If there’s a secondary concern on this list beyond depth, though, it’s that none of the Twins’ best prospects seem particularly close to helping the major league club given that none has even had a sniff of Class AA yet.

While some former prospects have graduated to big league status (like Fernando Romero), the absence of guys closer to the majors on this list like Stephen Gonsalves or Nick Gordon means that at least in the eyes of Baseball Prospectus there doesn’t figure to be an influx of more top-end young talent at Target Field in 2019.

And sadly, there is no Willians Astudillo on the list. Major oversight.

Also, if you want to feel really old just scan the top of the list for the sons of players you might remember vividly: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (No. 1 overall), Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 3) and Bo Bichette, son of Dante (No. 12).

*If the NHL season ended today — which it does not, though it will feel like it with a weeklong break for the Wild — Minnesota be the No. 3 team in the Central Division and face No. 2 Nashville in the opening round of the playoffs. That would be interesting, for sure, for Wild GM Paul Fenton, who came here after being an assistant GM with the Predators.

*It should be fun — and by that I mean not fun at all — for Pittsburgh fans and media members to analyze Antonio Brown’s cryptic Thursday morning tweet.

*If the Wolves have any hopes of making the playoffs — and perhaps any hopes of keeping their roster intact leading up to Feb. 7 trade deadline — the next six games are huge starting Thursday against the LeBron-less Lakers. They then have two against Utah, and a game with Denver sandwiched between two against Memphis. Getting a win over the Lakers, and saving something in the tank for a back-to-back Friday at a Utah squad the Wolves are chasing, is important.