Could Wolves be in a spot to draft the next Pascal Siakam?


Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where it’s officially air conditioner season. Let’s get to it:

*It’s dangerous on a lot of levels to make comparisons between athletes at far different stages of their careers simply because of physical appearance. So I’m going to tread very lightly into this area with the knowledge that an established 25-year-old NBA player and an 18-year-old prospect are, obviously, two very different people.

That said, things that work tend to get copied. The NBA’s Raptors are evidence of that on a lot of levels — and one of them was on display front and center in Thursday’s Game 1 finals victory over Golden State.

Pascal Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 draft, scored 32 points on an otherworldly 14 of 17 from the field for the Raptors.

He is a great example of incremental progress and the high upside that can come from drafting a late bloomer. The Cameroon native played at New Mexico State and has ascended from valuable role player (and G League Finals MVP in 2017) to a key scorer who could dethrone the Warriors.

And he’s also being championed as a good-scenario comp for Sekou Doumbouya, the 18-year-old international player from France who could be a lottery pick in a few weeks.

It helps that both players are listed at 6-9, 230 pounds and that both can run the floor and defend. They are seven years apart in age, and Siakam was 22 when he was drafted — four years older than Doumbouya is now — so talking about them as prospects is a little bit of apples to oranges.

But he’s intriguing — particularly because a lot of mock drafts have him going sometime late in the lottery, right around the time the Wolves will pick at No. 11. This highlight reel has some impressive moments:

If he is available, you could make a compelling argument that the Wolves should take him — even if it meant developing in the G League for a chunk of his rookie scale contract.

At the very least, it would be fun to see what new President Gersson Rosas would do if Doumbouya is there at No. 11 because it would give at glimpse into his roster-building strategy.

*Packers coach Matt LaFleur reportedly tore his Achilles playing basketball at Lambeau Field. The report made no mention of any involvement from Anthony Barr.

*This is … encouraging.

Twins’ Class AAA team shuts down fan asking about ‘straight pride night’

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where it’s better late than never. Let’s get to it:

*One of the terrible things about privilege is that it leads people to wonder why the world isn’t always tilted in their favor or to their whims, instead of just being that way most of the time.

I’m not saying that’s definitely what motivated someone to inquire about a “straight pride night” so that things “can be equal” in response to the Rochester Red Wings — the Class AAA affiliate of the Twins — announcing their first ever Pride Night in partnership with local LGBTQ organization Out Alliance.

But I will say the response from whoever delivered it for the Red Wings on their official Facebook page pretty much nailed it.

We had a deaf culture day. No one asked when’s hearing culture night. We had Women in Sports Night. No one said when’s men in sports night. … If you’re not for inclusion and promoting a welcoming environment for everyone then don’t come July 2. We have 69 other home games this season.”

It should also be pointed out that most of the response to the event, per reporting by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, has been positive.

*I could sit around all day watching videos of Randy Moss and Deion Sanders catching fish and talking about their glory days.

Maybe you could, too?

*This Warriors vs. Raptors matchup reminds me a little of the 2004 NBA finals, when the assumption was the dynasty Lakers (winners of three titles in a row from 2000-02 and in search of a fourth in five years, just like the Warriors) were the presumptive favorites against the Pistons.

I’m not saying the Raptors are going to shock the world and win in five games like the Pistons did. But as basically a 3 to 1 underdog, I would say the Raptors are very undervalued and could very well win this whole thing.

Coming back would have helped Gophers, but not Amir Coffey’s draft stock

The dizzying pace of change in the modern world allows for multiple instances — daily? — that force us to question preexisting norms and wonder if our line of thinking still holds true.

This presents a formidable challenge to our brain circuitry, which has spent years perfecting shortcuts to answer seemingly routine questions in order to save the real power for the more complex ones.

Sports are particularly prone to this because certain things have been seemingly hard-wired into those of us of a particular minimum age for as long as we can remember.

Runner on second, nobody out: If nothing else, at least move the runner over. (Wait, that’s not the plan any more?)

Going for it on 4th down is risky. (Hmm, turns out that punting in some cases is an even bigger risk and certainly a worse strategy. Who knew?)

As Amir Coffey contemplated his basketball future over the last couple months, eventually deciding Wednesday to stay committed to turning pro, I found myself falling into one of these old conventional wisdom traps. Basically, I couldn’t imagine why Coffey would leave after his junior year.

Sure, he had a nice season and an especially strong finish, but wasn’t the fact that Coffey did not get invited to the NBA combine a pretty good indicator that he was unlikely to be drafted (or would be a second-rounder at best)?

And wouldn’t he have a much better chance of getting drafted — particularly in the first round, which comes with the instant millionaire status of a guaranteed multi-year contract — if he came back and had a great senior season?

That last part, though, is where the conventional wisdom playbook is becoming quickly outdated. While Coffey almost certainly will not be a first-round pick this year, he almost certainly would not be a first-round pick next year if recent trends continue.

In both the 2017 and 2018 NBA drafts, only two college seniors were picked in the first round of each — and none of them were picked higher than No. 21 overall. The NBA.com consensus mock draft for this year’s selection process in a few weeks features zero seniors. Instead, it has eight freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and an international player.

If you aren’t a top prospect by at least your junior year (and often even sooner), NBA teams are increasingly disinterested in investing coveted first-round picks on you.

Coffey will turn 22 just before this year’s draft and, had he stayed for his senior year, would have been 23 by the time he was eligible next year. The average age of all NBA draft picks these days is a tick under 21, and top-15 picks, on average, have not yet turned 20.

At the same time, there are an increasing number of ways for fringe prospects to get professional seasoning and work their way up — a nod to how teams are increasingly scouring their options for young, cost-controlled talent, particularly someone like Coffey who has the size to play on the wing but can also handle the ball.

The NBA’s G League operates more and more like a minor league for various teams. The NBA starting with the 2017-18 season instituted two-way contracts — two per team — where roster hopefuls can spend most of their time in the G-League but also up to 45 days with an NBA team (with increased pay).

Second round picks, too, are increasingly getting guaranteed contracts. And there are numerous overseas options. Not all are lucrative, but plenty of them are.

Coffey would have helped the Gophers had he returned for his senior year, and his presence might have elevated a good team into something special. But as a prospect?

He’s probably better off starting his pro career now, even if he doesn’t get drafted.

Just like the Twins are better off trying to drive in the guy from second base and the Vikings are well-served going for it more frequently on fourth down.

Feel free to adjust your mental shortcuts accordingly.

Twins post highest single-game TV rating on FSN since 2010

Monday was a holiday, it wasn’t particularly nice outside, and the red-hot Twins were playing a regional rival.

Buoyed by those factors and perhaps others, the Twins vs. Brewers game on Fox Sports North on Memorial Day had a whopping 11.6 household rating  — the largest for a Twins game on FSN since Sept. 21, 2010, when the Twins played Cleveland and drew a 12.5 rating.

It was also the highest-rated Twins game in May ever on FSN, according to FSN Director of Communications Becky Ross Mielke.

One rating point represents 17,600 households in this market, meaning more than 200,000 households were tuned into the game.

The Twins lost Monday’s game 5-4, but the followed up with a 5-3 victory Tuesday in front of another big TV audience. That game — not on a holiday, and with better weather, though still against the Brewers — did a 10.0 rating. Aside from Monday’s game, that’s the highest rating for a Twins game on FSN since 2011.

Overall, the Twins’ TV audience is up 35 percent this year over last year, Ross Mielke said.

Video: When a ceremonial first pitch goes horribly, horribly wrong …

Ceremonial first pitches before baseball games are usually benign events. Even the least athletic among us can hope to throw a ball somewhere in the vicinity of home plate, even if it bounces a couple times or veers off-target a little.

But there are some notable exceptions in history. When you Google “50 Cent,” for instance, the first autocomplete suggestion has nothing to do with his music career. Rather, it’s “first pitch.”

Because of this:

Former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory has a subhead on his Wikipedia page titled “Opening Day Pitch Debacle.”

Because of this:

And now we have a new entrant into the all-time first pitch of shame contest. A White Sox employee, who reportedly recently had been named an employee of the month in the organization, got a pretty cool honor by getting tabbed for the toss before Tuesday’s game against the Royals.

The only problem was that her aim was … well, it was not great. It was worse than not great. Ouch.

IN HER DEFENSE, as captured in the screen grab above, the photographer’s flash did go off right before she released the ball.

By the way, if I ever get to throw out a first pitch, I’m either going to throw it as hard as possible (upper 60s heat, followed by a torn shoulder labrum) or dust off the knuckleball that once caused my American Legion head coach to storm out to the mound swearing after I threw it on an 0-2 pitch that was smoked for a base hit.

Five-year contracts for Twins’ Kepler, Polanco sure look smart now


Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes we agree to disagree. Let’s get to it:

*The Twins brain trust, led by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, made several long-term contract offers to young core players this offseason. They weren’t able to land two of their biggest fish — Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios — but they did ink two significant players to five-year deals: Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco.

Kepler’s deal is worth at least $35 million for those five years (with a team option for another year at $10 million), while Polanco will get $25.75 million over the same span (with team options for two more years at $22.5 million combined).

These types of deals are usually win-win at a certain level. Young players get financial security without the year-to-year haggling that comes with arbitration or eventually free agency. Teams get cost-certainty and the possibility of a discount if players outperform their contracts.

Two months into those five-year deals, both Kepler and Polanco are showing strong signs that they might, indeed, outperform those deals. Even in a stacked lineup, both are standing out.

Polanco is second in the American League with a .335 batting average and his .988 OPS easily leads all MLB shortstops. Kepler is fresh off winning player of the week honors. He has a 10-game hitting streak, during which he’s cracked four homers and driven in 16 runs — including two big ones Tuesday to break a scoreless tie in an eventual 5-3 win over Milwaukee.

Kepler turned 26 in February, and Polanco will turn 26 in July. They had previously established themselves as everyday players, but they had enough cold stretches to go with hot stretches that their ceilings were uncertain. But now they look like more than that — and the Twins stand to benefit from that continued trajectory through prime seasons of their careers.

Rosario and Berrios, by the way, cannot be faulted for betting on themselves. Both are having monster seasons, and they stand to make even more money down the road.

*By the way, if your impression of the 2019 Twins is that they will have a hard time keeping this core together because so many players are on short-term contracts, that narrative might be a little oversold.

These five players are slated to be free agents in 2020: Catcher Jason Castro and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, plus starting pitchers Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi.

Castro has shown his value this season, but Mitch Garver sure seems ready to handle the full-time role in 2020. Schoop has been a very nice pickup, but if Miguel Sano delivers this season, it’s not hard to envision Marwin Gonzalez’s versatility being deployed more at second base next season. (Nelson Cruz, who has a $12 million team option in 2020, is another piece of this puzzle).

Of the three pitchers, performance the rest of this year will be key. If Martin Perez continues to look as good as he has, the Twins will almost certainly pick up his $7.5 million option in 2020. Berrios isn’t a free agent until 2023. Odorizzi and Gibson could be candidates for medium-length extensions — as could Pineda, if his health holds up. But the Twins could also promote from within (hey, Devin Smeltzer), deal from a prospect-rich minor league system for a quality starter (hey, Alex Kirilloff) or sign someone else to fill out their rotation.

Long story short: The Twins will have decisions to make. But their wait-and-see approach — which has produced big results in 2019 — leaves more room to keep most of the roster together in 2020 than I might have thought.

*Smeltzer defied odds in so many ways Tuesday. His back story is obviously incredible, and you could almost see all the life experience he’s packed into 23 years on earth being deployed on the mound.

One more way he defied odds with his six scoreless innings: The Brewers have feasted on “finesse” pitchers this season, posting an .878 OPS against them compared to a .735 OPS against power pitchers. In this case, power and finesse are determined not by mph but by strikeouts and walks per nine innings, but it stands to reason that Smeltzer will be a finesse pitcher in the majors even after striking out seven last night.

*Three Twins players were wearing Willians Astudillo-themed shirts on the team plane ride to Tampa. And one of them was Astudillo.

Another chance to foul ball-shame adult fan at Gophers baseball game


On Sunday, the good people of Twitter took a break from recycling some form of “the world is terrible, but here’s a cute dog/funny video” post to collectively share their outrage at a baseball fan.

It happened late in the Gophers’ Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State. The fan in question — wearing an Iowa T-shirt, by the way — swooped in and grabbed a foul ball in the stands right before a kid in an Ohio State T-shirt could get it.

Twitter was collectively booing almost the instant the video was posted — just as the Big Ten Network broadcasters predicted.

Unpopular opinions here: The world is not terrible, and a grown man grabbing a foul ball isn’t, either. Maybe it’s the first time he’s gotten a ball in his long life. Maybe he has a child or grandchild he plans to give it to.

Enough with the foul ball-shaming.

The kid, by the way, got a ball signed by every Ohio State player as a make-nice gesture. Win-win.

Phil Kessel’s reported rejection of trade saved Wild from bad deal

Phil Kessel reportedly shut down a potential trade to the Wild, one that would have sent Jason Zucker to the Penguins. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the veto and some interesting subplots; The Athletic reported on it as well, including the parameters of a particular deal: Kessel and Jack Johnson for Zucker and Victor Rask.

Everything about this looks bad for the Wild with one exception: the end result, where the trade didn’t happen.

First, it doesn’t look good that Kessel wouldn’t agree to the deal. Sure, he has that power since the Wild reportedly isn’t on his list of eight teams he would agree to be traded to, but those lists are malleable.

If the conventional thinking was that Kessel’s local connections — playing for the Gophers and being tight with Ryan Suter — would sway him, the state of the Wild appears to have trumped that. If you were a 31-year-old goal scorer used to winning Stanley Cups, is this really the team you would want to join? Probably not, which doesn’t look good for the Wild.

Second, the Wild has been VERY close to trading Zucker twice now — once to Calgary at last year’s deadline and now this.

It’s no secret Minnesota has been trying to move Zucker before his 10-team no-trade list kicks takes effect in July. And if the Wild really is still able to deal Zucker before then for fair value, those two publicized swings and misses won’t really matter.

But this is pretty awkward for now — and will become even more awkward if the Wild doesn’t find a suitable trade partner for Zucker and decides to keep him.

Third, what exactly is the plan here? I’m fine with the idea of trading Zucker if you’re not sold on his long-term production compared to his long-term contract (four more years, cap hit of $5.5 million per year).

But GM Paul Fenton took a couple positive steps to try to make the Wild younger and more nimble at the trade deadline. This team needs youth and speed. It probably needs to spend another year or two out of the playoffs to truly replenish its talent pool and give young players a chance to develop.

Trading Zucker, 27, for Kessel, 31 — speed and relative youth for a veteran goal-scorer — is a head-scratching move. And including Rask and Johnson as part of the swap only serves to admit that the trade for Rask last year was a mistake, while adding Johnson’s equally onerous contract.

The only good news in all of this is that Kessel, either out of stubbornness, his own best interest or a little of both, saved Fenton from himself.

Maybe now he can make a proper trade with Zucker to shed some more salary and get young, cheap talent — similar to the deal that sent Charlie Coyle to the Bruins for Ryan Donato.

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt blasts MIAC for booting St. Thomas


Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where you better not be reading this after 4 p.m. Friday on a holiday weekend. Let’s get to it:

*The MIAC has made it big, though perhaps not for a reason it would prefer.

The excellent Scott Van Pelt brought to a national stage the big local story of St. Thomas getting booted from the conference during a two-minute monologue on ESPN late Thursday. His take on it was decidedly pro-St. Thomas.

“Now I tried to look at this from the perspective of the smaller schools,” Van Pelt says toward the end. “I tried to see how it’s anything other than what it is, but I can’t. What it feels like is the parents in town who don’t like that Little Leaguer who strikes out their kids and hits it in the corn field over there, so they try to ban it.”

The indispensable C.J. Fogler got the whole thing here:

*Former Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer departed in the offseason to take the same job with the Browns — where he is getting a chance to work with ANOTHER rookie kicker drafted in the fifth round, Austin Seibert of Oklahoma. We’ll see if that young man can win the job and hold it longer than Daniel Carlson did last year with the Vikings.

Anyway, Priefer met with the assembled Browns media during organized team activities on Wednesday, and by the sound of it he was pretty impressed by the press contingent that gathered to ask him questions for 16 minutes.

He reportedly also used the time to compliment Cleveland and/or take a shot at what he perceived was a smaller group that used to listen to him in Minnesota.

*FSN’s broadcast of the Twins game Thursday featured a hodge-podge of color analysts because LaTroy Hawkins couldn’t stay for the makeup game because of a graduation conflict. Several different folks joined play-by-play voice Dick Bremer in the booth — including Twins baseball boss Derek Falvey for a few innings.

*Speaking of that game, Miguel Sano hit two home runs and has an .800 slugging percentage after starting the season injured. The Twins went 6-1 on their recent road trip, and those “Will Sano mess up the Twins?” takes are disappearing (dugout conspiracy theories aside).

Watch: Teammate obliterates Aaron Rodgers in beer-chugging contest at Bucks game

First of all, it is a VERY Wisconsin thing to have professional athletes on camera chugging beers during one of the biggest sporting events in recent Milwaukee history. The only thing that would make it more Wisconsin, I suppose, is if the beer-swilling athletes were actually about to play in the game.

Second, pitting Aaron Rodgers against offensive lineman David Bakhtiari in a contest of both beer drinking speed and quantity — all of this during what turned out to be a crushing home defeat for the Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals — was not exactly a fair fight.

Bakhtiari went first, making one plastic cup full of beer look like a thimble full of liquid and making it disappear in 3 seconds … then grabbing another and slamming it with equal speed.

The camera then cuts to Rodgers — bonus points for identifying him as a “Game of Thrones extra and NFL MVP” — who starts with a beer that’s basically half-full and can’t finish it before setting it down.

The kicker? The camera cuts back to Bakhtiari, who chugs one more beer for good measure.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch!

(Bakhtiari, by the way, took on a fan later in a separate contest … while cameras also got Brewers MVP Christian Yelich — who was sitting next to Bakhtiari, while Rodgers was not — chugging a beer, too).

Alas, it was the Bucks who played like they were drunk in the fourth quarter when they were outscored 33-24 as Toronto took a 3-2 series lead.