Was Anthony Harris the Vikings’ best defensive player in 2018?

The Vikings defense is stacked with talent at every level and plenty of star power.

On the defensive front four, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter have all been Pro Bowl selections.

Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are a formidable duo, with Barr having more of the star power.

And among defensive backs, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes get most of the accolades (and honors).

All but Kendricks among the players mentioned have been named to at least one Pro Bowl since 2015.

But Pro Football Focus had an interesting assertion this week. In ranking the overall strengths of NFL rosters heading into the 2019 season — the Vikings were No. 9 overall, by the way — there was this: Their best defensive player in 2018 wasn’t any of the aforementioned Big Seven. Rather, it was safety Anthony Harris.

Per PFF via ESPNArguably Minnesota’s best defensive player last season, Harris made his biggest impact in coverage, where he saw just 13 targeted passes. Still, he recorded three interceptions and two additional pass breakups with a long reception of just 18 yards. He’s on the rise, and the Vikings saw enough out of him to let Andrew Sendejo walk to the Eagles this offseason.

Indeed, Harris earned the top PFF grade (89) of any Vikings defender by a fairly large margin. Four others were above 75, but nobody else was above 80.

Part of that could be due to a sample size that included just nine starts, but Harris was undoubtedly impressive last season. If he can take more steps forward in 2019 as some of the Vikings’ core gets a year older and possibly loses half a step, it could help Minnesota maintain its lofty defensive standing.

How the heck are the Twins still winning games?

Cleveland was 28-29 entering June and trailed the Twins by 10.5 games in the American League Central race. Since then, the Indians have gone 16-7 while the Twins have battled numerous injuries and inconsistencies on the field.

And yet Minnesota has still managed to go 14-9 this month, maintaining a still-comfortable 8.5-game lead in the division even as Cleveland charges hard. What could have been a very vulnerable stretch has instead reinforced just how good this Twins team appears to be.

But if you’re still wondering: “How the heck are the Twins still winning games?” here are a few answers.

*Prowess in one-run games: The Twins are 13-5 for the season in one-run games. Starting June 6 with a very important 5-4 win at Cleveland, they are a perfect 5-0 in one-run games while going 7-7 in all other games in that span.

*Quality depth: Injuries to Byron Buxton, Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza — plus recent setbacks involving Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Willians Astudillo — have forced the Twins into some odd defensive alignments and lineups.

The result has been a machine that isn’t quite as well-oiled as it could be but nevertheless has continued humming along.

Luis Arraez has been a revelation with his .452 batting average, .538 on-base percentage and nine walks with just two strikeouts. Jake Cave has struggled since his call-up, but he at least has a track record from 2018. Since being recalled and before going on the injured list Thursday, Astudillo hit .333 with an .857 OPS.

And depth, too, means more than just those who replaced injured players. While some Twins hitters have cooled off considerably this month (like Miguel Sano and Jason Castro, to name a couple), others have been on fire. Nelson Cruz has a .945 OPS this month. Kepler, back in the lineup Thursday after being knocked from Tuesday’s game after being hit by a pitch, has a 1.163 OPS since June 6.

*Clutch performances: Timely hitting and pitching have been themes lately, going hand-in-hand with that 5-0 record in one-run games. The Twins’ bullpen is 7-2 in June, helping to support a starting staff that has still been good this month but has an ERA (4.11 vs. 3.08) that’s more than a run higher than it was during lights-out May.

Staying above water when you aren’t at full strength might be an even better indicator of a team’s prowess than how it plays when everything is going well. The Twins might be in survival mode for a while longer, but their work under less than ideal circumstances this month has been encouraging.

 

Rockets reportedly making renewed push to get Jimmy Butler

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where there are no automatic outs. Let’s get to it:

*You’ll recall that the Rockets made an aggressive bid to land Jimmy Butler from the Wolves before Minnesota ultimately dealt him to the 76ers last fall, reportedly offering as many as four first-round picks for General Soreness. (You have to wonder, by the way,  if Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas, who was sitting on the other side of that proposed deal eight months ago, would prefer to have all those picks now instead of Robert Covington).

Anyway, what’s done is done. But the Rockets aren’t done in their pursuit of Butler. Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets are trying to finagle a sign-and-trade deal for Butler with the 76ers — the necessary route for the cap-strapped Rockets if they are going to add a third star to go with James Harden and Chris Paul. Or in Woj’s words, they are “planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal.”

The thinking goes that Philadelphia could be motivated to do the deal if the 76ers think Butler, a free agent, doesn’t want to be in Philly long term and would sign elsewhere in free agency.

It seems a bit far-fetched, but if you’re looking for a guy to put pressure on a team to make a deal, Butler has the experience, know-how and temperament to do it. And if you think Houston’s situation is already chaotic, adding Butler to the mix could make for an all-time season to watch.

*By the way, ESPN experts are almost unanimous in the sentiment that Kyrie Irving will wind up in Brooklyn. Kevin Durant’s opt-out, which reportedly happened Wednesday, could add fuel to speculation that he’s going to join Irving. Even if he doesn’t but Irving still lands with the Nets, it almost certainly means restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell will be changing teams.

And speaking of sign-and-trades, that could be an avenue the Wolves pursue (perhaps with the addition of a third team) if the rumblings of their pursuit of Russell are going to gain any serious legs.

*Here’s a fascinating chart of which NHL teams have an edge or a disadvantage when it comes to playing while tired or playing opponents who are tired in the upcoming season.

The Wild fared decently, which is a deviation from past years when they fared poorly.

*This isn’t sports, but it is real life: The definitive ranch dressing rankings.

In a year of bloated bullpen ERAs, Twins are (slightly) above average

The best teams in MLB will be working over the next month to address holes and add strength in advance of the July 31 trade deadline. The Twins’ most obvious need is on the pitching staff — maybe a front-line starter, maybe a reliever or two, or maybe both.

But a recent SI.com story notes something interesting: Bullpens across MLB have been downright awful this season. Free agent signings haven’t panned out. Hitters are catching up to fastballs. And starters aren’t going very deep, taxing the depth and stamina of bullpens.

As a result, starting pitchers (4.44) in MLB have a better ERA than relievers (4.48). That hasn’t happened for a full season in more than 50 years, since the mound was lowered in 1969.

And the Twins? For as maligned as their bullpen has been, they entered Tuesday with a cumulative ERA of 4.43 — slightly better than average. Their starters are even better — 3.72, good for fourth-best in baseball, and their strength has helped the Twins avoid overusing the bullpen.

Nightmare travel for Lynx opponent Indiana underscores WNBA problem


Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where you can always go home. Let’s get to it:

*It’s the kind of nightmare travel story that a friend or colleague might tell you. But this one happened to a professional team at the highest level of its sport.

The Indiana Fever of the WNBA had a game Sunday in Seattle, and the team was supposed to fly back to Indianapolis afterward on Sunday night. They arrived at the Seattle airport around 7:45 p.m. for a 10:30 p.m. flight.

But from there, per the frustrating but often hilarious account on Twitter from Fever forward Natalie Achonwa, Indiana had a postponed flight … then a route through Atlanta on a new plane … then an overbooked connecting flight … then an 8-hour bus ride to Indianapolis that included a stop for mechanical troubles … before finally getting back home about 24 hours after they started on Monday evening.

Indiana has a home game with the Lynx on Tuesday, and that’s hardly the best way to prepare.

It could have been worse: Las Vegas had to forfeit a game last season because of travel problems.

Both examples are reminders of a fundamental difference between the WNBA and the NBA (and other top men’s leagues, for that matter): WNBA players take commercial flights while NBA players take private charters. The WNBA prohibits teams from using charters in an attempt to keep a level playing field between those teams who can afford them and those who can’t (which is ridiculous, by the way. A team that wants to spend the money should be able to spend it).

It’s an interesting disparity. On one hand, NBA players didn’t start flying charter until more than three decades into that league’s existence. The WNBA is barely two decades old, so there is an argument to be made these things take time.

Major League Soccer, which began play just a year before the WNBA, still has teams operate primarily using commercial flights – but there is an exception that allows four charter flights per season.

The bigger issue, as with most things, is cost. The price of a charter flight varies, but flying commercial is certainly the less expensive option. It can be argued that the WNBA’s economics don’t support charter flights – and in fact NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at least provided some measure of it in an ESPN interview last year.

“It would cost more than the value of every single ticket sold in the WNBA last season,” Silver said. “But I think the players are being realistic there, too. What they are saying is there may be particular instances where we should be using charter planes. … Even if we do a modified charter program for certain special occasions, there’s enormous expense involved in it.”

When WNBA players opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last year, meaning it ends after this season instead of 2021, Silver also noted the league has lost, on average, “over $10 million every year we’ve operated.”

Lin Dunn, a longtime head coach in both women’s college basketball and the WNBA, noted on Twitter in regards to the Indiana situation: “In the WNBA ..it’s not about “what they deserve”… it’s about what you can afford! There is NO Title IX in the corporate world!

Plenty of WNBA players and fans might argue that corporate mentality is part of the problem and a barrier to a solution.

As WNBAPA president Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks wrote via The Players Tribune last year: “This is not just about business. This is deeply personal. This is about the kind of world we want to live in.”

Indeed, these are also the very best of the best women’s basketball players in the world. Flying commercial has a symbolic element as one more disparity between pro women’s players and their male counterparts — a fight that only figures to intensify as the WNBA heads toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

*Derrick Rose’s 50-point game for the Timberwolves on Halloween was named the NBA’s Moment of the Year at the league’s annual awards show on Monday.

*Awesome sports photo alert. #fanatic

Solid drafts by Wild and Wolves reflected by national grades

Among the fan bases of the Wild and Wolves, it seems fashionable right now to believe one can do nothing right and one can do nothing wrong.

Perhaps that stems from more than just recency bias, but I suspect that is playing a large role in opinions about the new guy who hasn’t presided over a loss or bad trade (Gersson Rosas with the Wolves) and the no-longer-new guy who has presided over both (Paul Fenton of the Wild).

Regardless of what you thought of both Fenton and Rosas going into their respective drafts a few days ago, this much is true: Both seem to have done a solid job in my estimation — and in the general consensus of those who are paid to “grade” drafts in their immediate aftermath. Here is a sample of a few such grades for both teams:

WILD

The highest mark I could find came from Sporting News, which doled out an A-minus to the Wild. The No. 12 overall pick, Matthew Boldy, was the centerpiece of the haul.

It’s safe to say that sophomore GM Paul Fenton’s haul from the weekend in Vancouver made up for the odd decisions he and his staff made last June in Dallas, beginning with the selection of elite 200-foot winger Matthew Boldy, and continuing with finesse flanker Vladislav Firstov.

Indeed, it might have also helped reverse the negative momentum from last year’s draft, which earned the Wild poor marks.

Yahoo graded Fenton’s draft a B+, saying Boldy isn’t NHL-ready yet but that he has the makings of being the complete package.

ESPN gave the Wild a “B,” explaining that the drafting of two goalies — which I personally loved — was a bit of a head-scratcher but applauding the overall haul: Boldy is going to be a really strong player for the Wild a few years down the road. He can make the plays in small areas and has an excellent, heavy, accurate shot. Skill was a big-time theme of Minnesota’s draft.

WOLVES

The highest praise for Rosas came not via a direct grade but from inclusion in ESPN’s somewhat selective “biggest winners” of the first round. Jonathan Givony liked the value Rosas got in trading Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick to move up to No. 6. He believes Jarrett Culver is among the draft’s most versatile players. He wrote:

Setting a culture is among the first things a new NBA general manager needs to do upon taking on a job. Gersson Rosas adding a player with the intangibles, work ethic and coachability of Culver will help significantly with that endeavor.

CBS Sports gave the Wolves a B+. They called the trade “brilliant” and added praise for the second round as well. Another smooth (but under-the-radar) move came in the second, when they snagged Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, at 43.

Sporting News likewise graded the Wolves at a B+, saying of Culver: He’s a top-five prospect in this class who I have rated as only slightly worse than RJ Barrett, the Knicks’ pick at No. 3. Culver has reasonable upside as a secondary creator and two-way wing.

It doesn’t hurt the Wolves that the Suns were almost universally panned for taking Cam Johnson with the No. 11 pick they got back from the Wolves. Rosas almost certainly would have made a different pick had he not traded the pick, but it gives the appearance of a wide gulf between those five slots in the draft.

Is Tyus Jones a more attractive free agent than Ricky Rubio?

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where it always pays to look ahead. Let’s get to it:

*When dissecting the Timberwolves’ offseason needs, wants and potential spending, perhaps the most complicated situation belongs to Tyus Jones.

He’s a restricted free agent after not receiving an extension last year. Jones was drafted by Flip Saunders and later shoehorned into Tom Thibodeau’s system. Now he’s being evaluated by a third set of eyes belonging to Gersson Rosas, and it’s unclear how the new Timberwolves president feels about retaining Jones even if he appears to like him as a player and person.

“Right now, we’re in an offensive era, and a lot of the things that he does in terms of play making and his ability to create pace are things that are valuable,” Rosas said last month. “I’m excited about him not only as a basketball player, but him as an individual and what he means to this community.”

Those things could also make him valuable to another team, which is where things get very interesting.

Jones’ market is potentially volatile. He’s primarily been a backup in four seasons with the Wolves, starting just 34 of his 247 games in that span. But there are a lot of teams with cap space and needs at point guard. Is Tyus a $6-8 million a year player? Is he worth $10+ million? Is he worth less than either guess? I honestly don’t know, but all it takes is one team to decide he’s in the $10M+ category to force the Wolves into a hard decision — match or move on? — as a team with point guard needs but not cap space.

Of particular interest: ESPN’s rankings of the top 30 NBA free agents who can begin agreeing to contracts in less than a week finds Jones at No. 17 overall. This is a nod in large part to a projection of his Wins Above Replacement Level over the next three years.

By my count, that puts Jones fifth among all free agent point guards — behind only big-money free agent candidates Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, D’Angelo Russell and Malcolm Brogdon and ahead of several others, including Ricky Rubio (No. 23).

Jones is an excellent floor general and a good team defender, but his shooting is a liability and his on-ball defending skills tend to be suspect. He’s a bit of an analytics darling, and his OOU rating (one of us) is off the charts.

The Wolves could definitely use someone like Jones on their roster, and he could function quite well in the type of system Rosas and Ryan Saunders want to implement. The question comes from his relative value, and the market that forms around him will be interesting to watch.

*Not a lot of things are going right for the Mets this year, and chief among them is their manager and one of their pitchers swearing at and threatening a reporter who covers the team.

*In happier MLB news, Wilkin Castillo stroked a two-run double for the Marlins over the weekend. It was Castillo’s first hit in the major leagues in just over 10 years.

*The Twins are in the midst of their clunkiest stretch of baseball all year, but get this: They’re still above .500 as they lumber through it. After defeating Tampa Bay on June 2 to take a 40-18 record, the Twins are 10-9 since as they’ve battled through starting pitching inconsistency and some injuries to key regulars.

They’ve survived relatively unscathed thanks in large part to going 5-0 in one-run games during that stretch. Suffice to say they’ll need to start playing better soon. But also: Every team is prone to lulls, and the best ones stay above water even when they aren’t at their best.

Welcome (kind of) to the Timberwolves (sort of), Jarrett Culver


Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where efficiency is important. Let’s get to it:

*The NBA does a ton of things right, and the NBA draft is still a great event filled with drama and intrigue.

But even good things could use some improvement, and a common refrain from NBA fans during Thursday’s draft was this: The practice of having picks who were involved in trades walk on stage wearing hats from teams they will never play for is growing increasingly ridiculous as more deals are made.

The ruse is largely a by-product of the NBA’s strange offseason schedule, whereby the draft happens before the new league year begins. In the NFL, for instance, the new league year starts in mid-March, and the draft follows more than a month later in late April.

But in the NBA’s more condensed offseason, the draft happens very soon after the finals end — and the new league year doesn’t start this year until July 6.

So you get a situation where the whole free world knows Anthony Davis is going to be traded to the Lakers, but it’s not official for two more weeks and therefore the draft pick involved (No. 4, which went to New Orleans and then Atlanta and became De’Andre Hunter) is in a state of limbo.

Hunter strolled onto the stage in New York on Thursday in Lakers gear and with a Lakers logo in the background, knowing full well he was two teams removed from actually playing there.

The Wolves were caught in this trap as well after dealing the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric to Phoenix for the No. 6 pick, which they used on Jarrett Culver. Because of salary cap issues with the Suns, the deal can’t become official for two weeks.

So Culver was wearing a Phoenix cap on Thursday (AP photo above). Wolves President Gersson Rosas couldn’t talk about Culver specifically when addressing the media late, late, late last night (more on that in a minute). The Wolves had to scrap a planned news conference Friday afternoon at which their No. 1 pick would normally be introduced in person to the local media and fans. And Culver won’t even officially be a member of the Wolves when summer league begins July 5.

Wolves players tweeted congratulations to their new teammate, even though it’s not official yet.

Welcome to Minnesota, sort of.

Most of this will be forgotten in a few months, but for now it’s as awkward as it is bizarre. It’s also easy to rectify. The NBA league year should start before the draft. Since the NBA season lasts about 100 days longer than the NFL season (no joke), it’s a tighter squeeze. But what about this:

Start the free agent negotiating period in late June. Start the league year July 1 every year. Trades can become official. Free agents can sign. Make the draft the first Thursday in July. And start summer league the weekend after the draft. It would make for a much cleaner draft and a much more streamlined offseason.

Oh, and while they’re at it: There’s no reason a two-round draft needs to take five hours — and I imagine part of the reason it took so long last night was that teams were trying to make complicated deals. Either split the draft into two nights or tighten it up.

*Did the Wolves make a good trade up to No. 6 and a good decision to take Culver?

On the first part, I get the logic. I like Saric, but part of his value is his current contract (last year of his rookie deal this season, around $3.5 million). If he has a good year this year, he easily will make $12-15 million a year beyond this season. That might become cost prohibitive for the Wolves. And as much as I liked Saric’s potential, he might not be a perfect fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. Using him as a trade asset now to move up in the draft has merit.

As for Culver, I was not blown away by him at the Final Four, where he struggled with his shot for Texas Tech — but a sample size of two games is about as small as it gets.

The Wolves have drafted nothing but wing players each of the last two years — four total: Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Culver and second-rounder this year Jaylen Nowell — and it was surprising to given their point guard need to see Minnesota pass on Coby White after Darius Garland went No. 5 to Cleveland. Add Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington to the wing mix, and the Wolves have the opposite problem they had under David Kahn: Not enough point guards, possibly too many wings.

Rosas talked about taking the best player available and also says he wants Covington to play some at the 4, which he will have to do with Saric gone. But even then, you have to wonder if more moves are coming to alleviate the roster imbalance.

Latest Wolves rumbling: Covington and No. 11 pick for No. 4?


Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where thankfully the NBA draft is almost here. Let’s get to it:

*I tried to round up all the Wolves rumors and rumblings yesterday, but another one has already popped up (albeit related to No. 5).

Longtime hoops writer Jeff Goodman tweeted Thursday morning that he’s been told “there have been discussions between Pels No. 4 pick and Minnesota involving No. 11 and Robert Covington.”

That adds a specific framework to the report that the Wolves are among the teams trying to trade up to get the No. 4 pick — ostensibly to grab Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland.

This one is interesting because the first instinct is to look at Covington as a core player given his age (28) and team-friendly contract with three years left on it.

But maybe if Gersson Rosas is playing the long game and trying to match players with Karl-Anthony Towns, he would be more interested in someone like Garland?

“As we look at that window of time for Karl, we want to make sure that we’ve got pieces in place that can grow and develop with him and can peak at the right time,” Rosas said Tuesday.

The swap could also free up more than $8 million in cap space for the Wolves if New Orleans could absorb Covington’s contract without sending back any salary to Minnesota.

That would give the Wolves at least a little room to maneuver in free agency — and could send them on a path to clearing even more space if they are serious about making a run at restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell.

Wait, aren’t Garland and Russell both point guards? Sure. But so are James Harden and Chris Paul.

Guess we will find out soon enough!

*With Utah trading for Memphis PG Mike Conley on Wednesday, the two-year Ricky Rubio era with the Jazz will come to a close.

The former Wolves guard posted a “thank you” tweet to the Jazz, and it will be interesting to see what his future holds. The Pacers are said to be interested in signing him in free agency.

*If the Wolves stay at No. 11, their options will be varied. ESPN’s final mock draft has them taking North Carolina freshman Nassir Little.

Five Timberwolves predraft rumors — and a Gersson Rosas quote for each one

Timberwolves rumors have been coming out in little drips over the last few weeks. Some are potentially more credible than others. Some are probably smoke screens. Others might just be wishful thinking.

But in some way shape or form — either directly or indirectly — Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas touched on five of them in his predraft media availability on Tuesday. Let’s take a spin through all of them:

Rumor 1: The Wolves promised power forward Rui Hachimura of Gonzaga that they will select him at No. 11 if available.

This seems to stem from a month-old tweet from Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, who said there was “buzz at the Combine” that the Hachimura had secured such a promise from a team in the lottery and that Minnesota was the team.

Rosas definitively shot it down Tuesday. “We don’t promise players. Throughout the league, every organization has different strategies, different approaches. That’s not something we do,” Rosas said, adding later: “We want to be able to take advantage of the opportunities. There are other organizations that can’t do that. They either lock in – to your earlier question – and promise a guy. We want the fluidity to make the best deal for us.”

The only way we’ll know for sure is if the Wolves keep the No. 11 pick, Hachimura is available and they don’t choose him, but it seems to run contrary to everything Rosas believes in to promise a player he will be picked.

Rumor 2: The Wolves are trying to trade Andrew Wiggins.

A tweet this week from a non-verified account (not to say it isn’t accurate or true, but it wasn’t exactly Woj or anyone local) picked up steam after suggesting, per a league source, that the Wolves are “aggressively” shopping Wiggins.

In the course of answering a question about whether he talks to Wiggins about trade rumors, Rosas didn’t exactly tip his hand either way, though he did want us to be very clear about what the reality is.

“I take that very personal because the reality is there’s always going to be rumors, there’s always going to be stories. Unfortunately, even the more specific (rumor) that you’re referencing, the reality is just because it’s on social media doesn’t make it real,” Rosas said. “Just because there’s a rumor doesn’t mean it’s something that’s happening. The reality is my job is to do everything possible to make this team the best team possible.”

It is interesting, though, how Rosas has been carefully changing the narrative around the Wolves’ young core. Whereas the talk used to center around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in lockstep, Rosas makes a clear distinction between Towns and everyone else. “We’re fortunate that we have a high-end player,” Rosas said, referencing Towns. “We have the potential for other players on our roster to be high-end players.”

Rumor 3: The Wolves are hoping to make a run at restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell.

This comes via a report from The Athletic, indicating the Wolves are one of several teams interested in Russell. The logic: If Kyrie Irving signs with the Nets, which is a good bet, then Brooklyn won’t retain Russell. Plus, Karl-Anthony Towns is buddies with Russell and is being not too subtle about wanting the Wolves to get him. “He’s getting more of a yell from a microphone,” Towns recently told Dime Magazine regarding Russell. “This is a big free agency period for us as an organization, so we’re taking every step and exploring every avenue.”

Rosas didn’t address this rumor specifically, but he did say this: “You want high-level superstar talent and a lot of times you have to try and make it work. Our history in Houston in how we formed different talents together and try to maximize it, that’s what we have to do. In reality, it’s players that are available either through trades or free agency that you have a good chance of acquiring, you have to lock in on those opportunities.”

I take that to mean this: It might not make sense financially (more on that in a minute) for the Wolves to pursue someone like Russell, but in situations like this — where they have a unique “in” with him because of Towns — they need to see if they can leverage that to add another All-Star player (which Russell was last season).

Rumor 4: The Wolves would trade the No. 11 pick in a salary dump if it meant shedding an unwanted contract.

This is less of a specific rumor and more of a general sentiment. To acquire Russell in anything but a sign-and-trade deal, for instance, the cap-strapped Wolves would need to clear more than $20 million in space. That would mean trading an asset (like the No. 11 pick) plus an expiring contract (like maybe Jeff Teague’s $19 million) and possibly a future asset as well to a rebuilding team with cap space for very little in return.

Rosas painted a picture Tuesday of anything being in play as long as the conclusion is that it’s a smart move.

“We have to examine every opportunity — moving forward, moving back, moving out,” Rosas said. “But we’ve reached out to every team in this league to see what our options are, and we’ll be prepared here on Thursday to make the right decisions for the organization.”

It is interesting to note that as Rosas prepares to preside over his first draft as the one making the final decision, he came from an organization in Houston that hasn’t made a first-round pick since 2015 because of various trades, but they’ve unearthed good value in the second round (Montrezl Harrell, 2015), late in the first round (Clint Capela, No. 25 overall in 2014) and undrafted free agency (Robert Covington, for example).

The Rockets were certainly in a different place in their building process than the Wolves, but it’s probably good not to fixate too much on the first round or keeping picks with Rosas in charge.

Rumor 5: The Wolves are trying to trade up to get the No. 4 pick that New Orleans just acquired from the Lakers in order to draft guard Darius Garland — who played just five college games at Vanderbilt.

That one comes via Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, and it’s interesting. My gut tells me that if it’s true it’s a reflection of Rosas getting in on another market opportunity — New Orleans shopping the pick and wanting to add multiple pieces in exchange for an asset from the Anthony Davis trade — that wasn’t available as of a few days ago. But it’s not easy, which Rosas made clear on Tuesday.

“History will tell you, it’s hard to trade up into the top three of the draft, even top five in the lottery. It’s very difficult. We know, because we’re tried, and will continue to try,” Rosas said. “But that price, the premium that teams charge for that is at a high level in any draft in any year.”

Conclusion: If Rosas’ objective is to portray himself as someone who isn’t locked into any one decision, he has succeeded. It’s a smart way to operate, but I imagine it can also be paralyzing at times when mulling scenarios built on a philosophy with so many layers.

At the end of the day, he’ll be defined less by his process and more by his decisions. And some big ones are coming soon.

“There’s a lot that’s intriguing,” Rosas said. “We’ll see if it becomes a reality. All talk is cheap at this stage until action gets done.”