Marcus Carr testing NBA Draft? It makes some sense if you consider …

Gophers men’s basketball followers were prepared for one early NBA departure — dominant big man Daniel Oturu — but two? Guard Marcus Carr?

That wasn’t really on the radar for most of us until Monday night when Carr posted on Instagram that he is declaring for the June NBA draft.

Though Carr said he is not hiring an agent, thus making him eligible to return — and our Marcus Fuller reports per sources that Richard Pitino has been told Carr wants to return to the Gophers next season even though he is gathering information about his pro career — the end of his Instagram post was the one that really caught my eye: “No matter what happens, my time here at the University of Minnesota has provided me with an unbelievable opportunity and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Those seem to be the words of someone who is giving at least some serious weight to leaving.

While some of the key numbers in the decision are 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists — all of Carr’s averages with the Gophers last year, in his first year after transferring from Pitt — some more important numbers are probably these: 21 and 3.

The 21 represents Carr’s age when the NBA Draft is slated to be held in late June. And the three is the number of years he’s been in school — one at Pitt, one sitting out after transferring and one with the Gophers. Though he’s relatively young for having been in college three years already (he doesn’t turn 21 until early June), a quick look at the top of the NBA prospect list shows that Carr is already “old” for a first-round pick.

Only two players in this first round mock draft are older than Carr, and only two have been in college for three years. The rest are freshmen, sophomores or international players. Carr doesn’t figure to get drafted even if he does leave, but even getting a jump on his pro career overseas or in the G-League could have appeal.

Carr is in a similar position in some ways to Amir Coffey a season ago. Coffey left the Gophers after his junior year despite not having much draft buzz and ended up getting a two-way contract with the NBA’s Clippers after going undrafted.

Those situations aren’t perfect matches. Coffey was comparatively a full year older than Carr at the time of his decision, and Coffey was also comparatively more accomplished. But just as Coffey might have looked at his situation and decided he couldn’t help himself any more by staying in school, Carr might be doing the same.

The other factor that could weigh in Carr’s decision is the relative uncertainty of all sports right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. What will the college or NBA seasons look like next year? Will they go on as planned? Will they be interrupted or otherwise impacted? Will they be wiped out altogether?

We can hope it’s the first answer, but at this point we don’t really know. And maybe that uncertainty is pushing Carr to at least want to get on the radar of professional teams now — instead of a year from now, after a year of uncertainty.

In any event just like Coffey’s decision, Carr’s announcement Monday makes more sense when you take everything into account. He could very well return, which would obviously be a boon to the Gophers’ hopes next season. But there are also viable reasons he won’t return.

NFL Draft will go on as scheduled — but will rookies suffer the most?

Roger Goodell, in very on-brand fashion, distributed an NFL-wide memo Thursday to teams saying the April 23-25 Draft will go on as planned while also warning that anyone who dares criticize the plan publicly “serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”

This is hardly surprising for a league that, so far, has been proceeding with barely any meaningful acknowledgement that we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic — though, to be fair, a league that is in its offseason does need to be ready for the resumption of more regular activities, whenever they might occur.

With the NFL it’s often the approach, not the end result, that makes you hold your nose.

The draft will be significantly changed in style — it won’t be a glamorous affair in Las Vegas, nor will players or families be present on-site — but not really substance. There will still be 255 picks, and those players will be distributed to 32 teams. A lot of the scouting work has already been done, and the NFL Combine happened before the shutdown.

What comes after the draft, however, could be quite different from normal years — and could be detrimental to rookies and teams like the Vikings who might be leaning heavily on young players in 2020.

The Vikings have 12 total picks — including five picks in the first three rounds (two firsts, a second and two thirds). They presumably will be using those premium choices to restock positions of need, including cornerback and offensive line.

The NFL recently ordered team facilities to be shut down for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. A realist would concluded that facilities will be shut down well beyond just those two weeks as teams — like the rest of us, and perhaps even more so given how close together athletes work — exercise an abundance of caution.

While nobody can accurately predict how the next few months will play out with this pandemic — and certainly there are a million questions more important than how it impacts football — let’s say NFL teams feel confident they can re-open facilities in mid-June.

That would be about six weeks later than the usual rookie mini-camp window (slated for May 1-4 or May 8-11 this year). It would be close to a month after OTAs usually start. Veterans would be able to catch up pretty easily. But young players learning new systems, plays and techniques would be significantly behind.

It wouldn’t be as extreme in this scenario as the 2011 lockout — which didn’t end until late July, and during which teams couldn’t sign free agents nor could coaches communicate with players — but one of the major narratives coming out of that work stoppage was the impact on young players (including Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder).

None of this is a reason to postpone the draft — even if that was reportedly the recommendation of general managers. It will be useful for teams to know their rosters ahead of time for whenever activities presumably return to something resembling normal.

But it does make you wonder what the impact will be on NFL teams — particularly one like the Vikings, with so many picks and a high likelihood of needing to rely on those picks immediately — even if the regular season manages to start on time.

Virtual happy hour debate: Best Twins team of the last 20 years?

Jim Souhan and I had a fun discussion on Wednesday’s Twins Insider podcast: What was the best Twins team of the last 20 years? That encompasses all eight playoff seasons from 2002-present, providing plenty of fodder for debate.

It’s glorious outside, so I suggest you talk about this OUTSIDE during your virtual happy hour. Everything is portable. You can do it.

Items for discussion: Is the answer the 2019 Twins because they won the most games (101)? Is it the 2002 Twins because they were the only Twins team to advance in the playoffs in any of those  seasons? Maybe it’s the 2006 Twins because that team featured an MVP (Justin Morneau), batting champ (Joe Mauer) and Cy Young (Johan Santana). I’d listen to an argument for 2004 (should have beaten the Yankees in the playoffs) or 2010 (strong veteran team that looked built for a run before, you know, Yankees.

If you burn through that one, Souhan and I also discussed this: Take any Twins player from any Twins season in the last 20 years and put him on another Twins team from the last 20 years. What one swap gives that new team the best chance to win it all?

Souhan probably had the correct answer: Put 2006-era Johan Santana on the 2019 Twins — solving an obvious problem (top-notch starting pitching) for an otherwise loaded team. I also wondered if putting MVP Joe Mauer from 2009 on the 2004 Twins (the year Mauer got hurt and they leaned on Henry Blanco at catcher) might have made enough of a postseason difference.

Maybe you want 2006 Nick Punto on all of those teams for his HUSTLE AND GRIT. The most painful answer, of course, is to put the first four months of 2006 Francisco Liriano on the postseason roster that season. If he hadn’t been injured late that season, the Twins just might have won it all.

Stay home. Stay safe. And tell me how the discussion plays out.

Game 163 replay: Distance makes (almost) everything seem small

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small.

Yes, that’s the opening lyric from “Let it Go,” which yes is from “Frozen,” which yes has been playing in heavy rotation at our house as our five person kingdom of isolation (three of them ages 5, 3 and 3 months) navigates the challenges and joys of working, learning and playing while staying home.

But let’s apply it to sports for a moment — and particularly to Game 163 of the 2009 MLB season between the Twins and Tigers, the replay of which starts at 10:15 a.m. Thursday on Twitter and on the Twins web site.

A day after that game — still the best professional game I’ve ever helped cover — I could have told you everything about it. A little over 10 years later? I was surprised to re-learn some of the very basic details from the deadline story I wrote and just re-read.

The Tigers took a 3-0 lead? The Tigers also led 5-4 in the 10th before the Twins tied it thanks to a misplay? News to me.

I only remember two things about that game, really, because distance has made everything else seem small: 1) Carlos Gomez scoring the winning run on an Alexi Casilla single in the bottom of the 12th. 2) Brandon Inge being grazed by a pitch with the bases loaded in the top of that inning, but having it go uncalled (excellent Brian Peterson photo above). The Tigers did not score.

The second piece was the main subject of the story I wrote. I still very much remember talking to Inge in the dingy visitors clubhosue at the Metrodome, in what was the second-to-last Twins game in that building. He was polite, earnest, immensely disappointed and full of truth. He called it “the greatest game I’ve ever played in,” but he couldn’t stop replaying all the what-if moments.

“No matter what we did, it seemed like it wasn’t meant to be,” Inge said that night.

It’s a good reminder that for every story of immense sports joy, there’s an equal reaction of heartbreak. Minnesota fans know the pain side of the equation all too well.

But if you want to remember that joy — and maybe rediscover some things you forgot — I urge you to watch the replay of Game 163.

Virtual happy hour debate: Second-best Timberwolves player of all-time?

I’ve been doing my best to provide you with virtual happy hour topics, and today I want to try something a little different. Instead of just giving you three things from the news of the day, here is a subject you can debate over a beverage of choice shared through the warm glow of a screen:

Who is the second-best player in Timberwolves history?

This assumes the obvious, that Kevin Garnett is the best player in Wolves history. If you want to debate that, you are on your own. Get a few cans of Four Loko and have at it. (By the way, did you know Four Loko is in the hard seltzer game? 12% alcohol).

As for the topic at hand: We have a leader in the clubhouse for second-best, but we hardly have an agreement. I’ve been engaged in this debate for the last 30 minutes or so on Twitter, though I have not yet begun my virtual happy hour AS FAR AS YOU KNOW.

My vote goes along with the consensus, achieved through two separate Twitter polls. The first offered just two choices: Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love. The second added Sam Cassell and Jimmy Butler to the mix.

KAT was the winner in both cases by close to a 2 to 1 margin, though in the second poll the other two options seemed to siphon more votes from him than Love.

I think Towns is the right answer, and advanced stats tend to agree, but people certainly have their own opinions and favorites.

Maybe you will have an epiphany?

Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak remains undefeated against Twitter foes

The Major League Baseball Season, which has been postponed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, would have started Thursday.

Stat lines that would have started to fill up this week are going to be stuck on zero at least into May — except for one.

Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak improved to 1-0 this week, albeit against a Twitter foes instead of anyone on the field.

Dobnak, as you’ll recall, made an improbable rise from obscurity to Game 2 playoff starter for last year’s 101-win Twins, compiling a 1.59 ERA in 28.1 innings. His story is great, and his look is even better: a Fu Manchu-style mustache and sport specs are the centerpieces.

On Tuesday, though, a Twitter account dared to take on the mighty Dobnak with this premise: “Push this button and you get to be a professional athlete. the only catch is that you have to be randy dobnak. do you push it? … i mean, even putting looks aside. my name would be randy dobnak. man. hard one.”

That’s just not very nice. But: Pretty much everyone who replied to the tweet said that yes, they’d love to be Dobnak — complimenting everything from his look to his story to his Major League status.

The best was yet to come, though: Dobnak — who has a history of handling himself well on Twitter — himself found the tweet and replied: “Honestly I would probably push it but idk that’s just me.”

The original tweet has fewer than 300 likes; Dobnak’s reply has more than 20,000.

And that is a VERY high VORT — Value Over Replacement Tweet.

Virtual happy hour: Overrated Trae Waynes, Olympics and what to watch

Every day, I’m going to provide you with three topics for your virtual happy hour — a concept that is probably starting earlier and earlier every day. Let’s get to it: 1) ESPN did a ranking of the five most underrated and overrated signings so far in NFL free agency, and coming in on the “overrated” side was Trae Waynes — the former Vikings corner who signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Bengals. “Some might say that Waynes has lived up to his lofty expectations as the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft — but he hasn’t,” it says at the beginning. Ouch! 2) The Olympics are unofficially officially postponed. Longtime IOC member Dick Pound told USA Today as much, though it hasn’t been confirmed by a larger body yet. “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in a phone interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.” It sounds like the Summer Games will move to 2021 in Tokyo. 3) Tom Brady just went to Tampa Bay, but if you want to relive his EARLY days in New England you can watch his first Super Bowl — Feb. 3, 2002 — against the Rams at 9 p.m. tonight on NFL Network, right after your very long virtual happy hour ends.

With talent out the door, 2020 will test Vikings’ coaching and systems

Head coach Mike Zimmer’s era with the Vikings can best be described as “solid” — a six-year, 100-game run (including playoffs) that has produced wins in almost 60% of the games (59-40-1), three trips to the postseason, two playoff game victories and one NFC title game berth.

And the backbone of that solidity has been continuity among the organization’s best players — particularly on defense.

The Vikings have been able to keep together that solid core through a series of extensions, renegotiations and a philosophy that rewards in-house talent.

At some point, though, things have to change. Veteran players get more expensive and bills come due. They get older and skills decline. They decide they want a change of scenery.

That is the story of the 2020 Vikings offseason-to-date — one which, frankly, has surprised me in terms of just how much the Vikings seem to be willing to remake themselves on the fly and make a lot of painful salary cap decisions all at once coming off a playoff year and heading into what seems like a pretty important season.

Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Linval Joseph have already signed elsewhere, among others. Everson Griffen is as good as gone, as is Xavier Rhodes. Stefon Diggs pushed his way out the door via a trade to Buffalo.

As Ben Goessling wrote over the weekend, the moves were foreshadowed in Mike Zimmer’s comments shortly after the season ended with a lopsided playoff loss to the 49ers.

At the end of the day, it ends up being a young man’s game,” Zimmer said at the time. “The more that we as coaches can help develop these young guys, the quicker that we can help develop them, the better it is for them.”

Even if you took Zimmer at his word at the time, the offseason has been dramatic. Losses that I thought were “or” situations turned out to be “and” situations — Waynes AND Alexander; Griffen AND Joseph.

The second part of that quote, though, underscores the challenge ahead. Out of necessity more than arrogance — but certainly with a healthy mix of both — the Vikings will be leaning on their coaches and systems now more than ever.

On defense, Zimmer’s history of developing players — particularly in the secondary, where the Vikings are dramatically remaking their cornerback group — and putting them in schemes that emphasize sound techniques plus third down efficiency will be put to the test. There figures to be an influx of talent with two first-round picks and 12 choices overall, but it will by definition be raw talent that needs to grow up in a hurry in a young man’s game.

On offense, trading Diggs figures to cause the Vikings to lean even more heavily on the run-first, multiple tight-end, play-action approach they used often last season. Ironically, seeing Diggs thrive as the clear No. 1 target in that system while Adam Thielen missed almost half the regular-season snaps (six full games and parts of two others) might have convinced the Vikings that they could trade Diggs. But Diggs is clearly talent out the door, and the onus will be on Gary Kubiak to do more with less.

All the moves and cuts added up to more than $20 million in dead money — cap hits for players no longer on the team — in 2020, another serious departure from past seasons.

Some of it was by necessity. Some of it was the result of a seeming willingness to take a lot of medicine all at once instead of nudging problems down the road.

Time will tell if some short-term pain preserves the only real continuity that matters: winning.

Virtual happy hour topics: Tom Brady, Vikings money, no spelling bee

It only took a couple of days — and the combination of working from home and social distancing — for the concept of a “virtual happy hour” to gain huge traction. The idea is simple: connecting via technology instead of face-to-face to enjoy a beverage of choice and have a real conversation to make this all feel a little less … isolating. But what are you going to talk about? Ah, that’s were I’ll attempt to fill whatever void exists with three virtual happy hour topics every day — likely posted in the morning because, let’s face it, normal rules no longer apply and I’m not going to judge you for starting a virtual happy hour at any time of day. Here we go: 1 Tom Brady officially signed with Tampa Bay. Other (less sports savvy) people in the virtual happy hour might say: I can’t believe it! After 20 years in New England what was he thinking? You (one who has sophisticated sports takes) might say: Sure, it’s strange. But the Patriots got old in a hurry last season and might be a sinking ship. He’ll get to play in warm weather, with an offensive-minded head coach (Bruce Arians) and with a team that could be on the rise. Plus, old quarterbacks do this all the time — including a certain strangely purple-clad guy who wore No. 4. 2 The Vikings sure are changing over a lot of their roster for a team that won 10 games and went to the playoffs. Other people might say: The Vikings lost three of their top cornerbacks and haven’t done anything yet to upgrade their offensive line. In fact they lost one reasonably steady performer when they cut guard Josh Kline. You might say: Those are both good points, but what’s maybe even more interesting is how much “dead money” they have on their salary cap. From Kline to Xavier Rhodes to the Stefon Diggs trade, they have more than $22 million on their salary cap in 2020 tied up in players who aren’t on the roster. That’s a huge departure from past years. 3 The spelling bee is the latest coronavirus-related postponement. Others might say: Scripps suspended the spelling bee finals that were going to be in May. No! I mean, I get it. But that makes me S-A-D. You might say: It’s a bummer, to be sure. But we can always have a virtual spelling bee anytime we want. No need to look so w-o-e-b-e-g-o-n-e.

March Madness: Simulation says Badgers would have won NCAA tourney

The worst-case scenario for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the one that is playing out right now.

Or rather, not playing at all right now instead of starting Thursday.

Last week’s news that the tournament has been canceled — along with all other NCAA events, while major pro leagues were put on hold for long stretches, all in the name of fighting the spread of the coronavirus — was a major blow to fans of March Madness.

For a lot of Minnesota fans, though, the (albeit distant) second-worst scenario is one in which the rival Wisconsin Badgers cut down the nets as One Shining Moment plays at the end of the dance.

That’s exactly how things played out in one credible (though obviously dystopian) ESPN.com simulation.

Using Joe Lunardi’s final bracket and ratings from ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the site played out the whole tournament.

The catch was that it was a single simulation — not, say, the most likely outcomes from 50,000 simulations — that ESPN.com published.

As it notes: A single simulation means that upsets will happen. The unexpected will rear its head. Because any given Thursday-Sunday in March, there’s some weird in college basketball. And that’s reflected here.

The reality spit out in the one simulation has Wisconsin going all the way. The fourth-seeded Badgers — who had momentum on their side after surging to a share of the Big Ten title in real life — made a run and then knocked off another underdog, sixth-seeded BYU, in the championship game. As the site says:

The Badgers have done it! In the college basketball season that made no sense, Wisconsin has come out of (relatively) nowhere to take the national championship. The Badgers had less than a 1% chance to pull off this feat entering the tourney. … This is a team that did not begin the season in the AP’s Top 25 and only barely cracked it in the last set of rankings. Not that any of that matters, because the Badgers are now (simulated) champions!

Here’s a look about the entire simulated tournament.

If you’d like a different simulation, by the way, check this Twitter feed — which is doing a “virtual March Madness” and staggering the games along the way. Or read how our Marcus Fuller projected things.

Anything that lets us have a little of the fun while hopefully ensuring the Badgers aren’t champions is fine by me.