Vikings vs. Packers could be defining game for both franchises

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where overstatements are usually understated. Let’s get to it:

*It’s imprudent to both attach too much meaning to a single game and to look to far into a speculative future, but I’m going to do it anyway.

This Sunday night game between the Vikings and Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium has the feel of one that could have a lasting impact on both franchises.

Let’s say the Vikings win and improve to 6-4-1. They would feel a lot better about their playoff chances than they do now — where as it stands the division is slipping out of reach and a wild card is pretty much a coin flip.

A Packers loss, meanwhile, would drop them to 4-6-1 and deal them a blow in the playoff race. They would probably have to run the table over their final five games — not out of the question given a reasonably friendly schedule, but a tall order for any team and particularly one that has looked so beatable this season. It would probably increase the heat on head coach Mike McCarthy and start the Packers down a path by which they might replace the coach at the end of the season.

But let’s say the Vikings lose and fall to 5-5-1 — same as Green Bay, in this scenario. Green Bay would win any two-team tiebreaker for the division or wild card against the Vikings with a win and tie on its resume in head-to-head meetings.

It would put the Vikings in precarious shape heading into the final five games, with a two-game losing streak to division rivals and several tough games ahead (including next week at New England). The Vikings’ path to the playoffs would still be possible to navigate, but it would be much harder. And we might even start to hear some whispers about Mike Zimmer’s job status if a season that started with Super Bowl hopes goes completely off the rails.

So yeah, no pressure Sunday. Maybe both teams can just kick the can down the road a little more and tie again?

*Speaking of coaches, Chris Hine and I tackled an interesting reader question on this week’s Timberwolves Talk podcast: How many games does coach Tom Thibodeau need to win this year to keep his job?

After some hemming and hawing, filled with qualifiers about staying healthy and such, my answer was somewhere around 45. While Thibodeau gets a little slack for the 4-9 start because of the Jimmy Butler mess, he is not blameless for how it all played out. Getting to 45 wins will be a challenge considering that start, but the Wolves are now 7-10. That would mean going 38-27 the rest of the way.

I could see the Wolves winning like 42-44 games and Thibodeau — who has two years and $16 million left on his contract after this season — keeping his job, and I can see a scenario where the Wolves miss the playoffs in the brutal West but show enough promise in their new alignment that he stays another year. But 45 seems like a magic number.

*Drama followed Butler to Philadelphia, though this doesn’t really have much to do with him: 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is shutting down until at least Monday in order to consult with a shoulder specialist.

The team and Fultz are not at all on the same page, by the way.

Jimmy Butler trade might (eventually) help Wolves on offense, too

The most obvious small sample size gains so far from the Wolves’ trade of Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, which brought Robert Covington and Dario Saric back primarily in return, has come on defense.

Kent Youngblood will have a larger look at this Wednesday in print and online, complete with insights from Wolves practice Tuesday, but suffice to say that the defense has looked much better since the deal. Minnesota is 2-1 with Covington and Saric playing regular minutes. They’ve allowed 100, 96 and 100 points in those three games after allowing fewer than 110 points just one other time in their first 14 games.

Defense is about effort and communication, both of which have improved dramatically. It also helps that Covington — a first-team All-NBA Defensive player a year ago — is at least Butler’s equal as a wing defender.

What I want to spend a little time on now, though, is the offense. Things looked very clunky in the loss to Memphis on Sunday, but there is some evidence that the Wolves could get better on that side of the ball soon — and that Covington and Saric could lead the way in a key area. Let’s dissect this:

*First, it’s worth noting the Wolves with Butler last season were a very good offensive team. It didn’t always look pleasing to the eye, but Minnesota was fourth in offensive efficiency in the NBA thanks to being good at free throws, taking care of the ball, hitting the offensive glass and making a lot of two-pointers.

The Wolves have been pretty good in those first three areas again, all of which seemed fairly sustainable. The last one, though — being good at two-pointers — contained a lot of hidden potential inefficiency.

Namely: The Wolves ranked in the top-5 in the NBA in percentage of field goal attempts from each of these three distances last year: 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet and 16 feet to the three-point line (per Basketball Reference). A whopping 48 percent of their combined field goal attempts came from those spots, and overall they took the highest percentage of two-pointers in the league.

But the most efficient two-pointers by far are 0-3 feet away from the rim, and the Wolves — though they made 69 percent of those shots, fourth-best in the NBA — ranked just No. 22 in percentage of overall shots taken from that distance.

So they were No. 22 in shots at the rim and last in three-pointers attempted. Those are the two most efficient shots in the NBA. They were reasonably efficient when they took those shots, but they didn’t take enough. Instead, they relied on taking — and making at a relatively high clip — lower percentage shots.

*Fast-forward to this year. The Wolves have obviously placed more of an emphasis on shooting three-pointers, with 32.5 percent of their attempts this year coming from long-distance. Combined with a slight uptick in shots at the rim (27.4 percent), overall they’re now shooting 59.9 percent of their shots from the two most efficient spots (compared to 52 percent a year ago).

What’s dragged the offense down — the Wolves are No. 22 in offensive efficiency through 17 games — is a combination of atrocious mid-range shooting and an adjustment to the increased emphasis on pace and space.

The Wolves are shooting just 46.6 percent on two-pointers — lowest in the NBA — and on shots from 16 feet to the three-point line they are shooing an abysmal 28.1 percent, by far the lowest in the NBA. The league average on shots 16 feet to the line? 40.6 percent. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague are all shooting less than 20 percent on long 2s. That absolutely will get better, even as the Wolves look to shoot fewer of them, and even returning to league average on those less-desirable shots will help.

Arguably, too, the offensive numbers suffered some during Butler’s time this season for the same reason the defense suffered: there was little synergy or communication. Many of those long 2s were likely contested, and/or came late in the shot clock, and/or were a result of isolation plays with little ball movement. It stands to reason that as the Wolves get to know each other better, they’ll get better looks on 2-point jumpers — not necessarily the shots you want, but better than contested 2s.

Butler, by the way, attempted just 46.8 percent of his shots last season with Minnesota either at the rim or from three-point range. He was great on 2-pointers and at getting to the line (and converting), but he tends to have more of a mid-range game.

So here’s how Covington and Saric help: Both are efficient shot takers.

Covington for his career attempts a whopping 83.5 percent of his shots either from three-point range (62.5 percent) or at the rim (21 percent), and with the Wolves in three games he’s been right on course at 82.7 percent.

Saric last year attempted 70 percent of his shots from deep or at the rim, and this year he’s over 70 percent.

They should help the Wolves’ offense continue to evolve given their efficiency and willingness to keep the ball moving.

One other thing that would help: Get Anthony Tolliver back on the court. He’s sat the last three games with Saric and Gorgui Dieng getting minutes. Tolliver has attempted 58 shots this year: 57 from deep or at the rim, and ONE from 16-feet to the line. Dieng, meanwhile, is attempting just 45.3 percent of his shots from those distances. More than a quarter of his field goal tries have been long twos, and he’s connected on just 31.6 percent of them.

Dieng adds value in other ways, so this isn’t necessarily a Tolliver vs. Dieng argument. And there are different ways to be efficient on offense, as the Wolves proved last season.

But as the Wolves seek a path to offensive efficiency through threes and layups — a track they started on before the Butler trade and should accelerate down now with Covington and Saric in the fold — they have some interesting pieces to make it happen.

Rams 54, Chiefs 51: Great for (most) fans, bad for Las Vegas

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where there is always more than one way to win. Let’s get to it:

*In what looked at times Monday like a video game, or at least a Big 12 game, the Rams and Chiefs combined to score 105 points on Monday Night Football. Los Angeles gave up 51 and still won, thanks to a late touchdown that gave the Rams 54, putting an exclamation point on a showdown between explosive 9-1 teams that absolutely lived up to its billing.

If you like offense — and really, most people prefer 54-51 to 13-10 and those who say otherwise might be pining more for nostalgia than gritty field position battles — Monday was your kind of night.

If you run a casino in Las Vegas, however, Monday was not your kind of night. In an effort to scare away gamblers, the over-under point total for the game was set at 64 — the largest since at least 1986.

But gamblers — especially casual ones who like to have a few bucks on a game for fun — love the over. It’s more fun to root for points than to hope for turnovers, incomplete passes and field goals.

ESPN reports that a representative for William Hill, which has 108 sports books in Nevada, said 69 percent of the over-under action in Monday’s game was bet on the over and that the books lost seven-figures Monday as a result.

Nice for gamblers, not nice for the money machines. Let’s just hope those poor, poor casinos can rebound.

*Vikings coach Mike Zimmer offered up some very interesting quotes Monday that further advanced my theory that there is some push-pull happening this season between the way Zimmer wants the Vikings to play and the way new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is calling games.

Our Andrew Krammer summarized the best of them here, with my two favorite cherry-picked phrases from Zimmer on the offense being “let’s just play football” and “maybe we just need to focus a little bit on not trying to trick the other team quite so much.”

It should also be noted that Zimmer acknowledged continuing to run the ball can be tough when you aren’t gaining yards but also reiterated that, “I do think that there’s times that we need to stick with it a little bit more.”

*QB Kirk Cousins has thrown seven interceptions and lost six fumbles this season, meaning he’s had a direct hand in 13 of the Vikings’ 16 turnovers. Zimmer said he has talked to Cousins about the turnovers, but overall he praised the QB.

Case Keenum last season, per Pro Football Reference, threw seven interceptions and lost just one fumble in 14 starts. Cousins has been an overall upgrade in most ways, but ball security has not been one of them.

*The Wizards have taken over for the pre-Jimmy Butler trade Timberwolves as the NBA team in the most disarray. John Wall was fined for swearing at head coach Scott Brooks recently (strangely, I don’t recall Butler being fined for similar antics). Bradley Beal reportedly is fed up with management.

And every player, including Wall and Beal, is available via trade. Deadspin’s Albert Burneko wrote a searing piece about the awfulness, and it sounded so much like the Wolves earlier this season that it was eerie.

*And finally, Blues coach Mike Yeo has been fired. It took three shutouts in four games, but it happened. He coached in St. Louis for parts of three seasons, but only one full one.

Curling team, including former Olympic champ, kicked out of tourney for being drunk and disorderly

I’ve never curled, stupidly blowing a chance several years ago when I did a story on the sport around the Olympics and declined a local curling club’s offer to throw some rocks while out on assignment.

But what I’ve been told about curling is that it’s a sport where they don’t mind mixing a few adult beverages in with the action. Loosens up the elbows.

But a foursome that included 2014 Olympic  gold medalist Ryan Fry of Canada, apparently went too far at a recent tournament in Red Deer, Alberta. Let’s let CBC pick things up from here:

After receiving numerous complaints from opponents and spectators, the tournament committee at the Red Deer Curling Centre was compelled to intervene.

“They went out to curl and they were extremely drunk and breaking brooms and swearing and just unacceptable behaviour that nobody wants to watch or hear or listen to and it was just ‘enough was enough,'” facility manager Wade Thurber told CBC Sports.

“There was some damage in the locker room and other teams complaining about their stuff being kicked around in the locker room. So at the end of the day, it was like ‘OK, that’s enough of this gong show.‘”

Fry issued an apology, by the way.

Well-paid Kirk Cousins takes Joe Mauer’s place in angry fan pecking order

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, when sometimes it’s actually nice when the weekend is over. Let’s get to it:

*Kirk Cousins had a bad game Sunday — perhaps his worst game in purple, at least given the circumstances, at the worst possible time. These are the kinds of games you want your well-compensated quarterback to win. Instead, Cousins threw two back-breaking interceptions as the Vikings fell to the Bears 25-20 in a game that really wasn’t all that close but did have plenty of meaning in the NFC North race.

Chicago (7-3) is now 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota. If the Bears can maintain that lead until the rematch between these teams in Week 17 in Minnesota, Chicago — barring a Green Bay run — will win the division. The Vikings (5-4-1) are still in decent shape to grab a Wild Card spot if they can hit reset after Sunday. We’ll see.

What we saw Sunday was a flawed team, with a lot of the preseason question marks rearing their ugly heads. The Vikings could neither protect Cousins nor establish a running game, with the common denominator being an overextended offensive line that flat-out doesn’t have enough talent.

The Vikings in 10 games this season have turned the ball over 16 times, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. Last year they turned it over just 14 times all year (third-fewest). Cousins has been Exhibit A in that uptick.

The good and bad of Cousins and the circumstances of Joe Mauer’s $184 million contract expiring (combined with Mauer’s retirement) have created a sort of passing of the torch.

As with Mauer, every failure on Cousins’ part is now being micro-examined and griped about. Successes are still celebrated but they also carry a weight of “that’s what he’s paid for” with fans.

For a while, I thought the Wolves’ Andrew Wiggins and his max contract might be the new big thing to whine about. But it’s not even close. Remove the 1 from Mauer’s deal, shrink it by five years, and assign it to the most important player on the most important team in this market.

The $84 million QB has stepped up nicely to fill the void left by Mauer as the guy everyone is mad at for making so much money and not succeeding 100 percent of the time.

*Neither Dalvin Cook (9 carries, 12 yards) nor Latavius Murray (4 carries, 5 yards) found any running room Sunday. For the season, though, here are some interesting numbers:

Murray has gained at least three yards on 48 of his 96 carries — 50 percent.

Cook has gained at least three yards on just 21 of his 55 carries — 38 percent.

Cook has battled through a hamstring issue after coming back from his torn ACL, so some of that could just be rust and fully returning to health. But it’s worth noting that Murray has been better at keeping the Vikings out of long yardage situations — spots that make it even harder on the offensive line.

*Cousins’ pregame speeches have received quite a bit of attention this season, but did he go to far in his motivation Sunday? Plenty of people reacted to this tweet:

*Sunday was one of those days, by the way, in Minnesota sports. The Wolves tipped off at 2:30 and lost. The Wild started at 5 p.m. and lost. The Vikings kicked off at about 7:20 and lost. That was about 10 hours of wall-to-wall losing. At least the Gophers men’s basketball team managed to hold on for a 69-64 win over Texas A&M after the Vikings finished up, keeping the day from being a total sports disaster.

Packers fans are angry at coach Mike McCarthy (again) after loss

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes a season gets pushed closer to the brink. Let’s get to it:

*The Vikings have had their share of ups and downs in a sometimes frustrating 5-3-1 start (hello, 27-6 loss to Buffalo!).

But I think it’s fair to say frustration runs even deeper one state to the east, where the rival Packers entered Thursday 4-4-1 and in need of a victory over Seattle on multiple levels. They needed it to remain in solid playoff position. They needed it because they’ve struggled on the road this year and in Seattle with QB Aaron Rodgers. And they needed it perhaps most of all because throughout the season Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy (who runs Green Bay’s offense) haven’t seemed to be on the same page at various points.

What the Packers got instead Thursday was familiar to Green Bay fans: a stunning loss in Seattle, complete with fresh new reasons to question McCarthy.

In two critical moments, the Packers coach made questionable decisions. First, he failed to challenge a Seattle catch that set up the Seahawks’ go-ahead touchdown. Replays weren’t 100 percent conclusive, but there’s a good chance the completion would have been overturned and might have led to a stalled drive and the preservation of Green Bay’s 24-20 lead.

Second, McCarthy decided to punt on 4th and 2 with 4:20 left on Green Bay’s ensuing possession. He said after the game that he was “playing the numbers” in choosing to give up the ball instead of going for it.

*I crunched the win probability numbers on Pro Football Reference, and it’s pretty much a wash in terms of which decision would have historically favored the Packers. In either case, they would have had about a 25 percent chance of winning after the decision.

But the Packers had been gouged all night in the running game, which should have been a factor in McCarthy’s decision. So, too, is keeping the ball in the hands of one of the best QBs in NFL history. To me, the most relevant numbers are 1 and 0: The first being the number of plays Rodgers was guaranteed had the Packers gone for it, vs. the number of plays he was guaranteed with a punt.

*Seattle gained two first downs on the ground to run out the clock. And Packers fans? They’re not happy. In wading through all the “fire McCarthy” and “ditch MM” comments online, this one with more substance stands out:

McCarthy needs to lose that Denny’s Menu he carries around and get an actual feel for the game. 4th and 2 with four minutes left in the game and your two best run defenders are hurt and you punt the ball! As soon as he did that I and everyone not named Mike McCarthy knew Seattle would run out the clock. A winning coach would have been in a 4 down offense.

*It left longtime Packers writer Tom Silverstein to conclude that “something is broken.” Silverstein also quoted Seattle coach Pete Carroll as being “a little relieved” the Packers punted instead of going for it.

The Packers don’t get much relief. Their next game is a week from Sunday in Minnesota, again at night in prime time. The Vikings will be fresh of a huge game of their own in Chicago, and both teams will be desperate for a win — the Packers perhaps to stay on the fringes of the division race and the Vikings perhaps to take control and send their rivals deeper into a spiral.

It’s OK to enjoy the Timberwolves and still keep things in perspective

The most cautionary of all the cautionary Timberwolves tales might be a game most of you have long-forgotten but for some reason sticks with me to this day.

On Jan. 30, 2006 the Wolves played their first home game after a blockbuster deal that sent Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi to the Celtics for Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks and Justin Reed (along with other assorted draft picks).

The game happened to be against Boston, and it was the overall Wolves debut for Banks, had missed two road games (Wolves split them) after the trade.

Minnesota was languishing just below .500 at the time at 20-22. This trade was the latest attempt to surround Kevin Garnett with a new core of players he could work with, and on that night everything clicked. All the new guys shined, particularly Banks (20 points and a ton of quickness) in a 110-85 victory that pulled Minnesota within a game of .500.

I was convinced at the time the Wolves had found lightning in a bottle. So, too, was Garnett. After the game he said this, per the Star Tribune archives: “A new team breathing new air. We have a lot of potential. It’s up to not only the coaching staff but ourselves to develop that potential. We have a real special thing here.”

A real special thing.

The Wolves proceeded to go 5-17 in their next 22 games. The season ended with the absurd double-overtime loss to the Grizzlies in which Garnett sat out and Mark Madsen heaved seven three-pointers (making none). Final record: 33-49. Garnett was traded a season later after a 32-50 finish. The slow descent into awfulness had begun.

So listen: I’m not here to ruin anyone’s good time. I watched the Wolves’ 107-100 victory over the Pelicans on Wednesday in the debuts of Robert Covington and Dario Saric, and I genuinely enjoyed a Wolves game for the first time all season. They shared the ball (particularly in a wonderful stretch of the late first/early second quarter) and closed the game with a flurry after the Pelicans regrouped.

Covington and Saric are going to help. The Wolves are absolutely a better team now than they were 18 months ago before they acquired Jimmy Butler, and yes I’d rather have Covington and Saric than Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. If you could promise me Lauri Markkanen isn’t going to be a star or invent a time machine to redo the Justin Patton pick (or at least not let him get injured), I’d feel better but as it stands I’m OK with the net result of Butler in/Butler out.

We’ll need a much larger sample size than one game to decide if they’re somehow better now than they were last season with Butler — 47 wins is a high bar — but you can at least see how the pieces fit together.

Andrew Wiggins was energized at shooting guard in the post-Butler world. Karl-Anthony Towns delivered a monster two-way game. Covington is worthy of his first-team All-NBA defense status. Saric is a great fit for the modern NBA.

The Wolves are 6-9. They seem like they have a chance to crawl back to .500 and beyond, but then again so did that Wolves team 13 seasons ago.

It’s OK to enjoy the games while still keeping things in perspective. It sure beats whatever that alternative on-court product was at the start of the year.

It’s a baby boy for Joe Mauer and his wife, Maddie

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where there’s always a high bar to clear. Let’s get to it:

*At his retirement news conference Monday, Twins great Joe Mauer talked extensively about wanting to spend more time with his family.

“I know the right decision for me and I made it. So I’m excited and I’m happy for that,” Mauer said. “I’m happy to spend time with my girls, and my new baby that’s coming soon. Any minute. Hopefully not today.”

No, the new baby didn’t come Monday. But he wasn’t far off. Two days later, on Wednesday, Joe and Maddie Mauer welcomed their third child: a baby boy, Charles Joseph Mauer.

The couple already has twin 5-year-old girls, Emily and Maren. Mauer said Monday that he and Maddie didn’t know if their third child was going to be a boy or girl. Now they know — and can settle in for the parenting challenges ahead.

“I’m excited … to be there and be around for the girls, be around for my wife, be around for this baby,” Mauer said. “People in the baseball world know that the summers get really hectic and basically the wives are a single parent. With all the things going on, juggling that. I wanted to make sure to mention her and everything she’s done for me over the years. Letting me do my thing. I really do appreciate that. Now is the time I can help out, so I’m looking forward to that and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

*I’ll have more on the Timberwolves’ 107-100 win over New Orleans in a later post, but I thought it was interesting how the fourth quarters of that game and of Jimmy Butler’s debut with Philadelphia went on Wednesday.

The 76ers took a 92-76 lead early in the fourth quarter and looked to be cruising to a win at Orlando. But the Magic went on a 21-0 run — much of it with Butler in the game, since he came back in when it was 92-84 — to take the lead. The 76ers retook the lead at 104-100, but Orlando finished the game on an 11-2 run — with Butler committing an offensive foul with the score tied 104-104 — and won the game 111-106.

Butler, who often dominated the ball and took late-game shots for the Wolves, did not score in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points.

The Wolves, meanwhile, had coughed up a double-digit lead as well and trailed 96-94 with less than five minutes left. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns combined to score 10 of the Wolves’ next 11 points to restore a 105-100 lead in an eventual 107-100 victory. Wiggins had an emphatic dunk and Towns had a huge block in the process.

*Speaking of interesting games, Dwane Casey returned to Toronto with his new team, the Pistons, and coached Detroit to a surprising 106-104 victory on Wednesday. Reggie Bullock made the winning shot as time expired, helping Detroit rally from a 19-point hole.

*The Packers (4-4-1) face the Seahawks (4-5) in Seattle on Thursday Night Football in a game that will bolster one team’s playoff hopes and seriously dent the other team’s hopes. NFL.com has a pretty good rundown of the matchup, and it leads with a look back at that on-side kick in the NFC title game a few years back if you need extra incentive to click.

Watch: Awful in-game cheap shot gets D-III basketball player suspended, barred from campus

I don’t think I knew about the existence of Fitchburg State, which competes in Division III athletics in Massachusetts, before this morning.

But the small school now has a claim to infamy thanks to one of the worst cheap shots you’ll ever see in sports.

The play happened in the closing minutes of an 84-75 loss to Nicholls College, and it was captured on video for the whole world to see:

I mean, that’s about as bad as you can get. The good news? Nate Tenaglia, the Nicholls player who was elbowed and dropped to the ground in pain, not only made the three-pointer but stayed in the game to make both of the technical foul free throws.

And justice is being served: The offending player was ejected from the game and has been suspended from the team and barred from campus indefinitely, per Fitchburg State’s Twitter feed:

Durant vs. Draymond is reminder that Warriors’ dynasty is fragile

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes it’s nice that all the drama is happening somewhere else for a change. Let’s get to it:

*The NBA is never short on drama, so just as the Jimmy Butler situation has simmered down and been resolved, a fresh topic has emerged: Bickering between two of the Golden State Warriors’ best players, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.

The quick back story is that Green committed a turnover late in an eventual Warriors loss instead of giving the ball to Durant for a chance at a victory. If Green was as expendable as Ty Montgomery — who similarly committed a turnover that took the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands and potentially cost the Packers a win — he would probably be traded immediately as Montgomery was.

Instead, Green was suspended one game by the Warriors for conduct detrimental to the team. This probably has more to do with what was said in the ensuing heated bench (and locker room) squabble between the players. The prevailing sentiment is that Green crossed the line and made a remark about Durant’s impending free agency next summer.

In the short-term — which includes through the end of this season — the dust-up probably won’t mean much. Even if the two players only reach an uneasy truce, the Warriors are 12-3, loaded with talent and should win their fourth NBA title in five seasons.

What this incident does underscore, though, is how potentially fragile the Warriors’ dynasty is beyond this season. Durant and Klay Thompson are both free agents next summer, and it’s widely suspected Durant will sign elsewhere. Golden State won one title (and posted the NBA’s best regular season in history before losing to the Cavs in the next season) prior to Durant’s arrival, so the cupboard wouldn’t exactly be bare if that happened.

But star guard Steph Curry will be 31 in March. Green will be a free agent two years from now and might want big money. Durant has basically made the Warriors as close to invincible as possible since his arrival. After this season, Golden State’s prospects will likely be a lot more fragile.

*NBA players make gobs of money. Karl-Anthony Towns signed a contract extension that will pay him, starting next season, up to $190 million over the next five seasons.

Still, it was a nice gesture for KAT to buy winter coats for the three newest members of the Wolves acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade. Robert Covington posted a photo of the welcoming gift on an Instagram story, and the Wolves confirmed that Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless also got the practical gifts.

*NFL players also make gobs of money. But their contracts tend to be less lucrative and not fully guaranteed compared to their NBA peers, while their careers — particularly for running backs — are much shorter.

Against that backdrop, it was interesting to see Le’Veon Bell’s holdout go the distance to the point that he will miss this entire season with the Steelers. The star running back is passing up $14.5 million this year to preserve his body and earn a long-term deal elsewhere next season.