Mike Zimmer’s daughter defends her dad, rips Vikings fans

This has been a challenging year for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, and this has been one of the most challenging weeks of that challenging year.

On Monday, the Vikings were almost shut out by Seattle. On Tuesday, John DeFilippo was fired as offensive coordinator, with Zimmer hoping to salvage what is left of the season as his team sits at 6-6-1 but still in decent shape to make the playoffs.

With those struggles, the Vikings fan base has become increasingly critical of Zimmer. And on Tuesday, the frustration with fans’ frustration seemingly boiled over for Zimmer’s daughter, Corri Zimmer White.

In a post on Instagram, she said Zimmer has “lost 16 pounds this season because of stress” and routinely works ultra-long days but that “so called ‘fans’ … tear him apart.”

She continued in her post: “I’ve seen it all today to making fun of his appearance to judging every move he makes and it makes me sick to my stomach. If you don’t appreciate and can’t recognize everything he’s done for this team then you are no fan. These people get behind their keyboards and write heartless comments and i know for a fact that they have never worked as hard as he has ONE day in their life.  This man is one of the greatest COACHES, FATHER, HUSBAND, FRIEND, and PERSON in the world. He is the right leader for this team and he will get it turned around.”

I’m with her — up to a point.

Here’s a guide when thinking about criticizing a high-profile public sports figure like Zimmer: 1) Critiques about performance, decisions and strategy are fair game. Fans might not have the slightest clue in some cases, but Monday morning quarterbacking comes with the territory and unfortunately intensifies when things aren’t going great. 2) Getting personal is never a wise or classy move.

Is more Zimmer involvement in Vikings’ offense a bad idea?

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where there’s only one team on my mind. Let’s get to it:

*In firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made a seemingly obvious decision.

DeFilippo’s offense had sputtered so badly on Monday against Seattle, coming very close to being shut out, that his Wikipedia page was altered by frustrated fans to read that he was the “worst offensive coordinator in the history of the NFL” (which has since been deleted, but not because fan sentiment changed). Former Vikings QB Sage Rosenfels tweeted during the game (and later deleted) “The Vikings need a new OC. Now.” He got his wish.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was caught on an ESPN in-game microphone Monday uttering an expletive on the Vikings’ final meaningless TD drive that expressed his frustration with the offense.

Zimmer had spent the last several weeks barely able to hide his frustration with DeFilippo. Kirk Cousins was regressing. Nothing was going well, and happiness was as hard to come by as a relevant touchdown drive against a quality opponent. A change was inevitable and understandable.

All that said: There was a time this season when almost everyone seemed pretty happy with the Vikings’ offense. Maybe it was a little uneven. Maybe Cousins was taking more hits than necessary. Turnovers were a problem. But the points … they were coming.

As Ben Goessling noted in his main piece on the firing, the Vikings were No. 8 in the NFL in yards gained and No. 10 in points through the first seven games, checking in with a 4-2-1 record after a 37-17 win at the Jets. Since then, they’ve been near the bottom of the NFL in both points and yards.

The Vikings lost the next week against the Saints, with two costly turnovers paving the way. Cousins put up good numbers in that game, passing for 359 yards and two TDs. At the midpoint of the season, he had 2,521 passing yards (on pace for more than 5,000), with 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.

From there, the reins got very tight. DeFilippo continued to be urged by Zimmer to run the ball more, even after the pass-heavy offense produced (and even after, quite honestly, DeFilippo’s offense bailed out Zimmer’s struggling defense in key spots in the first half of the year).

The Vikings had 22 passes and 23 runs in a 24-9 win over the Lions the next week, and Zimmer probably imagined things were back to his preferred 2017 ways.

What appears to have happened, though, is this: Cousins, wary of turning the ball over and spooked by all the hits he was taking, starting playing things safe and short. He averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt in the first half of the season; in the five games since, Cousins has averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt. If you use adjusted Y/A, it’s even worse: From 7.8 down to 6.1.

The competition got better during that stretch, but not enough to explain that level of regression.

Plenty of that is on Cousins and his decisions. But a QB needs to be able to play free and cut it loose — trusting his instincts to find that balance between risk and reward.

And DeFilippo, in trying to please his boss with more runs, grew completely discombobulated with his play calling. There was very little feel for the game displayed against Seattle. Every key decision he made seemed to be the wrong one — like a gambler on the worst losing streak ever. Did Zimmer take away DeFilippo’s strength and turn him into a constant second-guesser?

All of this leads to a quote from Zimmer on Tuesday in which he said of his involvement with the offense going forward: “Yes, I will be a little bit more involved. We’ve talked about that some.”

Is that really a good idea?

Because for all the blame that can go around when it comes to the Vikings’ offense, it could be argued that Zimmer’s meddling is the biggest culprit.

This is Zimmer’s team, now more than ever. He has a notion of how he wants to win, and he has had success with it in the past. Handing the keys to Kevin Stefanski — albeit with Zimmer input — and trying to resume the track the Vikings were on in 2017 has some merit since they went 13-3 that year.

It might be enough to get into the playoffs this season in the mediocre NFC middle, but that was never the goal. The goal in hiring DeFilippo and signing Cousins seemed like it was to build on last season by constructing a more dynamic offense to go with a top-notch defense — a pairing that would put the Vikings on a Super Bowl path.

Stefanski, by the way, will be the fourth offensive coordinator to call a play in the Vikings’ last 40 regular-season games — dating back to Norv Turner’s midyear resignation in 2016.

The Vikings have veered way off course. Something major needed to change on offense, but I think the evidence says the answer isn’t more of Zimmer’s imprint on that side of the ball.

Video: The St. Louis Blues are brawling … in practice

Things have not been going very well for the Wild lately, but things are REALLY not going well for fellow Central Division foe St. Louis.

The Blues got off to a slow start this year and fired former Wild coach Mike Yeo after compiling a 7-8-3 record in their first 18 games.

Things have only gotten worse since then, with St. Louis going 3-6-1 since Yeo was dumped — including a 6-1 home loss to Vancouver in its most recent game.

And during practice Monday, things seemed to have reach a boiling point when TEAMMATES Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford fought each other on the ice. I mean, sometimes a scrap during a game can change momentum but when it’s two teammates doing battle I’m pretty sure the net benefit is zero or less.

In case you’re worried that news of a practice fight was overblown: there’s video! They did, indeed, fight.

Top NBA point guards are still not your go-to sources for scientific facts

Last year, Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving made headlines when on multiple occasions he publicly stated that he believes the Earth is flat instead of round.

He walked that back a little a couple months ago, apologizing more for going public with that conspiracy theory than actually believing it.

Either way, Irving doesn’t appear to subscribe to the correct notion that “you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” He’s not alone, of course, but it doesn’t make that type of nonsense any less dangerous.

On the notion of not alone, though, we have another star NBA point guard entering the fray with some casual anti-science sentiments. This time it was Stephen Curry, who says he doesn’t believe the moon landing was real.

Maybe when you make enough money and three-pointers, you think you get to invent your own science and/or history?

Regardless, I’m suddenly worried about what Russell Westbrook and other top NBA point guards believe.

Wolves guard Jeff Teague’s devotion to WWE seems downright quaint by comparison.

When the Wolves and Warriors face each other tonight, let’s hope there is some moon landing trash talk.

How in the world did Harold Baines get elected to the baseball Hall of Fame?

Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where this is none of my business, but … let’s get to it:

*My dad was in Minneapolis to visit this weekend, and as is common our conversation turned to baseball. It was Sunday night, and I had given him a book of famous baseball photographs as an early Christmas present, and one of them featured an aging Ted Williams having a conversation in the mid-1980s with two of the best hitters of that era: Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs.

My dad asked if Mattingly was in the Hall of Fame, and I said “no,” but then I hopped onto Baseball Reference to confirm my answer (it was correct) and started rattling off Donnie Baseball’s stats. He was a career .307 hitter, had four unbelievable seasons as part of a very good six-year prime and continued to be a contributor until his retirement. He won one MVP award, could have won another, and nabbed nine Gold Gloves at first base. Mattingly is a borderline candidate, we both agreed, but he never got more than 28 percent of the Hall of Fame vote.

Next, my dad asked about Keith Hernandez. He fell even shorter of enshrinement, but he also won an MVP award plus a batting title and mustered 11 Gold Glove awards. Mattingly is probably a stronger candidate, but Hernandez had a better career than I remembered (.296 career average, .821 OPS, fantastic defense and some truly outstanding seasons).

By pure coincidence, after our late night conversation I was scrolling through my phone before falling asleep (I know, bad habit) and saw that Harold Baines had been elected to Cooperstown. I have nothing against Baines and freely admit he had a very nice, long career. By playing parts of 22 seasons, he amassed some great counting numbers: 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 runs batted in with a .289 career batting average.

Those sound like Hall of Fame numbers. But Baines is not a Hall of Fame player. He’s a Hall of Very Good player. That’s why Baines never got more than 6.1 percent of the vote — when 75 percent is needed — and fell off the ballot pretty quickly during initial Hall of Fame voting. He came in through the back door with the Today’s Game Era Committee giving him 12 of a possible 16 votes — the bare minimum to get in.

Baines himself said he was “very shocked” to get elected.

The idea of the committee is not a bad one. They also elected Lee Smith, one of the dominant closers of his era who for a long time held the MLB record with 478 career saves. Even if you think saves are overvalued, Smith feels like a Hall of Famer — a guy who was at the top of his game for long enough but couldn’t get over the hump with regular voters.

Baines? He led the American League in slugging once, made six All-Star teams and was an MVP top 10 finisher exactly once. It was a very nice career. But putting him in the Hall of Fame next to the best of the best? I’d sooner put in Mattingly or Hernandez, and it’s not even close.

I think my dad would agree.

*As our Ben Goessling already noted, the Vikings got tons of help in their pursuit of a playoff berth Sunday when Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington all lost. The Vikings can clinch a playoff spot simply by winning three of their last four games.

*The Packers, too, had their slim playoff hopes given a little bit of life with Sunday’s results — including their 34-20 win in Joe Philbin’s debut after the sacking of Mike McCarthy. It was almost a perfect day for Philbin, except for this: He had two failed challenges in the first 90 seconds of the game, meaning Green Bay didn’t have any more the rest of the day.

*As part of your Monday night viewing plan, don’t forget the Wolves have a late tip-off (9:30 p.m. vs. Golden State on FSN). Two Minnesota teams are underdogs in big games out West. What could go wrong?

The playoff fringes: Which Minnesota team(s) will make it to the postseason?

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where the forecast calls for a cold but interesting winter. Let’s get to it:

*I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with playoff probabilities, but I wouldn’t say I’m NOT obsessed. Let’s just say I’m interested in the future, but mostly in a way that factors in our confidence in the present.

As this relates to local sports, I see four high-profile teams right now that are on the postseason fringes at various stages of their seasons: the Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves and Gophers men’s basketball.

This is a self-limiting and by no means exhaustive list of prominent local teams in the midst of their seasons. I could have included Gophers men’s hockey (eh, not so good right now) or Gophers women’s basketball (plotting a very strong course for the NCAA tourney right now), but I wanted to zero in on four teams who feel — and the data shows — are toss-ups right now.

Let’s take a look at all four, where they stand and evaluate the factors that make it likely — or unlikely — they’ll reach the postseason this year.

VIKINGS

Current playoff probability: 58.5 percent (Football Outsiders); 60 percent (FiveThirtyEight).

The good news: Despite a mediocre and largely disappointing 6-5-1 record (at least on the context of preseason expectations), Minnesota would be in the playoffs if the season ended today and controls its own postseason destiny. Win four games in a row, and the Vikings are assured of no worse than a Wild Card berth.

The bad news: There are three teams perched a half-game below the Vikings at 6-6, so their hold on the final playoff spot is tenuous. And if Minnesota loses at Seattle on Monday — a strong possibility given the Vikings’ struggles against top teams this year, particularly on the road — the probability of making the playoffs dips to 43 percent, per FiveThirtyEight.

WILD

Current playoff probability: 63 percent (Playoffstatus.com); 63.3 percent (Hockey Reference).

The good news: Even after four losses in its last five games and seven in its last 11, the Wild (15-11-2) is right on the fringe of the early playoff picture about one-third of the way into the season. A lot of peripheral numbers suggest the Wild should be getting better results and that if its goaltending improves things will start trending in the right direction. This has been the most consistent of the teams mentioned in this list, with six consecutive postseason berths.

The bad news: The Western Conference — and particularly the Central Division — is tough again. The team’s recent slide could be indicative of larger problems, and it’s hard to say how long new GM Paul Fenton will be patient. If moves are made, they might be more with an eye to the future instead of the present.

TIMBERWOLVES

Current playoff probability: 55 percent (FiveThirtyEight); 28.4 percent (ESPN’s BPI); 36.3 percent (Basketball Reference).

The good news: It would have been hard to imagine the Wolves even being in this discussion a few weeks ago when they were 4-9 and trying to remake themselves on the fly following the trade of Jimmy Butler to the 76ers. But they took advantage of a nice 12-game schedule stretch and developed some strong chemistry and defense behind newcomers Robert Covington and Dario Saric to stand at 13-12 and least play themselves back into this conversation.

The bad news: The schedule gets considerably tougher (10 of the next 13 are on the road), and on some level the Wolves could be chasing that 4-9 start all season. The most daunting part, though, is the brutal Western Conference. Whereas the East could have multiple playoff teams who finish under .500, the West likely will have multiple teams over .500 who miss the postseason. Even if the Wolves rally to have a decent year, as they seem like they are poised to do, they could miss the playoffs.

GOPHERS MEN’S BASKETBALL

Current playoff probability: Last four in (ESPN); No. 65 and out (NCAA Net Rankings).

The good news: Well, let’s start by saying this is a very hard one to predict because so much season is left. The Gophers are 7-2 with some good wins and predictable losses so far. Beating Nebraska on Wednesday was huge. Talent-wise, the Gophers have the pieces to get there. And getting a healthy Eric Curry back as soon as next week would make the Gophers even more formidable.

The bad news: The NCAA is using NET rankings as a way to help determine the tourney field, and right now the Gophers are only No. 65 in that ranking. To feel good about making the tournament, a team probably wants to finish at least in the mid-40s. The Big Ten is deep again, so the conference season is going to be a gauntlet. A tourney berth could come down to a handful of toss-up games.

CONCLUSION

A Twitter poll question asking which of these four teams is most likely to make the playoffs (or NCAA tournament) is indicative of the volatility.

The Vikings are the closest to finding out, and a win Monday would vault them easily to the top of this list. The Wild two weeks ago looked like it was charting a path to the playoffs for sure, but things changed quickly. The Wolves were just the opposite, playing their way back into the conversation. The Gophers are the greatest unknown.

I’d agree the Wild is probably the most likely to make it. The odds say that, and its telling that even in the midst of a funk Minnesota is still very much in the early mix. I think the Vikings will make it, but I don’t think it will be pretty. Best guess is no on the Wolves because of the bad start, but they’re playing the best of all these teams right now and could change my mind very quickly. I think the Gophers will make it.

But it should be a long, interesting winter.

Even in comebacks, Wolves are winning with more ease and less stress

Welcome to Thursday edition of The Cooler, where it’s good to trust your own eyes. Let’s get to it:

*I had one of the best seats in the house last night at Target Center — if you saw a dude in the second row, pretty close to midcourt, wearing a weird squirrel shirt … that was me — to witness the Wolves’ latest victory, a 121-104 win over Charlotte.

The Wolves have been playing with fire in their last two games, falling behind again by a big amount (15 this time in the first half after being down 19 against Houston on Monday). This is what good teams do when they get a little bored or want to test themselves, but I’m not quite sure Minnesota is good enough to do that yet.

That said, a little more than two quarters of good basketball has been more than enough to overwhelm their last two opponents, and it brings me to some interesting early conclusions about the post-Jimmy Butler Wolves.

1 For as much as Minnesota won last year, going 47-35 (including 37-22 when Butler was in the lineup), it often felt like a grind. Statistically, the Wolves were No. 4 in offensive efficiency but that efficiency came in ways that weren’t aesthetically pleasing: tough two-pointers, free throws and a lot of low-turnover isolation plays.

Post-Butler, the Wolves are sharing the ball more and playing with a lot more rhythm on both ends of the court. The result is basketball that is more pleasing to watch in addition — so far — to being effective. When the post-Butler Wolves get on a roll, they are a sight to behold.

2 The Wolves won a little more than half their games last season by 10 points or more (25 of their 47 wins). That’s a decent number, but they also played 45 games decided by nine points or less — going 22-23 in those games.

Since Robert Covington and Dario Saric arrived, six of the Wolves’ eight wins (75 percent) have come via double-digits — including the last two, even though the Wolves trailed by double-digits at one point on both games. That’s a small sample size that came during one of the most favorable stretches of games schedule-wise that the Wolves will have this year (10 of 12 at home, plus two easy road opponents), but it’s still interesting. The Wolves beat Portland, San Antonio, Houston and Charlotte — four potential playoff teams — by an average of 21 points during that stretch.

The next test is a four-game road trip out West. The last time the Wolves headed that way, they were 4-4 and trying to figure out what to do about Butler. They went 0-5 on the trip and traded Butler the day after the fifth loss. If they can go even 2-2 against Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Phoenix, all of this will start to feel even more real.

*The 76ers lost to the Raptors on Wednesday, by the way, meaning both Philadelphia and the Wolves are 9-3 since the trade (including 8-3 in both cases since the new players joined their teams).

*Bleacher Report has an interesting piece on why LeBron James might have a harder time recruiting top players to the Lakers than you might think.

Vikings kicking woes, 2013-present: An examination

There was a time, if you can believe it, that the Vikings enjoyed above-average, drama-free placekicking. Ryan Longwell started that path in 2006, when the Vikings signed him away from Green Bay. He kicked for six years in Minnesota and made 86 percent of his field goals during that time.

Blair Walsh replaced him in 2012, and he was even better for that first year. Walsh made 35 of 38 field goals as a rookie, including an incredible 10 of 10 from 50 yards or more. It looked like the Vikings were set for another decade at least.

Narrator: This was not the case.

Walsh was decent in 2013, bad in 2014 and shaky in 2015 before missing the 27-yarder in the playoffs from which he never really recovered. Kai Forbath replaced him midway through 2016 and stayed through 2017, doing quite well on field goals but giving everyone nightmares on extra points.

Daniel Carlson made just 1 of 4 field goals and was cut after two games this year because the reliable Dan Bailey was available. He’s been anything but, missing a bunch of kicks including a 48-yarder last week at New England.

These kicking woes feel familiar for anyone who watched the Vikings after Gary Anderson and before Longwell. But the “what” is well-established. What nobody has been able to solve yet is the “why.” First, the overall numbers and context:

On field goal attempts since 2013, here is the breakdown by kicker:

Bailey: 16 of 22; Carlson: 1 of 4; Forbath: 47 of 53; Walsh: 98 for 120. Total: 162 for 199 (81.4 percent).

 

The NFL average has been between 84 and 85 percent each of the last five years, including this one. So the Vikings have missed about seven more field goals since the start of the 2013 season than the average team. That’s a little more than one per season over a 5.5-season span, costing them about 4 points a year.

On extra points since 2015, when the rule changed and made them from 33 yards instead of 20:

Bailey: 20 of 21; Carlson: 6 of 6; Forbath: 45 of 53; Walsh: 48 for 56. Total: 119 for 136 (87.5 percent).

The NFL average is about 94 percent since rule changed. The Vikings have missed about nine more extra points than the average team in the last three-plus years, costing them about 2-3 points per season.

So the Vikings are missing about a touchdown worth of kicks a year — about half a point per game. That doesn’t seem like much. But missed kicks often are about more than just about missed points. They can be deflating and particularly costly if they come in crucial situations.

The interesting thing is that this spans four different kickers. Walsh had the longest tenure but was increasingly shaky on both field goals and extra points. Forbath was extremely accurate (almost 89 percent) on field goals but missed a stunning eight extra points. Carlson and Bailey have been fine on extra points but missed nine combined field goals this year. So what is it?

THE CHRIS KLUWE FACTOR

One interesting facet of all this is that former punter Chris Kluwe was the holder on field goals during Longwell’s entire tenure here and for Walsh’s breakout rookie year. He was dumped by the Vikings after 2012, though — right at the point struggles started to creep in.

But … Walsh was still pretty good in 2013 with Jeff Locke as his holder, making 26 of 30 field goals that year. The Vikings have also employed Ryan Quigley (2017) and Matt Wile (2018) as holders/punters since Kluwe left. Unless you believe in curses (more on that in a minute), it’s hard to pin this on holds or believe that Kluwe had some special gift for catching a snap and setting the ball down.

THE EXTRA POINT RULE

I’ve had a theory for a while that moving the extra point from 20 to 33 yards has impacted kickers negatively because every kick now is magnified and carries more pressure. It certainly was part of Walsh’s downfall. Forbath might still be here, too, if the extra point was still 20 yards and he hadn’t missed eight of them.

I had a chance to ask Bailey about it when he signed in September. “It’s a good question,” he said. “Obviously they moved the extra point back a few years ago, so I mean maybe that emphasized things a little more and created more drama.”

But … field goal accuracy in the NFL has been basically the same since the extra point change (between 84.2 and 84.9 percent year to year), and overall placekicking has grown vastly more accurate over the years. When the Vikings came into the league in 1961, fewer than half of all field goals were successful. If kickers are more stressed out, they aren’t really showing it across the league on field goals even if they naturally miss more of the long extra points.

BAD PERSONNEL DECISIONS

Walsh and Carlson were both Rick Spielman draft picks who had shaky senior years in college. Did that history indicate both were prone to having lapses that would cost them their jobs with the Vikings?

And did the Vikings/Spielman make a bad choice overall in moving on from Forbath — who at least was reliable on field goals even if he was maddening on extra points? (You can second-guess the decision to move on from Carlson given that he’s since kicked well for the Raiders, but cutting him and adding Bailey was almost universally suggested and praised at the time).

These are reasonable things to question … but there is value in long-term stability at the kicking position and the Vikings have clearly sought that. And when they parted ways with both Walsh and Carlson, they added kickers in Forbath and Bailey who are among the most accurate in NFL history.

QUESTIONABLE COACHING

Special teams coach Mike Priefer has been a constant during the struggles, and head coach Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014 when the struggles really gained some steam.

Is there a technique or mental approach that Priefer is using that doesn’t help? Possibly, but he was also here in 2012 when Walsh was one of the NFL’s best.

Zimmer has been critical of kickers numerous times, saying “he’s got to make it” after Walsh missed that playoff field goal … asking “did you see the game?” when discussing Carlson being cut … and saying in a halftime interview of the Green Bay game two weeks ago that the Vikings would need to go for it on fourth down instead of trusting Bailey, who had missed from 48 and 56 yards in the first half (Bailey ended up trying and making a go-ahead field goal, by the way).

Zimmer is a task-oriented coach who values players who do their job. It’s possible the frustration of inevitable misses from kickers causes him to have emotional reactions in the moment that create a downward spiral. But Zimmer would hardly be the first coach to criticize a kicker or be disappointed in misses, and if a kicker suffered as a result would you really want that kicker?

A CURSE

It’s fashionable to say the Vikings are “cursed,” but most reasonable people don’t believe in such a thing.

What I would subscribe to, though, is the notion of a collective weight accumulating and contributing to both an overall perception and reality of a situation. (Maybe that’s your definition of a curse. So be it).

That is to say: Vikings kickers become aware of the struggles of their predecessors. Misses become magnified because of that history, and even if Vikings kickers are just a little worse than league average it feels like it’s much worse. Kickers lose confidence because everyone fears the worst, and shanks become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s interesting to think about … but none of these kickers had their tenures overlap. Is Bailey really thinking about what Walsh did in 2015 when he lines up a kick? Even if there is a subconscious awareness, does that really matter when muscle memory kicks in?

CONCLUSION

Maybe it’s a combination of all or some of these things — the death by 1,000 paper cuts approach. It’s not all the holder’s fault, but it probably didn’t help that Wile was late getting on the field for the missed 48-yarder at New England. The extra point hasn’t impacted kickers across the board, but maybe it’s hurt the Vikings in particular. Spielman wasn’t wrong to want to upgrade at kicker, but he probably handled it wrong in spots. Same with the coaching. And maybe these kickers really are seeing or feeling ghosts when they approach the ball?

Or maybe the best explanation is just a series of random events, human errors and the whims of an oblong ball.

NFL teams continue to be cowards when it comes to Kaepernick

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes things are as simple as they look. Let’s get to it:

*Colin Kaepernick played his most recent NFL game on Jan. 1, 2017 — the last game of a wretched 2016 regular season for the 49ers. He completed 17 of 22 passes for 215 yards, one TD and no interceptions and finished with a 122.3 passer rating in a narrow 25-23 loss to the Seahawks.

He went just 1-10 as a starter that year, but the 49ers were a truly damaged team and went 2-14 overall. Kaepernick threw 16 touchdown passes with just four interceptions and ran for 468 yards on 69 carries. He was not a great nor accurate passer, which was reflected in his 59.1 percent completion mark and his No. 23 finish among qualified passers in Total QBR.

Still, Kaepernick was at least a functional and dangerous quarterback — one that could help a better team, if not as a starter then at least as a high-quality backup. Given his skill set and history, he in fact seems like the perfect fit for a suddenly QB-needy team.

We all know, of course, what has happened since then. In his final season, he didn’t stand for the national anthem as a protest of the treatment of racial minorities in the United States.

Kaepernick hasn’t played since then, with numerous teams offering increasingly cowardly excuses for keeping a 31-year-old dual-threat quarterback out of the league. The latest came Tuesday, when Washington — already without Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, and already having signed Mark Sanchez (!) but needing yet another QB in a season that still has potential — put Kaepernick through the excuse generator.

Let’s see, head coach Jay Gruden said Kaepernick was considered but it came down to wanting a QB familiar with Washington’s system and with a similar skill set to the QBs already on the roster.

So the first opportunity when Smith was lost for the season went to McCoy who — checks notes — is a year older than Kaepernick and is a marginal (at best) NFL backup. He was already on the roster, so we can’t get too worked up about that.

But the next chance after McCoy, too, was lost for the season went to Sanchez — another 32-year-old with marginal skills. I guess if you want someone who can duplicate what McCoy can do, Sanchez is your guy. But if you want to be honest about which quarterback givs you the best chance to win, especially in this situation? It’s Kaepernick by a mile.

In order to utilize someone like Colin Kaepernick’s skill set, you’re talking about a whole new group of formations and run concepts,” Gruden said. “It’s very difficult. … Whoever the backup is, they have to have skill sets similar to Mark, that he can fit into the plays we’re going to run vs. the Giants.”

It sounds plausible to those inclined to believe such nonsense, but in reality Washington deserves all the ridicule you can muster. Pretty soon, teams can start using the excuse that Kaepernick has been out of football for too long to help them — an excuse they helped manufacture by keeping him out of the league.

The excuses would be funny if they weren’t sad.

*When the Timberwolves were shopping Jimmy Butler, I was banging the drum for a trade with Miami. One particular trade machine deal I kept falling in love with was Butler and Gorgui Dieng to the Heat for Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside. Richardson has upside and a friendly contract. Whiteside has talent but seemed like a fresh start candidate. I loved the idea of pairing Whiteside with Karl-Anthony Towns to give the Wolves more size and rim-protection. It was win-win!

And … well … maybe that wouldn’t have been such a good idea. Whiteside had some strong early games, but on Tuesday he was benched for the fourth quarter and actually just walked off the court with a little under a minute left in a 105-90 loss to Orlando. He didn’t talk to reporters postgame, leaving coach Erik Spoelstra to guess that Whiteside was just upset with the outcome while teammate Dwyane Wade made the excuse that Whiteside had to use the bathroom.

Richardson, by the way, was just 2 for 14 in the game and has cooled off considerably since a hot start. He’s shooting just 29.5 percent in his last five games for the Heat, which dropped to 9-14 with the loss. It was fair to wonder if the Wolves would regret not making a trade with the Heat when Richardson was reportedly available. Now it’s fair to wonder if the Heat regrets not pushing harder to get a deal done for Butler.

*Really good read from The Undefeated about Hamza Mohamed, a Somali-American football player in Willmar High School.

*The NHL trade deadline isn’t until late February, so Wild GM Paul Fenton has time to preach patience with the roster as he did Tuesday in talking to reporters.

The Wild won in Vancouver on Tuesday to stop a slide, but overall Minnesota has fallen from one of the top early teams in the league to clinging to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Another couple weeks of mediocre play might make Fenton less patient.

NHL in Seattle … then NBA … then Wolves to the Eastern Conference?

I’m on a group text with the regular members of the Great Baseball Road Trip (that’s literally what the name of the group text is because we are lazy dudes).

Aside from the hottest of hot takes and moments of pure elation/vitriol that come during PEAK Minnesota sporting events, the most persistent recurring theme on these texts is probably outrage on the part of two particular members that I write too much about the NBA and not enough about the NHL.

When I started editing our Timberwolves coverage a couple months ago, I was afforded a little bit of slack. But the complaints still exist.

With that as a windup: I didn’t specifically think of the idea of this post to mortally wound those two fine gentlemen, but let’s just say I’ll be hearing about this later.

The premise: The NHL just added Seattle as an expansion team. That’s a big deal in hockey.

But: What does this mean for the NBA? And specifically, what could this mean for the Timberwolves?

Well, it has long been speculated that Seattle could be in line to return to the NBA now that it has an arena renovation in the works. But the NBA wouldn’t just expand to one new market because that would leave an uneven number of teams. They would want to get to two different places, and a leading candidate could be Las Vegas — basically copying the NHL plan, but it’s a good one.

That would give the NBA 32 teams … and it would probably necessitate some sort of realignment because both of those new teams would geographically be in the West. The West would need to punt one team to the East. And that team might be Minnesota.

Right now there are 15 teams in each conference, five teams per division, with three divisions in each conference

Here are my proposed divisions/conference alignments, with two eight-team divisions in each conference, in the event of a 32-team NBA, with Vegas and Seattle added:

WEST Pacific: Portland, Seattle, Clippers, Lakers, Golden State, Sacramento, Vegas, Phoenix

WEST Central: Denver, Oklahoma City, Utah, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis

EAST Central: Minnesota, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indiana, Toronto, Cleveland, Atlanta

EAST Atlantic: New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte, Miami, Orlando

I’m willing to admit it’s not perfect. If you’re talking purely geographically, Memphis probably makes the most sense to move to the East instead of Minnesota. But Memphis fits pretty well conceptually with the other teams in its proposed division, which would have six of eight teams in the Central time zone.

The Wolves, meanwhile, would be paired with several familiar cities — markets other Minnesota pro teams face regularly, particularly since the Wild went through realignment a few years back. Yeah, Atlanta is a weird fit. But you can’t please everyone.

Every team would play the teams in their division four times (seven other teams, 28 total games); they’d play most of their non-division same conference opponents three times, but two of them twice (22 games) and play each opposite conference team two times (32 games) for a total of 82.

The Wolves, who routinely lead the NBA in most miles traveled per year, would go from playing roughly 16 games a season on Pacific or Mountain time to 10. And a lot of 1,500 mile flights (distance from Minneapolis to Los Angeles) would become 1,000 miles (New York) or less.

All of this wouldn’t happen for several years, by which point I’m sure the NBA’s Eastern Conference would suddenly be the dominant conference and the Wolves would be penalized. That’s just how it goes. But at least their alignment would make more sense.

So congratulations to Seattle and the NHL. This expansion news is as good a reason to write about the NBA as any.