Jimmy Butler took Bulls employees out for a thank you dinner in Chicago

I have a limited working knowledge of new Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler, but everything so far seems to indicate he’s a good guy. This story out of Chicago does nothing to change that opinion.

Per the Chicago Tribune, Butler was in Chicago over the weekend for Dwyane Wade’s youth basketball camp and took about three dozen behind-the-scenes Bulls employees out for a long dinner as a way of saying thanks for their help over the years.

Butler treated behind-the-scenes staffers like salespeople and media relations officials and digital production staffers at Katana, the chic new River North sushi restaurant.

A basketball player making an eight-figure salary can surely afford to drop a few grand on dinner, but Butler certainly didn’t have to do this. At its core, the dinner seems like a thoughtful, kind gesture.

Is Eddie Rosario ready to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Twins?

Cumulatively, Eddie Rosario has been one of the Twins’ best hitters this season. He’s second on the team in slugging percentage (.463) and OPS (.788) among regulars (behind Miguel Sano in both cases) and his .284 average leads all Twins hitters.

Rosario has largely put up those numbers, however, at the bottom of the order. Going into Sunday, he had started 91 games for the Twins this season. He had never batted higher than fifth in the order — and he had only risen that high nine times. He hit sixth another 21 times. The other 61 starts? Rosario batted seventh, eighth or ninth.

One could argue that Rosario has flourished because there has been less pressure put on him, that he earned those lower places in the order because of his tendency to be a free swinger and that it’s nice to have a dangerous hitter at the bottom of a lineup.

But at a certain point, you also want your best hitters clustered together. To that end, Rosario on Sunday batted cleanup for the Twins in a lineup that has been in search of offense lately. He responded with a game-tying home run in an eventual 6-5 victory over Texas.

One game is a terrible sample size, but Rosario’s elevation in the batting order at least leads to this question: Has he earned the right to be a more permanent fixture in the middle of the lineup based on his body of work this season?

I’ll admit some bias here since I’ve been a fan of Rosario since his rookie season. I was willing to overlook his deficiencies — dreadful walk rate and a general philosophy of swinging at everything — because he has incredible hands at the plate and the confidence of a .300 hitter. He had 46 extra-base hits as a rookie n 2015, including a league-best 15 triples.

His deficiencies caught up to him in 2016, however, as pitchers figured out they didn’t need to throw him strikes. He was still swinging at everything, and by mid-May he had a .200 batting average and .532 OPS. He was shipped to Class AAA for six weeks, came back and had a very good final three months when he hit .305 with an .812 OPS. That stretch, though, was buoyed by an unsustainable .387 batting average on balls in play. He only took nine walks in the final three months after coming back to the Twins. Rosario was seeing better results, but he hadn’t necessarily figured things out.

Fast-forward to this year, though, and we can see more legitimate signs of lasting improvement. His walk rate is still just 5.7 percent (league average is 8.1 percent), but when it was barely 3 percent his first two seasons, it’s a start.

Almost as important (if not more so?) Rosario is seeing far more favorable hitting counts this season as a result of his patience. In his first two seasons, a Rosario at-bat reached a 2-0 count less than 11 percent of the time; this season, it’s 16.6 percent. He’s swinging at fewer pitches this season, and particularly fewer pitches out of the strike zone.

As a result, he’s getting better pitches to hit and he’s walking at least a little more when he doesn’t get pitches to hit. He’s striking out once every five plate appearances instead of once every four (as he did the first two years). Rosario’s BABIP this season is .328, which is actually a little lower than what it was each of his first two seasons. But he’s hitting 15 points higher and he’s walking more, pushing an on-base percentage that was below .300 each of his first two years to a more respectable .324 (which is exactly the MLB average).

Rosario probably will never be a guy who walks a lot, but if he can become a guy who walks enough — and sees better pitches as a result of an uptick in patience — he could truly be dangerous and a fixture in the middle of the order for years to come. At the very least, this year’s trends are encouraging.

In honor of Tom Brady turning 40, here are 10 Minnesota athletes who defied age

Tom Brady turned 40 today. I have no idea if he’ll still be able to perform at a high level now that he’s hit that magical age, but generally speaking that’s an age where athletes can start to drop off in a hurry.

That said, these 10 athletes with Minnesota ties could at least provide Brady with some inspiration — albeit with some cautionary tales to follow as well.

Brett Favre: He turned 40 during his awesome 2009 season. We won’t talk about his final pass of 2009 or what happened in 2010.

Jim Thome: Cranked a lot of dingers in 2010 for the Twins, a season in which he turned 40. He wasn’t too shabby in 2011, either.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin: The ageless wonder for the Lynx helped Minnesota to its first WNBA title in 2011 after turning 40.

Jan Stenerud: He was probably the lone bright spot for the 3-13, Les Steckel-coached 1984 Vikings. At age 42, he converted 87 percent of his field goals and made the Pro Bowl.

Gump Worsley: His final game as a North Stars goalie came when he was just a couple months away from his 45th birthday. He turned in a 2.12 goals against average in his age 42 season. (Pictured above, by the way).

Terence Newman: The Vikings defensive back will turn 39 next month. That’s not 40, but he has to run a lot more than Brady.

Bartolo Colon: His first three starts for the Twins have been a mixed bag at age 44, but don’t forget he won 62 games the past four seasons between the ages of 40 and 43.

Kevin Garnett: He was still one of the Wolves’ best defensive players in his final season, 2015-16, just shy of his 40th birthday, and he could have helped last year’s team if things had worked out differently. Don’t try to disagree with me on this. I will fight you.

Terry Mulholland: At age 41, he saved the Twins’ season in 2004 with eight great innings in a huge mid-August win in Cleveland.

Matt Cullen: The 40-year-old former St. Cloud State standout won another Stanley Cup with the Penguins last year.

ESPNU becoming ESPN8: ‘The Ocho’ for one day only on Aug. 8

Sports is big business, with ESPN right in the middle of a lot of it, but it’s nice to see the cable sports behemoth hasn’t lost at least a little of the sense of humor and fun that fueled its rise to popularity.

I say that after reading a press release Thursday detailing ESPN’s plans to turn ESPNU into ESPN8: “The Ocho” for one day only next Tuesday, Aug. 8 (yes, that’s 8/8).

The Ocho, for fans of silly yet hilarious sports comedy movies, was a fictional channel from the 2004 film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.”

In the spirit of that made-up channel from 13 years ago, the channel usually reserved for college sports will, for one day, instead be filled with offbeat programming such as championships in darts, roller derby, arm wrestling and — of course — trampoline dodge ball. Most of the events have been shown on an ESPN channel at some point, but bringing them all together on one day is smart and fun.

You can read a full description of the channel lineup for the day right here. And remember, as always: if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.

Look for new Wolves Nike uniforms to be released next week

Information about the rebranding of the Timberwolves (and other NBA teams) has been advancing as 2017 wears on.

We got a look at the new Timberwolves logo in April (pictured above). A couple of weeks ago, we learned the NBA was going away from designated “home” and “away” uniforms as Nike takes over the jersey game for the 2017-18 season. Instead, there will be four primary uniforms for each team. And in the past several days, the official uniforms for several teams have been revealed.

With all of that, Wolves fans keep asking: when are Minnesota’s new uniforms coming out? Here’s your answer: Look for the Wolves uniforms to be revealed Aug. 10 — also known as next Thursday, also known as one week from today.

There have been rumors about what the uniforms will look like, but if you can just be patient for seven more days (or until they unofficially leak, which seems to happen a lot) you will get your answer.

‘Being P.J. Fleck’: Expletives to start, but it’s part of authentic experience

The opening montage from Wednesday’s debut episode on ESPNU of “Being P.J. Fleck,” the four-part series chronicling the new Gophers football coach, suggested we might be in for a “Hard Knocks” type of experience.

On that HBO show, the expletives fly fast and furious. The very first thing we heard from Fleck, mere seconds into Wednesday’s debut, was a message for players about punctuality that included two beeped-out words.

But that was about the only whiff of controversy or really confrontation that one would find through the course of the 30 minutes. We’ll see if the subsequent three parts — which will air the next three Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and will be rebroadcast by Big Ten Network — have more of an edge.

Part I was more of an introduction, spending copious amounts of time on both Fleck’s childhood and coaching rise. If the series continues on the same trajectory, it’s fair to say it will be quite beneficial to both Fleck and the Gophers.

As Fleck noted before the first show aired: “They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

This is what everyone signed up for; it would be hard to imagine, at least, a network salivating over a “Being Tracy Claeys” series.

If there was a main theme in the first episode, it was a constant stream of testimonials from various folks who have known Fleck for a long time, all saying essentially the same thing: yes, Fleck is authentic. His up-tempo, always-on-the-move, whirling dervish style is not an act. That’s just him.

His parents recalled taking him to see a doctor, even, when Fleck was younger to make sure his flurry of activity was normal. (It was, they were told).

That segment of the show also revealed several fun childhood pictures of Fleck, though Gophers fans might have cringed when one was of him wearing a Wisconsin Badgers T-shirt. A multi-sport athlete in high school, Fleck said on the show that he thought he would wind up playing college basketball instead of football — as a walk-on with the Badgers.

Instead, as those who have become familiar with Fleck in recent months have learned (and it’s been hard not to learn these things given his presence), the episode noted that he parlayed his Division III size into a Division I scholarship at Northern Illinois as a wide receiver and later spent time with the NFL’s 49ers, mostly on their practice squad.

When that dream ended, he transitioned quickly into coaching. Fleck started compiling a binder early in his career for the day he would become a head coach — an opportunity he got at Western Michigan.

One quote from the show that struck me came via former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, one of Fleck’s coaching mentors.

“You know western Michigan was trying to make it so nice for him to have a great situation and stay there forever,” Tressel said. “But that’s not the way he’s wired. He wants the next challenge.”

Oh, maybe there is some controversy to be had? If Fleck is wired for the next challenge, what’s to say he’ll stay in Minnesota for the long haul.

Nah, it was dashed moments later in the episode’s conclusion. Fleck, shown preparing for the Gophers spring game, talked about how surreal it felt to be a Big Ten coach after dreaming of such a thing.

“This is our new home,” Fleck says as the show ends. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Ex-Wolves center Darko Milicic is comfortable with being a draft bust

In this modern era of sports, where every season that doesn’t end in a championship is considered by some to be a failure and every team that isn’t winning at the moment might as well be hitting the reset button and starting over, we have become quite adept at attaching labels to players as well.

One of the most common words you will hear — though not a new term it is used far more often, far more quickly and far more casually than it was used in the past — is the four-letter term of shame to describe a player who didn’t achieve the level of greatness predicted for him or her: “bust.”

It’s a natural byproduct, one supposes, of the attention paid these days to drafts and prospect development. We hear so much about players now by the time they reach the top level of sports that judgment comes quickly and harshly when they are deemed to have underperformed.

This brings us to the Timberwolves, who have employed in their history many players who could be labeled “busts” based on their performance relative to projections. Some of the most notable cases weren’t actually drafted by Minnesota, a quick listing of which goes something like this:

Joe Smith (1995 No. 1 overall pick of the Warriors who never achieved stardom and was merely OK in Minnesota), Michael Olowokandi (1998 No. 1 overall pick of the Clippers who played parts of three non-descript seasons here), Darko Milicic (2003 No. 2 overall pick of the Pistons and later a David Kahn experiment with the Wolves) and Anthony Bennett (2013 No. 1 overall pick of the Cavaliers who is now out of the league).

The most fascinating of those players has always been Milicic, who was drafted just behind LeBron James and just ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Darko became even more interesting thanks to a recent ESPN.com piece that also stood as a promotion to an upcoming special (8 a.m. Sunday, ESPN) on his life after basketball.

In the piece, one thing stood out above all else: Milicic is comfortable talking about his failure and is, in fact, trying to take back the power of the word “bust.”

Author Sam Borden writes: “During our interview, which runs nearly three hours, he peppers the conversation with ‘bust,’ occasionally breaking it up with appropriate synonyms, like ‘disaster.’ At one point, he says ‘bust’ three times in about 15 seconds.”

He seems to do it for precisely the right reason, too: it’s not his fault. Sure, Milicic could have been a better NBA player. But he wasn’t the one who decided he was worth the No. 2 pick. That was the Pistons. He didn’t ask for any of it, in fact. “I wasn’t the one that asked to play basketball,” Milicic says at one point.

Like Smith, Olowokandi, Bennett and so many others, Milicic will forever be defined by his draft position. But if the intent is to denigrate Darko by calling him a bust, you’re too late.

By the way, you should read the entire fascinating piece — which includes this detail: Milicic still has a ton of cars that he bought during his NBA days, including a Porsche that still has Minnesota license plates even though he hasn’t played here in more than five years.

Packers defensive draft picks keep getting hurt

The Vikings’ injury concerns early in training camp have been well-documented, with the hand-wringing coming mostly because running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have been sidelined along with new left tackle Riley Reiff. None of that will matter a whole lot if they are able to return to the field soon and are ready to go for the season.

That same sentiment applies to the injury woes that are throwing a wrench into the master plan of the Vikings’ border rivals over in Green Bay. The problems won’t matter if they are resolved soon. But for now … well, the Packers’ plan to revamp their defense through the draft has hit a snag: three of their top four picks, which were all used on defensive players, are injured.

Kevin King, a cornerback out of Washington chosen with the No. 33 overall pick — the first pick of the second round, which was the Packers’ highest choice — was the latest casualty. He injured his shoulder and did not participate in practice Tuesday, per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.

King (pictured last week before the injury) joined third-round pick Montravius Adams (defensive tackle) and fourth-rounder Vince Biegel (linebacker) on the sidelines. Adams sustained a foot injury early in camp and is not close to returning. Biegel had offseason foot surgery and is still not ready. Only second-round pick Josh Jones remains healthy of the top four picks.

The good news for the Packers is that it’s still very early in camp and those rookies are among their only injured players. The bad news is that if they are counting on an infusion of talent from their draft class to help a defense that allowed 44 points in getting steamrolled by the Falcons in the NFC title game last season, those players are missing valuable early reps.

Must-see: Ball girl dazzles Twins’ Eduardo Escobar with great catch

There weren’t a ton of highlights in Tuesday’s game between the lousy Padres and free-falling Twins, but at least FS1 had one memorable moment to show for putting this game on for a national audience.

That it came courtesy of the Padres ball girl was fitting for a 3-0 Padres victory in which the deciding run scored on a sacrifice fly.

The play in question came in the top of the seventh. The Twins’ Eduardo Escobar led off and smoked a hard line drive foul down the right field line. The sinking drive was snared by the leaping ball girl, who rightfully looked quite pleased with her effort.

Escobar, for his part, was as impressed as anyone with the grab. Here’s are a couple of looks at it in case you missed it:

Escobar, by the way, reached on an infield hit later in the at bat but was wiped out almost immediately by a Zack Granite double play. It was that kind of night for the Twins.

And by the way: unlike this play earlier in this season by a different Padres ball girl, Escobar’s drive was clearly foul.

Luck evened out for Twins; Vikings shouldn’t have to worry about that

In spite of its obvious flaws — the most dangerous of which involve the long-term health of its players — the NFL has clearly done a lot of things right in the past few decades to earn its lofty position on the American sports landscape.

Those running the league understood early on what would become an insatiable public appetite for off-the-field news, and the NFL capitalized by turning itself into a 12-month machine complete with free agency, draft coverage, mini-camps and — oh, yes — the games themselves (with fantasy football, the first fantasy sport to really take off, fueling the frenzy during fall Sundays).

The NFL clung early on to the mantra of “any given Sunday,” a rallying cry that remains perfect. It means any team has a chance — specifically in one game and generally in one season. The latter part of that is due to something inherent in football — not something that is really controlled, but rather something that is necessary because of the nature of the game: it is a short season, with teams playing just once a week, getting 16 tries to win while players recuperate in between from all the violence. Every game is magnified, and even if the margin between a win and a loss is razor-thin it still gets marked on the ledger the same way.

In a season like that, a team can’t help but have hope. Sure, there will be an elite handful of teams every year more confident than others and another handful of downtrodden teams likely playing for better futures instead of meaningful presents. But the vast majority of NFL teams fall somewhere in that squishy middle, probably deserving to finish somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7. Some will do just that. Others will have some agonizing losses and finish a couple wins below that benchmark. Others will make a few plays and suddenly find themselves at 10-6 or 11-5 and in the playoffs.

Those who get the breaks one year can convince themselves it will happen again the next year. Those who fall short can say, “If we only made a few more plays, we would have been a playoff team” as a way to talk themselves into better times ahead.

The point is: in a 16-game season, with games often determined by a handful of plays (sometimes the feet of specialists), luck doesn’t always even out. A mediocre team can look good. A good team can look bad. Not even close to everyone gets what they deserve.

Major League Baseball, on the other hand, either suffers or benefits from the distinct impression that luck eventually does even out during the regular season. Playing 162 games — roughly 10 times as many as they do in the NFL — tends to do that. It certainly appeared to happen to the Twins this season. Through even half the 162 games this year, Minnesota was riding the wave of good fortune. Their run differential suggested the Twins weren’t a very good team, but their record said they sure could make the playoffs. If this was the NFL and they had that kind of ledger, they probably would be in the postseason.

Instead, here they are on Aug. 1, waving the white flag after a rough 10 days that took them from contention to “wait until next year” faster than Byron Buxton goes from first to third.

They stayed interesting, at least, until Vikings training camp. That’s more than we might have hoped for when the season started.

The Vikings, for their part, have the look of one of those middle-of-the-pack NFL teams that should finish somewhere close to 8-8. Frankly, that’s what they’ve been the past three seasons to varying degrees.

The 2014 version finished 7-9 and got about what it deserved. The 2015 version jumped up to 11-5, buoyed by a five-game winning streak in which four of the wins were dictated by a handful of plays. The 2016 group might have thought it deserved more after four critical toss-up games between Nov. 6 and Dec. 1 resulted in excruciating losses. In the end, they were 8-8 — left to feel like they were oh-so-close to being 11-5 again, giving them confidence heading into 2017.

This year’s team certainly could go 11-5. Or it could go 5-11. In baseball, the difference between 110-50 (approximately) or 50-110 would be massive. In the NFL, where the luck doesn’t have to even out, the gap between 5-11 and 11-5 doesn’t have to be all that much.

Maybe the Vikings truly will be good this season. Short of that, they could settle for lucky and — unlike the Twins — wind up just fine.