SPORTS | The New Wolves Order is Officially Here

NBA Draft Night 2017 didn’t take long to get crazy. There had already been a trade atop the draft with the 76ers and Celtics swapping top three picks. All week there were rumblings that more moves were coming and that top shelf talent like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George would be changing jerseys. Then a major chip fell:

My Wolves splashed! As far back as last year’s draft there were rumors that Chicago and Minnesota were close to pulling the trigger on a trade like this. It took a full year, but it finally came to pass. Coach Thibs stole one of his former players from the Bulls and handed over some building blocks in a “win now” move. And the NBA is sent spinning again.

The Wolves were streaky last year, but showed definite signs of improvement. Drafting Kris Dunn threw the future of Ricky Rubio into question, but Rubio had one of his best seasons ever. Meanwhile, Dunn struggled mightily in his limited minutes (while 3rd PG Tyus Jones showed some real flash at times). Wiggins and Towns were solid all year and Lavine was showing some breakout potential before he tore his ACL. What the team was really missing was a veteran scorer who could also provide some legit defensive play. Thibs seemed convinced that Jimmy Butler was that missing piece, but surely the Bulls would demand a king’s ransom for him, right? It was always somewhat assumed that Wiggins plus parts was the asking price. Still, when the trade was finally announced, it was the 7 pick/Lavine/Dunn for Butler. No Wiggins! I was a little worried as that deal started popping up on Twitter. But then it came out that the Bulls’ 16th pick was also part of the deal and everything changed. This was a lopsided deal in favor of the Wolves.

Here’s the thing about the NBA in 2017: the Golden State Warrior exist. In the ’14-’15 season, they won it all. In the ’15-’16 season, the Warriors posted a best-ever 73-9 regular season record, but ultimately collapsed in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cavs. After that failure, they added Kevin Durant – one of the top 3 players in the NBA – and gave up very little to get him. From that moment, it was almost assumed they would win the title in ’16-’17 – and they did, losing only 1 playoff game in the process.

All of that led up to this off season where teams needed to decide how they were going to compete with one of the most dominant NBA teams ever. How do you beat a super team? With another super team? The Cavs are clearly the next best team, having three extremely good players in James/Irving/Love, but they just got beat. So do they add another all star? Actually, they started by firing their GM. Not a good look. How about the Celtics? They were angling for Jimmy Butler, but lost out. Will they add a big chip like Paul George? The Spurs? Will they move Lamarcus Aldridge and try to add a piece? That’s not really their style, is it? Who else even has a prayer?

What’s really fascinating to me is how teams decide if they should try to win now against teams like the Warriors and Cavs or if they should quietly build a young core and time it to explode as the Warriors and Cavs are aging out. The problem is that some teams might feel like their young core could compete now with a little help and then they might mortgage part of their future to take their shot now against an almost unbeatable superteam. The question boils down to this: how much do you believe in your young stars? For Coach Thibs – he believes.

By all accounts, as the dust settles a bit, the Wolves should be a near-lock to end their playoff drought next season (the longest active playoff drought in the league). That alone is exciting. But Coach Thibs wouldn’t have made this deal if he didn’t think this group could actually challenge in the West at some point in the next few years. He’s cutting the fuse on this bomb and accelerating the timetable. It’s a bold move, but when you’re giving up the 7th draft pick in a year when there are 6 players considered sure things plus an underwhelming PG and an injured sparkplug guard – you don’t hesitate.

I’ll surely miss Zach Lavine. He was a great player and a great guy. I’ll be rooting for him to splash in Chicago. That’s the one bittersweet part of this deal for me.

But I’m excited about the future of the Timberwolves with Butler on board along with Towns and Wiggins! It’s been a long road since Garnett/Spreewell/Casell lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. We’ve suffered through a LOT of tough times.  We’ve watched Al Jefferson and Kevin Love move through as our franchise stars without reaching the playoffs. We’ve endured David Kahn’s incompetence (which cost us Steph Curry). We’ve celebrated Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders returning to the franchise and then mourned the Flip’s death and seen KG retire in a huff. Has it all been building to this moment?

I sure hope so. I can’t wait for next season!

 

RAISING WOLVES

How a rollercoaster year for the Timberwolves led to the dawn of a new era of hope


The last time I sat down to write about my beloved Timberwolves, it was spring 2014 and our best player was Kevin Love. We had just hired back Flip Saunders as the leader of a new era of basketball operations and it seemed like things were finally looking up for the long-beleaguered franchise. Since then, everything (and I do mean everything) has changed. It has been an absolute rollercoaster ride with some amazing thrills and some crushing depths of pain. As the franchise emerges from the tunnel, it seems poised now to finally (finally) become interesting and relevant again in the NBA. It’s a story that will make for a fantastic 30 for 30 documentary someday. But it’s not over yet. The best is yet to come.


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Flip Saunders

In the spring of 2014, things were changing for the Timberwolves. Kevin Love was our superstar player, but he was showing signs of dissatisfaction with the direction of the franchise and with his contract. Around this time, a much-needed front office change brought back the Timberwolves prodigal song Flip Saunders as team president and de facto coach as well. Saunders had been fired years ago after the most successful team in franchise history started to crumble with age and a hard reset seemed inevitable. Saunders had bounced to Detroit and then DC and experienced some decent success in both venues. Now, he was being tasked with casting a vision for the future of Minnesota professional men’s basketball. First on the agenda, figure out what to do about Kevin Love. Soothe and keep him? Or cut bait and try to trade him for future stars?

Then the NBA provided a catalyst to get things moving. LeBron James decided to leave this team in Miami and return to Cleveland! It was a long-rumored move that people still couldn’t quite believe would happen. But LeBron, for whatever reason, decided Miami had run its course and he wanted to win a title for his hometown. LeBron returned to a Cleveland franchise that had up and coming Kyrie Irving and the #1 pick in the 2014 draft! But would LeBron want to wait for these young players to ascend or would he rather flip those future assets into a more immediate return?

In the June draft, the Cavs kept their #1 pick and drafted Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas. They signed him to his rookie deal in July and it seemed like maybe LeBron was going to war with the young guns. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, used their 13th overall pick on raw SG prospect Zach LaVine.

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Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins

Still, behind the scenes in Minnesota, Flip Saunders was resolute. He wanted to trade Kevin Love, but not for just any deal. Saunders was already eyeing Wiggins and waiting for LeBron ask for Kevin Love. In August, the Cavs and Wolves discussions began. And in late August, the deal was struck. Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were shipped to the Wolves and Kevin Love got his wish to abandon the Wolves and hitch his wagon to the best player in the league (or so we thought in August of 2014). The Cavs became the new super-team in the NBA and odds-on-favorite to win the 14-15 title. The Wolves gained a highly promising player and some salary cap flexibility. And Flip’s patience paid off in a very big way.

The 2014-2015 Wolves season was another disappointment as far as wins go, finishing a paltry 16-66 (their 2nd worst season of all time). Still, the young players were given plenty of playing time by Flip Saunders and Wiggins (rookie of the year) and LaVine (winner of the dunk contest) in particular showed some real talent. And, midway through the year, Flip Saunder made a deal to bring back the best player in Wolves history: Kevin Garnett. It was fun for fans, but certainly didn’t add any wins. Still, it seemed that KG wasn’t acquired to win games, he was acquired to shows the youngsters how it’s done in the NBA.

This set up the Wolves for a very good lottery draft pick in the next draft. But the Wolves have never had the #1 pick in the draft, nor have they improved on their projected draft position. Ever.

Meanwhile, the LeBron and Kevin Love led Cavs cruised in the Eastern Conference and made it to the NBA finals, where they faced the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors beat up the Cavs with their amazingly efficient offense and three-point shooting and won the title behind the newly unstoppable Steph Curry (MVP that year). LeBron’s quest to bring a title to Cleveland wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. And Kevin Love had a bad Finals as Timberwolves fans grimly smiled. Did the Cavs actually get fleeced in the trade?


On draft lottery night 2015, something incredible happened. The Wolves won the #1 in the 2015 NBA draft! It was another sign that things in Minnesota were changing. There was plenty of discussion over which player the Wolves would select. It seemed the two choices for Saunders were Karl-Anthony Towns or Jalil Okafor. In the end, Saunders selected Towns, who most analysts agreed was the correct choice. With a young core of Towns, Wiggins, LaVine and Ricky Rubio at point guard, Flip Saunders had assembled a great young roster to play with. Many wondered if he would step down from coaching at this point and hire someone else, but Saunders saw himself as the best option for these kids and decided to continue coaching them.

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Karl-Anthony Towns

In August of 2015, just 2 months before the season was to begin, everything changed. Flip Saunders announced that he’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was undergoing treatment. He was upbeat about it and continued working and guesting on radio shows as his treatments continued. He said this was the more treatable form of this cancer and he intended to keep working as long as he could. That point came far too quickly as complications from treatment forced Saunders into the hospital in September. It wasn’t clear at the time how serious the complications were, but soon after his hospitalization, the normally communicative Saunders camp went very quiet. Wolves owner Glen Taylor announced that assistant coach Sam Mitchell (a successful head coach in Toronto at one time) would coach in Saunders place. Then, on October 25th, just days before the regular season would begin, Flip Saunders passed away.

It was a huge shock to the Timberwolves, the NBA and the Twin Cities community. I was listening to the Vikings game on the radio as I drove home from church that Sunday and they broke in with the announcement of his passing. I was crushed. Flip Saunders was a great, great person and a huge part of Timberwolves history. Wolves players were understandably shocked and saddened by the passing. The team would sport FLIP patches on their jerseys for the duration of the season and wear special warmup uniforms honoring their late coach. Many players across the league mourned, saying that Saunders was the one that believed in them first and gave them their big shot in the NBA.

I thought back to all the memories I had of him stalking the sidelines in the late 90’s and early 00’s with his goofy haircut and bagged eyes, shouting and pointing to KG and Sam Cassell. He loved basketball and he loved Minnesota. He always wanted to be in Minnesota, which is rare when it comes to sports figures. And I wondered what this meant for the future of the franchise. Saunders was the architect of the current, promising squad. What would happen now?

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Flip Saunders 1955-2015


Sam Mitchell did his absolute best trying to coach up the team, but there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction amongst the older players on the team. Mitchell showed signs of being overly cautious with Towns, resting him at the end of games where he clearly could have made a difference. Was he trying to make Town earn it? Maybe, but Towns was quickly establishing himself as maybe the best player on the team (and clear-cut Rookie of the Year). In fact, his measurables were putting him some very rare air with the likes of Shaq and Duncan. As the season went on, the losses kept piling up but the buzz kept growing. Then, late in the season, the Wolves put together some very, very good basketball and even beat the almost unbeatable Starkiller Base of the Golden State Warriors late in the season! The Warriors finished with the best regular season record in league history and are actually better than the team that beat LeBron and company in the Finals last year! The Wolves finished with a record of 29-53, again setting them up for a decent lottery pick in this year’s draft.

However, the day after the regular season ended, Glen Taylor quickly announced that Sam Mitchell would not be retained. And neither would current General Manager Milt Newton. Taylor was assessing the team and what he saw was probably the most talented young roster in the league. He wanted to pair that young roster with a top-tier coach to accelerate their window of opportunity and try to make the playoffs in the 2016-17 season. And, amazingly, because of the talented roster, there were a number of high-profile coaching candidates that were very interested in the job.

The number one candidate on the list was former Chicago Bulls coach (and former Wolves assistant coach in 1989) Tom Thibodeau. Many teams had had their sights set on “Coach Thibs” since he was fired from Chicago a year ago. His no-nonsense attitude, defensive genius and ability to coach up mediocre players into valuable starters made him the best coach currently on the market. And the scuttlebutt indicated he wanted the Wolves job, but that he wanted complete control of the team. He wanted to be the coach and the president of basketball operations, the same arrangement the Wolves had with Flip Saunders. Taylor was game and the deal was completed in record time. Less than a week after the season was over, the Wolves had hired Tom Thibodeau. The move was heralded around the league as a home run hire and NBC Sports said of the Timberwolves:

“They just became maybe the most interesting team in the NBA.”


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Vintage Tom Thibodeau

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Timberwolves Head Coach Tom Thibodeau

So, now more than ever, it seems the Timberwolves are poised for a whole new era. This team is replete with young, athletic talent. They have one and maybe two future all stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. That have a flashy and talented scorer in Zach LaVine. They have a fairly crafty but offensively stunted point guard in Ricky Rubio. They have some potential glue guys like Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng and others. They have the godfather, Kevin Garnett, still in the fold to mentor and player-coach if needed. And now they have a strong figurehead in Tom Thibodeau.

As a longtime fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves, I’ve stuck by them through the first round exits of the early KG days. I’ve cheered them on as KG, Cassell and Spreewell led the team to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. I’ve supported them through these last TWELVE playoff-less seasons as they’ve endured hardship after fiasco after hardship. Now, it really does appear that clouds are clearly away and this team is poised to actually make the playoffs THIS SEASON.

The Wild are in the playoffs now (about to be dismissed). The Twins are rising. The Vikings are possible contenders and I’ll always be excited for them. But right now, I absolutely cannot wait for Timberwolves season.

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Karl-Anthony Towns // Zach LaVine // Andrew Wiggins

Stray Observations: Super Bowl 50

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, but this one was brought to you with no roman numerals! Crazy. Here are a few random thoughts on this year’s big game.

The Game

I watched most of the game, but it was in a large house with a large number of small children making lots of noise. After a while, it just became a dull hum in the background. It’s fun watching the game with my sons though, even if they can only pay attention for about 5 minutes at a time. They both seemed to care very much about who won though. Our family decided early on that we were pulling for the Broncos and for Peyton Manning to go out on top. So every time the Broncos did something good or the boys noticed the score, they cheered loudly for “their” team.

Like many people going into the game, I thought the Panthers were the favorites to win. Their recent, lopsided playoff victories (in addition to their near-undefeated regular season) seemed to suggest they would overpower the Broncos and their small-scale offense. BUT, the same arguments were made two and a half weeks ago when the Broncos were getting set to play the Patriots. In that game, the Broncos came out with a surprisingly pass-centered offense to start the game and got on the scoreboard early. From there, their amazing defense went to work holding down their opponent and won the game. So I figured that if the Broncos could score first and get a 7-0 or 10-0 lead, the game was theirs. However, if the Panthers went up 10-0 or 14-0, Newton and company would hoist the trophy.

In the opening quarter, I saw the Broncos following their side of the script perfectly. The offense got a lead and the defense went to work making Cam Newton’s life miserable. It was a defensive struggle punctuated by fumbles, INTs and pass rushes. And, of course, in the end – Defense Wins Championships.

Peyton Manning morphed into the role of offensive caretaker quarterback and just kept the offense from making too many mistakes once they had the lead. Many, including Peter King of MMQB, thought that the most valuable offensive player was the Broncos punter! But Peyton won his 2nd Super Bowl, tying him with his brother Eli, who was so very happy about it.

When Peyton won, he was quickly interviewed and said that he wasn’t thinking about retirement yet, he just wanted to kiss his wife and kids and drink Budweiser. Two things about this. First, before he kissed his wife and kids he kissed… Papa John!?

And second, does Peyton have an endorsement deal with Budweiser? They say “no”, but the truth is that Peyton owns some Budweiser distribution business. Oh and also, NFL commish Roger Goodell has banned players from directly promoting alcohol. So maybe this was a parting shot at the much-maligned commish from a retiring player? Or maybe Peyton just really likes boring macrobrew.

Also, why did Peyton receive a defective SB cap?!

What about the losing QB Cam Newton? Cam had a fantastic season. An MVP season. But when it came to the big game, he got handled by a fired up defense. They were chasing him all game long and forcing him into making some major mistakes (including a strip sack TD early). By the end, Cam seemed to have given up, opting not to dive for his fumble that basically sealed the game when Denver recovered it instead.

And post-game, he sat down for the required press conference and had very little to say before walking out.

Part of the walk out was probably due to the fact that he could clearly hear Denver players being interviewed and talking about how they had beaten Cam and forced him to all sorts of errors. That’s tough to listen to, but it’s part of losing and losing is part of the game.

My LVP of the game was Denver’s Talib, who incurred a bunch of violent and dumb personal fouls. Goodell is pushing a new rule where 2 personal fouls would trigger an automatic ejection. Talib would have been sent off early in this one. Dumb. Also…

But as the Panther’s Greg Olson said, “We picked a really bad day to kind of have a meltdown.”

Good game overall, though. I like seeing the defense be the talk of the game for once!

The Halftime Show

First of all, I really don’t like Lady Gaga, but she did  a pretty good job with the National Anthem. She’s got a good voice, why does she need all the other trappings?

I do like Coldplay, just not their more recent work. My dream playlist was mostly ignored in favor of other tunes, which is fine. They opened with their biggest recent hit and went from there into the single from their latest album. Still, the performance wasn’t very arresting. Chris Martin’s most memorable lyrics these days are apparently “oh oh ooohhh oh ooohh”.

Then Coldplay had a halftime of their own while Bruno Mars and Beyonce came out and actually got some real energy going. I remember when Bruno Mars headlined the show a few years back and I was actually surprised at how good he was. Again, he was great here. And Beyonce is good, but being the father of two young boys it was hard to feel good about all the scantily clad women and the suggestive dancing.

Coldplay returned from their halftime to join B&B for a mashup thing before everyone got lovey dovey with a remix of sorts of “Fix You” that felt like “We Are The World” or something. And maybe a same-sex marriage statement at the end?

So it was a mostly forgettable halftime show for me.

The Commercials

Some decent ones. I think that SB commercials that get the most reaction are the ones that are so weird that we love/hate them. You had the Doritos baby.

You had the Mountian Dew PuppyMonkeyBaby. I mean, it hits all the Super Bowl Commercial requirements!

I didn’t like the Prius series at all. Blah. And we’re cheering for bank robbers / car thieves?!?

My favorites were the movie trailers.

Jason Bourne.

Captain America: Civil War.

And X-Men: Apocalypse.

But maybe my favorite of all was Ant-Man vs. The Hulk.

Your Thoughts?

Coldplay Super Bowl Halftime Dream Playlist

So Coldplay is handling the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. It’s almost amazing that they haven’t played it yet as they are one of the most popular bands in the world. Still, their pop sound in recent years has gotten blander and blander. That said, I’ve put together a small playlist of songs that I’d love to hear from the band on Sunday. How many of these do you think they’ll actually throw into the set?

As you can probably tell, I like my Coldplay sleepy and dreamy. But I still like some of their classic hits too, just not much from the last 3-4 years.

I’m still holding out hope for a Sigur Ros halftime show in a few years. Or at the very least, how about a Minnesota-flavored show when we host the big game in 2 years! A big team up of Cloud Cult, Low, Polica, Atmosphere, Doom Tree, Trampled by Turtles, The Replacements (!?!), with an appearance by Prince himself!?! C’mon, that would be amazing!!!

Signs of Life – The State of the Minnesota Sports Union

 

Almost a year ago, I wrote up my first State of the Sports Union post and called it “Sports Scars”. Yes, Minnesota is one of the more tortured sports markets in the country due to a prolonged championship drought and a number of huge disappointments over the years. But I contended that things were finally starting to look up for all FOUR of our major sports franchises. Now that we’re almost a year removed from that outlook, how are we faring? Does my over-the-top prediction that Minnesota would have a championship parade before the end of 2018 still sound pie-in-the-sky? Let’s take a quick look around.

I’ll be honest, the wild are fourth on my interest scale for Minnesota sports teams. I’m just not a big hockey fan. However, this past season was a fun one to follow from a distance. The roster was looking very talented and poised to make a push into the postseason and win a series or two. The one area that was giving the team trouble was the goal tender position – it was just too spotty and unsettled. To their credit, the Wild didn’t sit idly by. They recognized that they may be one player away from a contender, so they went out and acquired someone they believed could be that player: Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk sparked a really great run for the squad and they made the postseason and won a series. But then they hit the Blackhawks train and were summarily crushed.

What now? Well, it most think that re-signing Dubnyk should be a priority. Get the band back together and try again, right? The hated Blackhawks won the Cup and may need to re-tool, so the window is not shut for the Wild. But Dubnyk and his agent seem to be playing hardball a little on the money side of things. If they can get it worked out, this squad should be right back in it next season. They are definitely Minnesota’s most likely championship team right now.

Twins

Since last we spoke, the Twins actually showed that they are no longer satisfied with the status quo and didn’t want to wait too long to turn things around. They fired manager Ron Gardenhire and installed Paul Molitor as the new manager. Most still believed that this roster still had to spend a few years building before getting back into the postseason discussion. But, to the surprise of almost everyone, the team has been quite decent so far this season. They had a fantastic month of May, putting together one of the best in the majors that month. Their offense was potent and their pitching was surprisingly not terrible. They are doing so well, they were willing to go ahead and call up Byron Buxton this month and start getting him into big league shape! The nostalgic pick-up of Torii Hunter is actually looking like a great one as he’s contributed mightily on and off the field. The club looks like they’re having fun together again – playing pranks and organizing laser-lighted and smoke machine-enhanced dance parties after home wins.

Things have cooled a bit in June and the Twins aren’t holding down first place the division anymore. Still, if they can start swinging the bats again like they did in May, this team may just put themselves in the Wild Card discussion in August, something that sounded preposterous a year ago.

 

Vikings

After a rough early season last year and a promising late-season surge, my beloved Vikings had a very, very weird offseason. The Adrian Peterson charges, the confusion, the reinstatement, the contract fiasco, the welcoming back, etc. I’m sick of talking about it. But all that seems to (finally) be in the rearview mirror. Adrian is back with the team and starting to say the right things about moving forward. Beyond AP, Teddy Bridgewater showed last year that he can be the real deal. He was poised and, more importantly, he learned from his mistakes without letting them get inside his head. Mike Zimmer has proved to be a great coach on and off the field, setting expectations for his players and also having their backs. GM Rick Spielman grabbed some great players in the draft including a play-making cornerback in the 1st round (Trae Waynes) and essentially traded old and slowed Greg Jennings for the flashy Mike Wallace. The table is set, the pieces are in place (copyright Brett Favre).

Now that the drama of last year is behind the team, they are calmly looking to the bright future. While last season should have just been a lost year considering all the distractions and injuries, there was a lot to like about how the young guns performed. Now, with the roster at full strength and roles more clearly defined, this team is on everyone’s list for a much-improved record and maybe even a Wild Card in the playoffs. The future is bright!

 

Timberwolves

And finally, my Timberwolves. Last season was supposed to be about starting over. We had a raw and talented roster peppered with veterans to help them grow. This squad was supposed to finish close to the 8 spot in the Western Conference based on the talent they had. Well, the injury bug bit and bit hard on this team. Ricky Rubio missed significant time, as did many others. So while rookies Wiggins and Lavine got lots of playing time under their belts, the team sunk deeper and deeper in the standings (maybe by design?). In the middle of the season, coach and GM Flip Saunders borrowed a page from Twins GM Terry Ryan and brought back old fan favorite Kevin Garnett via trade. KG’s first game brought an electric sell-out crowd to the Target Center. It was awesome. They Kevin wore down quickly and didn’t contribute much at all to the team the rest of the way. Wiggins won Rookie of the Year, Zach Lavine won the Slam Dunk Contest, and that’s about it. The Wolves finished the season with the worst record in the league and the best odds to win the draft lottery. But that never happens to the Wolves, right?

WRONG! Through some kind of combination of quantum entanglement, dimensional transference, and magic, the Wolves won the #1 pick in the draft. Last night, they cashed that chip in on the highly touted Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is an immensely talented player with defensive chops and will fit perfectly with Wiggins and Rubio. It’s a dream come true for this team. And Flip wasn’t done! Now, stealing a page from Rick Spielman, he traded two second round picks to Cleveland (we have an in with them after the Love for Wiggins and parts deal) for the rights to their first round pick – which became Minnesota native PG Tyus Jones! The Wolves were coveting Jones and trying to move up to get him, Flip even said as much when announcing the Towns pick. Jones is very young and will be a fantastic backup to Rubio (who gets injured every year it seems) and a change of pace guard who can shoot.

People are calling last night the best night in the history of the Wolves franchise. Industry analysts see the Wolves as a team on the rise, worth watching even! With a very young core like this, the Wolves can build into something very special over the next 5 or even 10 years if they can keep them together. I’m so, so excited about this team right now.

 

Conclusion

Yes, yes I do. I think the Wild are the top prospect since they’re already a playoff team.

Our next best hope has to be the Vikings, with the coaching and talent to contend in the next two years I believe.

Third best hope is the Wolves, who look like they’re built to win closer to 2020 thank ’18. But in the NBA, a young roster can gel and get to the promised land fairly quickly (see the Warriors).

And I still believe the Twins are the farthest off just because baseball is hard to judge and the pitching still seems like it’s a tenuous situation. But who knows? I’ve been very surprised by their season thus far this year!

All in all, it’s a great time to be a Minnesota sports fan! It’s looking more and more like 2015 may be the year that the tide finally turns!

 

Our Kevin

I feel old pretty often these days. Sometimes I dwell on a vivid memory I have and then realize that that memory is from 20 years ago. For someone scratching their mid-30’s right now, that makes me feel old. And I felt it last week when I was having a conversation about how I felt when the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted a high school kid named Kevin Garnett in 1995. I was almost 14 at the time and that was the moment that I embraced the Timberwolves as my favorite Minnesota sports team. Up to that point I had been a Twins fan to the core (mostly due to the fact that the Twins had won 2 World Series in the last 8 years). However, the Twins had regressed since the ’91 series and the Vikings weren’t interesting yet. When Garnett was drafted, the buzz around the team really started building. Garnett was the player with the high ceiling who was going to push this team into the playoffs someday. It was just a matter of when.

Kevin Garnett came into the league raw. He was a tall, skinny kid with lots of potential but not much experience. In the early days he started slowly, averaging 10-18 points per game and 6-10 rebounds. But his competitiveness was obvious from the get go. This guy had the drive to win and the perseverance to work for it. The year after Kevin was drafted, the Wolves drafted who they hoped would become his long-term running mate: point guard Stephon Marbury. Together these two young stars-in-the-making made headlines around the NBA and the new dynamic duo who might take over the league when Jordan and the Bulls faded out. This was during the era of “NBA Inside Stuff” on NBC Saturday mornings and I remember watching all sorts of highlights from these two fun, young players! The two played together for 2 full seasons and made the playoffs both years before Marbury began griping. He wanted to lead the team and make more money than Garnett. The Wolves’ plan had backfired and they traded Marbury during his 3rd year.

Garnett continued toiling away, willing the Wolves into a low playoff seed each season and losing in the first round to more well-rounded teams. Garnett signed a massive contract with the team in 1998 and it looked like he would finish his career as a Timberwolf.

Somewhere in the early 2000’s, the fans started getting restless. Seven straight seasons the Wolves had made the playoffs and seven straight seasons they had lost in the first round. Following a 4-2 loss to the Lakers in 2003, Wolves management finally decided they needed to bring in some star power to run with KG. Their internal building schemes hadn’t worked and they needed to try something else. They went out and found two players who would change everything: Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell.

Armed with these two talented, but flawed players, the Wolves FINALLY won a playoff series in 2004 – beating the Nuggets in round 1. In the next round, they ran up against a very talented Kings team and battled them to a game 7. I remember watching games in this series at a bar on Grand Avenue eating potato skins with friends. It was amazing that the Wolves were actually good. Garnett was the league MVP. Spreewell was the salty sharpshooter and Cassell was the weird and effective slasher and distributor. That series was heart-poundingly good and the Wolves won game 7 by 3 points. It was on to the Western Conference Finals.

In the WCF, the Wolves met another re-tooled squad: the hated LA Lakers. The Lakers, after winning 3 titles in the early 2000’s, had decided to add more veterans and picked up Gary Payton and Karl Malone, two almost aging players in search of titles on their way out of the league. Garnett was primed for the series and averaged 23.7 points and 13 rebounds, but Spreewell and Cassell looked like they’d given all they had in the Kings series and had nothing left. Cassell’s legs were giving out and that ineffectiveness cost the Wolves dearly. They lost the series in 6 games.

This was the pinnacle. The run was amazing. It seemed like Garnett finally had his supporting cast the way it was supposed to be. This was the time to push for the title. But it was not to be. In the offseason, Spreewell went a bit crazy talking about needing more money to “feed his family”. Cassell wasn’t happy and backup PG Troy Hudson wasn’t either. The Wolves made the decision mid-season to fire beloved coach Flip Saunders who had presided over the recent success.

Soon, the familiar pro-sports trope emerged: the Wolves needed to trade Kevin Garnett now or risk losing him in free agency and getting nothing in return. In short, the window was closed and it was time to his the “reset” button on the team. Team GM Kevin McHale made the decision to trade Kevin to a team that he himself had history with: the Boston Celtics. The Wolves got a boatload of players in the deal, but the centerpiece was a promising young player named Al Jefferson.

The Celtics were in “win now” mode with superstar Paul Pierce in his prime. Beside acquiring Garnett, they went out and got sharpshooter Ray Allen. And guess what? They won the NBA Finals. Garnett, Pierce and Allen each won their first NBA ring. Amazing.

Meanwhile, the Wolves began probably the most painful stretch in franchise history. Jefferson didn’t work out. He was eventually traded. McHale was fired and replaced with the amazingly inept David Kahn. Kahn’s blunders were historic as he wasted high draft picks on bad players like Johnny Flynn and missed out on drafting Steph Curry. However, he did manage to get a hot Spanish point guard named Ricky Rubio to Minneapolis. We drafted Kevin Love and enjoyed his immense talent, but he eventually soured on the organization and fought it way out. That’s when things turned around.

It was none other than Flip Saunders, the once fired coach, who returned to the franchise as the GM and flipped Kevin Love to the LeBron-led Cavs for the #1 pick in the 2014 draft: Andrew Wiggins. Flip started building from the ground up with high upside players like Wiggins, Zach Lavine and others. It was time to hit “reset” one more time, but with more vision this time around. And that’s where Kevin Garnett re-enters the story.

Last week, Flip Saunders talked Garnett into allowing a trade to bring him back to Minnesota. Garnett had left Boston and played the last couple of seasons in Brooklyn, but there was no connection or future there. Now, he’s the veteran leader this team desperately needed for their young talent to learn from. He’s the no-nonsense competitor that will elevate the team, not by his MVP talent level, but by his sheer competitiveness and drive to excel.

On the night he first returned to the court as a member  of the Wolves, the Target Center sold out. The crowd was in a frenzy. Video tributes were played, old friends were highlighted and Kevin stood in awe of the reception. He quickly realized that this community never stopped respecting him.

And why should we have? Kevin gave it his all here in his first stint. He never quit on the team, ever. And when he won with the Celtics, he even gave a shout out to his people back in ‘Sota! Are you kidding me?

And after seeing the outpouring of love and support for his return last week, Garnett personally bought 1000 tickets to a home game this week and gave them all away to fans as a thank you.

There is no one like Kevin Garnett. And I for one am overjoyed that he’s back with the Timberwolves.

Friday News ::::: Week of February 16th

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1.  Buying the Big Ticket

Yesterday it was confirmed: Kevin Garnett is coming back to the Minnesota Timberwolves! What a welcome and unexpected turn of events. Sure the Wolves shipped out a decent young player to make this happen. Sure they gave up a 1st round pick to acquire that young player last off season, meaning they traded a valuable 1st round pick for a way-past-his-prime player. But this move was absolutely about two main things: bringing in a veteran to player-coach their young core players and selling tickets for the remainder of this season. Mission accomplished.

I think I have to write  a separate, dedicated post about my love of Kevin Garnett. But I will say that while many beloved athletes have left Minnesota under bad circumstances, KG wasn’t one of them. We all wished him well and understood that the move needed to happen. And when he won a championship very quickly with the Boston Celtics, we were happy for him. And, amazingly, he never forgot those of us in ‘Sota:

Welcome back, big fella!

2.  Spider-Man Joins Up

This news is old now, but I’m pretty excited that Spiderman will be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think this was the right thing to do for Sony, who seems to have lost the rudder on their Spiderman ship. And this is just the sort of move I was thinking Marvel needed to make to keep things fresh and exciting going forward. I’m excited for Age of Ultron, but I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what happens in CA3: Civil War.

3. O The Places You’ll Go Again and Again

So a few weeks ago, news broke that legendary novelist Harper Lee was going to release a new novel – only her second one ever! It was a sequel to her seminal classic “To Kill A Mockingbird”!! This was HUGE news!! Then the narrative changed. Apparently the announcement caught many in her inner circle by surprise. In fact, it now seems as though this “novel” is really just a rough first draft of “Mockingbird” that’s been dressed up as a new novel. Lee is aging and when her advocate sister died last year, some speculated that new forces moved in and pushed out this publication to cash in a bit.

This week, it was breathlessly reported that a brand new Dr. Seuss book was coming (even though Dr. Seuss died years ago). This “newly discovered” book is called “What Pet Should I Get?” And not only that, 2 other books were discovered and will be published.

This is all exciting to fans of these authors, but isn’t it just milking the legacy of these great authors for monetary gain? A similar thing happens in music when a dead musician’s label or agency or family trust keeps on pumping out albums for years – capitalizing on the popularity of the artist.

“Mockingbird” is amazing. “The Cat in the Hat” is priceless. Why do we need more at this point?

4. Protecting the Monarchy

Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted in recent years. Since 1990, 170 million butterflies have vanished.

The amazing insect once blanketed the US each summer as they made their incredible journey from and to Mexico. Their migratory behavior is so unique and beautiful that it’s become part of the culture. Now, the monarchs are faced with a grim future. So grim, in fact, that we’re talking about declaring monarchs an endangered species. 

Want to help? Plant milkweed in your yard this spring! Easy and fun!

5. Mortality Observed

Oliver Sacks is a fantastic writer who has written all manner of things about science and humanity. Now, the end is near. Sacks was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the New York Times, he opines on the diagnosis and what impending death has done for his immediate life. It’s sad and beautiful.

Stray Observations: Super Bowl 49

Time for some stray observations about Super Bowl Exlicks!

The Game

Wow, that was a very entertaining 3 quarters of football! Yeah, the first quarter was pretty boring, but after that things really picked up!

The secretly most important moment of the game might have been the early injury to Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane. Lane intercepted Brady early in the game, but suffered a nasty arm/wrist injury that knocked him out for the game. Lane was the nickel back on this team and was quite good. Once a backup was pressed into more playing time (Therald Simon), Brady threw 2 TDs against him.

The second half had lots of great moments! Brady drove down the field quickly to take the lead late in the game after starting the 4th quarter down 10 points.  That was impressive, but it left plenty of time on the clock for the Seahawks.

Then it was Kearse’s amazing catch that brought Antonio Freeman to mind for Vikings fans.

Brady couldn’t believe they were going to lose the Super Bowl AGAIN because of a miracle catch!

It seemed that Seattle was a couple of Lynch power runs away from the title. Indeed, they bled the clock a bit to set up for final plays. Bill Belichick didn’t call a timeout, so this was it. Then… ugh.

Seattle decided to skip the Lynch run and throw a quick slant, which was picked off at the goal line by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler. Ball game.

Brady?

Richard Sherman? Get ready for the memes.

From there, the Seahawks couldn’t ride off in style and picked a big fight as the clock was ticking down.  Dumb.

But not as dumb as outsmarting yourself by calling a pass play from the 1 yard line when you have a runner like Marshawn Lynch on your team! Coach Pete Carroll took the blame, but word is it was actually offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s call. Does he get fired?

So a thrilling end to a great game. What more can you ask of Super Bowl? Yeah, you read that right? Super Bowl is an entity now. That’s what I learned from Katy Perry.

The Halftime Show

So the halftime show this year was Katy Perry. It seemed a fairly coherent choice given that she’s known for the kind of live spectacle shows that the NFL favors for their halftime shows. It’s also usually a given that these things will include a couple other acts as “surprise” guests.

Perry opened the show by riding a giant puppet tiger (I think) and singing “you’re gonna hear me roar!” To close that segment, she pretended to actually roar while a lion roaring sounder was fired. I found that element super cheesy.

That first song felt very Hunger Games to me – riding into an area on a weird float. She was even wearing a dress with flames on it!

Then we had a very cool visual thanks to an LCD dance floor as she sang “some other song I don’t know” and danced with weird people.

Then it was guest time and we got Lenny Kravitz. More Hunger Games connections! He sang “I Kissed a Girl” with Perry and badly mimed playing his guitar. About 1 minute of screen time for him.

Next up – a trip to crazy town. It was like we completely changed gears and got dropped into an insane Yo Gabba Gabba parody. Dancing sharks and trees and beach balls that were lip-syncing with Katy Perry on a couple of songs. Totally bizarre.

The next guest was Missy Elliott. She’s good and all, but this really broke the flow of the show for me. Especially because she Perry didn’t participate much at all in this segment and Elliott sang for about 5 minutes! Of course, Perry did have time to yell something like “Let me hear you, Super Bowl!”, indicating she thinks Super Bowl is an actual person or something that she’s performing for.

Anyway, Elliott took a lot of time so that Perry could change clothes again and get strapped to some kind of aerial rig and fly around during the last song. And people everywhere thought it looked like she was riding on NBC’s “The More You Know” logo from the 90’s whilst singing into a Nintendo controller.

And then we were done. It was just too choppy for me. But maybe it’s just that I don’t like Katy Perry. I’d rather have an actual band, not a carnival show.

The Commercials

Okay, so the NFL has had a very rough season as an institution. Spousal and child abuse scandals, more concussion fallout, ineffective and clumsy leadership, officiating controversies and deflated balls. Clearly the NFL needed to do some image re-hab. Apparently they decided that a good start would be to pepper the Super Bowl with commercials that depict a lot more sensitivity and a lot less goof.

So you had a number of commercials about being a good dad that tried to tug on your heartstrings while trying to sell you cars.

And after all those ads, late in the game NBC airs a promo for a show called The Slap that centers around a man slapping a child and the fallout from that. Mixed messages.

Then you had your Budweiser “lost puppy” commercial. Lots of people told me they got teary over that one. I’m not a dog person, so it did nothing for me.

The one that really got a response from my wife and me was the Nationwide commercial with a dead child in it. You know the one. The boy says he will never get cooties because he died in a tragic accident. So the point is apparently to remind people that accidents kill kids (thankfully it’s not something else, right?), so be vigilant! But also buy insurance from us. What?!

I liked the “Like a girl” ad for it’s clear portrayal of how young girls have a confidence that fades during puberty and it gets reinforced by others around them. A good message for girls to hear, even if it comes from a feminine products company.

I think my personal favorite was the clever and cute ad featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel. First flashback to them talking on TV about not understanding the internet. Then a modern-day riff on that as they talk about not quite understanding this new car. I thought it was great.

I thought it was hilarious that Budweiser feels to threatened by craft beer and microbrews that they spent money on a Super Bowl ad just to try to make fun of them. Maybe this tactic works for some people, but I feel like most of my circles don’t want to hear a company say “we sells black and white Xerox copies, not interesting paintings!” And “brewed the hard way”? Please.

My kids watched the first half with us. Their favorite ad? Overwhelmingly it was the trailer for “Minions”. They were almost rolling on the floor laughing.

What will you remember about Super Bowl Exlicks?

Friday News ::::: Week of November 17th

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1.  Grape Salad

Let’s lead off with the story that’s consuming the Minnesota media scene right now: Grape-Gate. The New York Times published a list of 50 Thanksgiving dishes, one that is special to each state in the union. For North Dakota, they chose lefse. Nice. For Wisconsin, they chose wild rice with mushrooms. Makes sense. For Minnesota, they chose “grape salad”. Huh?? Apparently we Minnesotans can’t have Thanksgiving without a salad comprised of grapes, sour cream and brown sugar. Blech! It just feeds even more into the idea that New Yorkers are completely out of touch with the upper midwest.

Clearly there are much better and more obvious choices the Times could have made here. In my mind it’s green bean casserole with the french onion topping. Or perhaps it’s the old tater-tot hotdish? Either way, it’s DEFINITELY not “grape salad”.

        

2. Streaming Music

          

There was mild uproar last week when Taylor Swift made the decision to stop streaming her music on Spotify. She basically admitted that her decision was based on it just “not feeling right”, but it re-opened the discussion about how Spotify pays artists, whether it’s enough and how musicians feel about the current state of music consumption.

Time magazine published some data about how much money Spotify has paid out to the top artists in the last year, proving that plenty of money is flowing through their streaming service. But that’s the TOP artists. What about all the other, lower tier artists? Hmm….

And artist that I enjoy, Derek Webb, has strong opinions about the system too, which he published awhile back and it’s worth a read. Bottom line, he’d rather give you his music directly, for free, than have Spotify run the show.

Then you’ve got Dave Grohl, a very respected musician who has been trying to spearhead a reformation of sorts in the industry with production and rock and roll in general, who went on record with the following quote:

You want people to f***ing listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way. When we were young and in really noisy, crappy punk rock bands there was no career opportunity and we loved doing it and people loved fucking watching it and the delivery was completely face to face and personal. That’s what got people really excited about shit. Nowadays there’s so much focus on technology that it doesn’t really matter.

So you see that most artists make almost all of their money from playing concerts. And people only come to concerts for bands that they started liking by listening to their recorded music. Therefore, if you make your music available (and enjoyable) to as many people as possible, then your concerts will be more well-attended and you’ll earn a living. Makes sense to me.

And in the midst of all of this, my streaming service of choice – Google Play Music – just added a new suite of video features via YouTube and may have finally passed up Spotify.

3. Snow

Buffalo, New York, got socked with lake effect snow this week. And I mean SOCKED. The Bills/Jets game has been moved to Monday night in Detroit because they can’t clear the field in time. It reminds me of another time a game had to be played in Detroit due to snow:

Ah, memories….

4. Music News

HUGE music news came across the wire this week: Radiohead is officially recording a new album RIGHT NOW!

Also, the band Interpol was traveling between gigs when they got caught up in the Buffalo snow storm. They had to spend 40 hours trapped on their tour bus on the highway! Thankfully they were stocked with “dry goods and vodka”. Oh, Interpol….

 

5. Trends

Finally, check out this great list of 10 movie and TV trends that are great! It’s a pretty good list.

Friday News ::::: Week of October 13th

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1.  Cutting the Cord

For years people have been clamoring for a way to get their favorite cable channels un-bundled from the massive channel packages cable companies offer. The main roadblock has been the tight relationships between the channels and the providers and the money involved. Then Netflix came along and started building itself into, basically, a stand alone, on demand cable channel with movies and original programming. The Netflix CEO even said “Our goal is to become HBO before HBO can become us.” This week, HBO became Netflix. HBO announced that, starting next year sometime, they would offer their HBO GO streaming service without the prerequisite of a cable subscription.

This is the first big domino to fall in the process to break up the cable package system. In fact, a day after HBO announced their intent, CBS announced that they’re rolling out their own streaming service too. CBS’s service will include day-after streaming of their current shows, all the back episodes from those shows, full seasons of “classic” shows from their back library, live streaming of certain local markets’ affiliates (including WCCO in Minneapolis) and live streaming of many events like awards shows.

Now, what’s the big missing piece to CBS’ service? That’s right, the NFL. Live sports is the one thing that cable is going to clench hard with their dying fingers. Some of the big leagues have dabbled in streaming services, but they’ve been so reliant on TV money deals that they are unwilling to anger the networks by offering their content on the side too. Until live sports streaming becomes a reality, the cable companies will still have a firm hold.

In the meantime, it’s the beginning of a new era in TV programming. The networks are starting to realize that they can cut out the middle man and probably still make money (if you’re big like HBO).

2. More Ebola

Now two Texas nurses have been diagnosed with the virus and more and more questions are being asked. One woman was allowed to fly out of state after displaying early symptoms AND after asking the CDC if it was okay! Clearly the response plan needs significant work. The Texas hospital did not have sufficient procedures in place to deal with this virus and was not supplied with the correct gear for their staff. The CDC did not recommend moving the patient to a more equipped facility like Atlanta or Nebraska. Meanwhile, promising anti-viral treatment options are still tied up in red tape, leaving some doctors to push for things to move at “virus speed, not bureaucratic speed”.

 

Finally, President Obama is floating the idea of appointing an “Ebola Czar” to oversee the big picture on dealing with the virus. Anybody want that job? Didn’t think so.

3. Royal Celebration

Feel good sports story of the year! The historically woeful Kansas City Royals are heading to the World Series. Not only that, they’ve swept through the playoffs to get there and will face the NL powerhouse Giants. We are all Royals fans now.

 

 

4. New Stars

I love the Canadian indie-pop band Stars. They just released a new album of dance-y songs this week. Here’s a sample:

5. Autumn in Minnesota

It’s the best.