Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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MEMPHIS -- So, before shootaround, Flip Saunders sees me with other reporters, and genuflects. He asks whether his boss and Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor has loosened the paper’s purse strings to send me to Memphis for the Wolves’ opener tonight.
Saunders seemed wired and enthusiastic on Wednesday morning. He also offered large doses of realism when it comes to expectations for his team this year.
Unprompted, he brought up the team’s decision to waive veteran guard J.J. Barea, and segued into an explanation of where his young team is.
``We made a decision on J.J., and there are some people, even on our staff, saying, `Hey, J.J. is going to help us win two or three more games,’ ‘’ Saunders said. ``I had to say, `Listen, when we made the decision to trade Love, that was the direction we chose. If we’re going to try to shortchange that, we’re going to hurt ourselves in the long run. This season is about going through the process. It’s about developing and blending the players together. It’s about finding out what we have in our young guys, what they have to work on in the next year to be where we need to be.
``We’re going to go through some nights where we’re going to play really well, and we’re going to have nights where I’m pulling my hair out.
``I don’t think that we can lose sight of the direction. It’s not just about wins and losses. I know that’s what fans want to hear about, and so do I. Right now, wins are reinforcement for what you’re doing, with young players. I’m being a realist.’’
Asked about Andrew Wiggins’ debut, Saunders used his popcorn analogy _ ``Some players are better when the lights are on and the popcorn is ready.’’ I reminded him that I first heard him use that a long time ago about another talented rookie – Stephon Marbury.
``And he was a popcorn player,’’ Saunders said.
The difference between Marbury and Wiggins is that Marbury wanted the ball in his hands on every possession. Wiggins, despite his gifts, can be passive offensively.
``He’s got a lot of potential,’’ Saunders said. `` The one thing that’s impressed me is he’s a team player. Almost, sometimes, to a fault. We’re trying to get him to be a little more assertive offensively, and to assert himself in the half court. We all know he’s going to be a very good defender, so he’s got the opportunity to be a two-way type player. In this league, if your team wants to be good, you have to have two-way players. And if you want to win a championship, your best player has to be a two-way player.’’
That’s the interesting thing about this team. Saunders is looking to build a champion, but this season is going to represent a traveling classroom. This team might lose 55 games and feel good about its future, if Wiggins develops properly.
I”ll be on 1500ESPN AT 12:15 from Memphis. Jerry Zgoda and I will be covering the opener tonight for the Star Tribune and startribune.com.
Checking in from the United Center in Chicago, where the Wild is about to skate.
Niklas Backstrom took a commercial flight to Chicago, which is fascinating. I would still expect Josh Harding to start tonight, but Backstrom probably wouldn't be here if he didn't have any chance of playing.
I'd start Harding regardless of Backstrom's readiness. Harding played great on Tuesday. He's acting loose and confident. He's playing with house money. I'd give him a shot rather than hoping Backstrom is recovered from his mystery injury.
What you get from the Chicago media is that the Blackhawk players regret coming out so slowly in Game 1 and plan to correct that tonight. The Wild may have to survive an emotional start.
I'm in Chicago, so I missed the Flip Saunders press conference.
Flip is a smart guy with tons of NBA experience. He could be a very good GM. The question is, can he stay in his lane, or is he taking this job with an eye toward coaching in the future?
As GM, it's his job to make Rick Adelman want to come back. What kind of vibe is Adelman going to get when he talked to Flip about that? Friday morning, Flip wouldn't say he isn't interested in coaching sometime in the future. Does Adelman want to work for his eventual replacement? In some ways, he was better off working for David Kahn, because Kahn had to hand over power to Adelman for Adelman to take the job. Flip will not be handing over any power.
I'll be covering the Wild skate and Game 2 tonight. I'll be on 1500ESPN with Judd & Dubay at noon. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Doug Mientkiewicz wanted to add one thing to our conversation that was the basis of today's column: ``My biggest regret in baseball is that we didn't win a World Series when I was with the Twins. We thought we would.''
On to today's Local Power Ranking of the seven local revenue sports, which have shifted since the last time I did them:
1. Gopher men's hockey
This team is skilled enough to win the national title. Is it tough enough?
2. Minnesota Wild
I'm quite impressed with the way Mike Yeo has melded incoming stars, holdover veterans and promising youngsters. He's gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate in my book. Ryan Suter has played brilliantly ever since his first two, quite nervous, weeks in a Wild uni.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Didn't like seeing a team in a passing league lose its only dynamic receiver and best cornerback, but Rick Spielman has a chance to make his plan work. If he can complement Greg Jennings with another quality receiver or two (I vote for Cal's Keenan Allen and one more free-agent pickup), the offense could be better, and if he can use the draft to land a couple of defensive starters, the defense could be more talented.
His plan will only be as good as his execution.
4. Gopher basketball
I'm rooting for Minnesota facing VCU in the first round. Tubby vs. Shaka Smart. Tubby vs. the man who should replace him. Bring it on, please.
5. Minnesota Twins
I'm encouraged by a handful of individuals in spring camp, but not by the pitching staff, and the pitching staff will determine this team's fate.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
I love the way Ricky Rubio has played, knowing the season is lost and his teammates aren't good enough.
7. Gopher football
Jerry Kill is 4-12 in the Big Ten. Facts are so annoying.
Today's local power rankings look far different than my last attempt to rank local revenue-generating sports teams:
1. Minnesota Vikings
Great week for the local NFL franchise, and its legacy. Adrian Peterson wins the MVP Award, then admits he played at the end of the season despite a sports hernia.
When I was talking to him Saturday night, I asked when he'd work out again. He said ``In four weeks.'' When I asked whether that was doctor's orders, he said, ``You got that right.'' Of course, I thought we were talking about his knee. Wish I had asked whether it was his ``abdomen,'' as the Vikings listed the injury.
Cris Carter made the Hall. Matt Birk won a ring.
2. Gopher hockey
Fun team to watch. Why No. 2? Because the Gophers need to win the WCHA to fulfill their potential, and until they move into first in the conference, they don't move into first here.
3. The Wild
Disappointing start, but the team's at .500 while sorting out a lot of new combinations in a season without a true training camp.
4. MInnesota Twins
Fans are going to get sick of me saying `Wait until next year,'' but...wait until next year.
5. Gopher basketball
They're at .500 in the Big Ten, which would be fine for a team lacking such high expectations. But it's to the point now where this team isn't even fun to watch. They can't get a clean look in the half-court offense, and they refuse to run, so they're stuck with their lousy half-court offense.
Next time they play a quality opponent that slows down the pace, count how many baskets they score that aren't a result of a covered three-point shot or an offensive rebound. You won't need both hands.
It's sad, seeing what has become of such a promising roster. Wait til next year. Again.
7. Gopher football
I think the idea that the Gophers can't win because there isn't enough talent in the state is bogus. If the Gophers consistently landed a good percentage of the best players in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Western Wisconsin, and occasionally landed an out-of-area gem like Maroney, they'd have more than enough talent to compete.
-Sunday Sports Talk will run from 10 to 12:30 this week on 1500ESPN.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Time for the latest edition of the Local Power Rankings, my highly irrelevant look at the key revenue Twin Cities sports teams. Things are looking up:
1. Minnesota Vikings
Overachieving at 8-6, they have a chance to make the playoffs at least one year ahead of a realistic rebuilding schedule.
2. Gopher basketball
This is not only a good team, it's a team that quite obviously likes to play together. Andre and Austin Hollins play together like twins, even though they're not.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
What's one common thread between the two local basketball teams? Both rid themselves of a big man who contributed next to nothing. The Wolves got rid of Darko, to their benefit, and the Gophers got rid of Ralph Sampson, to the same effect.
The Wolves are struggling to score at the rim and from the three-point line. While that's troubling, it's also somewhat due to Kevin Love's struggles to regain his shooting touch. That will come in time.
4. Gopher hockey
The boys are talented but slightly underachieving. They can be better than this.
5. Minnesota Twins
I know, I know, you want them to spend more money. But that's not the issue. Over-spending on a pitcher just to prove you're willing to spend money will not fix what's wrong with this team. Terry Ryan's plan is obvious and logical: Try to get through the 2013 season with a rotation that gives the team a chance to compete, and then be set up to win in the following years as the best players in the farm system reach the majors.
That plsn isn't guaranteed to work, but neither would have over-paying Anibal Sanchez have guaranteed success.
6. Gopher football
Jerry Kill might have caught quite the break, with Wisconsin changing coaches. Then again, Barry Alvarez seems to know what he's doing.
7. MInnesota Wild
It's a terrible negotiation when someone who is terrible at his job (Gary Bettman) sits down across from someone who is very good at his job but cares more about his legacy than the sport (Donald Fehr.) I feel for all the businesses and working-class people who are taking a financial hit because these fools can't cut a deal.
I'll be at Winter Park today for Vikings interviews, then will join Reusse&Mackey on 1500espn at 2:05. I'm also on WJON in St. Cloud every morning at 7:15 with Jay Caldwell. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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