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.
Kevin Love is embracing his role, perhaps embracing it better than any Wolves player since Sammy Cassell.
Against a good team, and a good defensive team, Love struggled for three quarters against Philadelphia. Then he won the game. He took over offensively, and he took the ball with a little more than three seconds left and his team down one, drove, drew the foul, hit the free throws and won the game.
As he has improved almost monthly over the last two seasons, Love has erased the reasons for doubting that he can be a superstar.
He's scoring like a superstar. He's rebounding like a superstar. He passes better than most superstars. He's improved defensively. And now he's leading his team.
This was a big victory for the Wolves, who only a handful of days ago looked like they had hit a wall.
Love, Rubio and Pekovich have all exceeded expectations this season. That's quite a compliment to Love, who faced high expectations coming in.
Covered the Wild game today, and wrote about Chad Rau's crazy day and his game-winning goal for the Monday paper.
I was left with this impression: Mike Yeo is not crazy. Sometimes he sounds a little wacky because he's so talkative and during this losing streak he's been so desperate to change his team's fortunes.
But every time I've been around him, I've liked him, and found him to be honest and blunt. Let's face it, no coach sounds good when his team is losing. This was an impressive win today, though, beating the defending Stanley Cup champs a day after looking like dogs in St. Louis.
I don't see this as a playoff team anymore, but I still believe, despite all of the struggles the last two years, that the braintrust of Leipold, Fletcher and Yeo has a chance to produce a winner in St. Paul sometime soon.
The reactions to my Joe Mauer column today were predictable. Many emailed to say they liked it. Some even took it to an extreme and attacked Mauer in ways I never would. Some criticized me for writing it, or for the way in which I wrote it.
I appreciate the feedback, and I'll answer a few FAQ's here:
-I don't write headlines. I didn't call him ``Clueless Joe,'' the headline writer did.
-No, I couldn't get anyone to go on the record criticizing Mauer. So I went through the team media guide, counting all of the people I've spoken with about Mauer since last summer. I counted 18 people who are either in key positions or who know Mauer well. Of those 18 people, 15 were either disgusted or confused by Mauer's demeanor. Three defended him, by saying he didn't know how to deal with his ailments or how to explain his predicament to the public.
But the people I've known the longest and trust the most expressed severe disappointment with Mauer, both because he did not seem in a rush to take the field, and because he didn't see anything wrong with his approach.
I think one possible excuse for Mauer could be that he feels he was misled or given poor advice by medical people employed by or used by the Twins, and was worried that playing with pain would cause reinjury. But he's never said that.
Maybe he can't say that.
But for every person who tried to find a way to defend Mauer, a bunch of other people just thought he didn't understand how important he is or how symbolic he is, now that he's a $184-million player.
-Thanks to all the people who wrote to say ``You'll never get another Joe Mauer interview!''
I don't think newspapers do a good job of explaining the different roles of different writers. Beat writers are employed to cover teams, to provide news and analysis. Sometimes they write opinion, but usually it's their job to simply cover the team.
I'm an opinion columnist. It's my job to write opinion, to write bluntly. Not always: I also write features and soft stories and nice columns. But I feel I owe readers my honest opinion, whether that opinion will please my editors or alienate readers or not. After talking with people about Mauer all winter - and in light of conversations I had myself with Mauer - this is a perspective I thought was important for our coverage of the Twins.
True, Joe probaby won't want to talk to me now. That's OK. If I wrote opinions only to endear myself to athletes and coaches, I wouldn't be doing my job.
-No, I don't hate Joe Mauer. I generally like him. I've been covering him since he was in high school. I like his family and friends a lot, although I'm sure they aren't pleased with me right now.
-How do I think he'll do this year? My guess is he'll bounce back and hit .330 and catch about 110 games. He's very capable of doing that for the next five years.
But that won't change the fact that, in my opinion, he did not fulfill the requirements of being a franchise player last summer.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday. I'm heading to spring training this week and will be in Fort Myers for a while. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Wrapping up tonight from Target Center. My column for the Wednesday paper centers on Ricky Rubio, who had a brilliant game in the Wolves' 111-100 loss on Tuesday, so I'll touch on other subjects here:
1. It was a pleasure to watch Rick Adelman and Tom Thibodeau, two of the best in the business, run their teams. One of the best things about being a sportswriter is sitting courtside at a good NBA game, and Adelman and Thibodeau are both pros. Both work the refs without embarrassing themselves or trying to show up the refs the way so many coaches do.
I've never understood how coaches can think that showing up refs can be good for them in the long run.
2. Derrick Rose was the NBA's MVP last year, and he's better this year. He looks to distribute more early in games and it's almost unfair for someone with his ability to drive to also be able to rise straight up and hit three-pointers the way he does. I don't know how you defend him.
3. Asked Thibodeau before the game about his stint as a Timberwolves' assistant coach and he raved about Bill Musselman, calling him ``one of the all-time greats.''
4. Rubio is remarkably mature for his age. He knows how to handle himself on the court and with the media. Yes, that can matter.
5. Everyone will be clamoring for Rubio to start, and that makes sense. The problem here, folks, is that the Wolves only have so many good players, and they can play only so many minutes. This is not a deep or talented team. As I note in the column, almost all of their worthwhile players are point guards or power forwards. Love's production and Rubio's ability to run an offense are all that separate the Wolves from an 0-10 start.
6. Yes, give David Kahn credit for trading Mike Miller and Randy Foye for the pick that turned into Rubio. And I'm not even going to mention the Jonny Flynn pick this time.
7. Congratulations to colleague Michael Russo for winning Minnesota sportswriter of the year. Nobody works harder or knows their beat better.
8. Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Darko Milicic just don't look like NBA players. Johnson can't handle the ball or defend (sound like any other Syracuse players who played for the Wolves?), Elllington is a smart player who just isn't dynamic athletically, and Darko is just Darko.
The Wolves play their best with some combination of Rubio, Love, Anthony Randolph, Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Luke Ridnour and Michael Beasley on the court, with Anthony Tolliver a necessary evil at center because Darko drags the team down.
I know Beasley is a flawed, goofy, player, but the Wolves need him. They need a guy who can score on his own or with the shot clock winding down, even if the offense stagnates when he's in the game. I can't say I hold out hope that Beasley will become a better all-around offensive player, but given the limitations of the roster, the Wolves owe it to themselves to give him a chance.
I'd like to see a small-ball rotation that allows Love, Williams, Beasley and Randolph to play most of the minutes in the frontcourt, and Barea, Ridnour and Rubio to take most of the backcourt minutes. It's not conventional, but the Wolves' conventional lineup stinks.
Upcoming: Again, my column on the game will be in the Wednesday paper. Wednesday, I"ll be on 1500espn at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Covering a coaching search is one of the greatest challenges in my business, especially in an era when so many web sites have hired so many well-sourced reporters.
Congratulations to our Jerry Zgoda for staying right on top of this process throughout, even while covering an uncommunicative general manager and an organization in which it's always hard to tell who has good information and who's on the outs with the owner or GM.
In my column today, http://tinyurl.com/6bw2ubf
I praise the Wolves for hiring the best coach on the market, Rick Adelman. I think Adelman will turn the Wolves into a professional organization with a chance to win in the future. I gave a nod to GM David Kahn for playing whatever role he played in luring Adelman. But I'm always hesitant to give David too much credit, but I think he lacks credibility and basketball knowledge. I've always believed he's making it up on the fly.
While I usually don't link to other organizations, Yahoo! basketball writer Adrian Wojnarowski is the best basketball writer and reporter in the business. He has impeccable and diverse sources throughout the game and a relationship with Adelman. So I recommend reading him here: http://tinyurl.com/6bd8w23.
I concur, and I believe Wojnarowski has this nailed. Now what's going to be interesting to see is whether Adelman, now the most important and powerful member of the organization other than Glen Taylor, will coexist with Kahn, or allow him to stick around.
As an NBA fan who wants to spend more of his nights each winter at Target Center, I'm thrilled by the Adelman hiring. As someone who writes about drama in the guise of sports, I'm fascinated by the possibilities of the Kahn-Adelman relationship.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2 p.m. today and all week. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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