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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Posts about Wolves training camp

New Local Power Rankings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 8, 2012 - 11:06 AM

Haven't done Local Power Rankings for a while, so this week's ranking should look far different from the last.

We now have good teams in town. And promising teams. And interesting teams. Today's LPR, which ranks the local high-profile revenue sports based on current performance and promise:

1. Minnesota Lynx

Going for back-to-back. Sometimes I leave the Lynx out of the rankings because they seem to be in a different category. They play in a small league that is subsidized by NBA owners. But let's give the Lynx credit for making it to the Finals for the second straight year while playing an entertaining style.

2. Minnesota Vikings

I thought this team would win five or six games, and that this season would be about making sure they had the right quarterback and coach in place. I was half right.

This team could still stumble, of course, but it should no longer look at any game on the schedule as unwinnable, and the work Frazier and his staff did in their first full offseason together has yielded a smart, well-run team. Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave are far better at their jobs today than they were a year ago.

3. Gopher hockey

This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Lucia.

4. Gopher basketball

This team should be a powerhouse. You're on notice, Mr. Smith.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

This might be the most entertaining and intriguing team in town, and if Ricky Rubio were healthy, this team might be playing for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. As it is, the roster is vastly improved, Rick Adelman is getting to run his first full training camp, and I expect Kevin Love to find some way to improve on last year's remarkable performance.

6. Gopher football

Losing to Iowa on the road isn't shameful. This team still has a chance to go to a bowl, or at least establish that Jerry Kill has made improvements in his second season.

7. Minnesota Twins

I know, I know, they stink. They stunk in 2011 and they stunk again last year. But you can't accuse them of not making changes. In the last year, they've changed GMs, a handful of coaches, their head athletic trainer, their Triple-A manager and a few behind-the-scenes positions.

In Terry Ryan's first offseason of his second tenure, he hit home runs with Josh Willingham, Jared Burton and Ryan Doumit, and got good value out of Jamey Carroll. He hasn't fixed the biggest problem, which is pitching, but he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

8. Minnesota Wild

The easy thing to say is that the NHL can't afford a lockout, that they're damaging their product.

But is that the way the NHL works? Or will hockey fans always return to the rink?

I think the latter. So while the lockout isn't a good thing for anyone, let's not pretend that the X is going to be empty when the bickering ends.

-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey to talk Vikings and Twins moves. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

-Amazing what some people think they read and hear.

On Sunday Sports Talk on 1500espn yesterday, I did not say I thought it was a good thing that Terry Ryan was firing people. I said it was proof that the perception that he's overly loyal to his employees is false, that he frequently makes moves, and that he's as loyal to people moving their way up through the organization as he is to the people who hold their current positions.

 

Not a Bloody Sunday

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: February 19, 2012 - 8:52 PM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Quite a point-guard duel

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 10, 2012 - 10:49 PM

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.

 

How did the Wolves pass the Vikings?

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 18, 2011 - 4:43 PM

Remember 23 months ago when the Timberwolves were the funniest joke in town and the Vikings had maybe the best team in football?

This weekend, the franchises passed each other, the Wolves heading up, the Vikings landing with a splat.

Throw out whatever qualifiers you want about the Wolves' exhibition opener - facing a bad team, exhibitions are meaningless, etc. - but that was entertaining basketball we were treated to on Saturday night. Rick Adelman, Derrick Wililams, Ricky Rubio, J.J.Barea and a slimmed-down Kevin Love give us five good reasons to care about the Wolves.

And that's not all. You could see Michael Beasley having an excellent year offensively in this system, and at least paying attention on defense. I think this team's biggest challenges will be figuring out what to do at center and shooting guard. Darko and Wes Johnson haven't proved themselves yet.

At center, Love playing inside might often be the answer. The problem for Johnson is that if he can't shine in this system, he's probably not an NBA player. He's got to prove himself quickly.

While the Wolves looked more promising than they have for years, the Vikings embarrassed themselves. This is becoming a trend. They got Brad Childress fired last year with a pathetic performance against Green Bay at the Dome. Now they've turned in three stinkers this season, at Chicago, at Green Bay and now at home on Sunday against the Saints.

I came to Minnesota in 1990 to cover the Vikings. This is easily the worst Vikings team I've ever seen in person. W'hich is amazing, considering this team has three stars in their prime in Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Percy Harvin.

I'm about to start working on my column for the Monday paper, and I believe this is the question that needs to be answered: Should anybody's job be safe right now? Leslie Frazier's? Christian Ponder's? Any coach's?

This was a pathetic display. Frazier said after the game that he took responsibility for his team not being prepare. He also said he wants to see how Ponder performs the last two weeks so he can judge him on a larger body of work.

I think Frazier and Ponder both will be trying to save their jobs the last two weeks, even if noone wants to admit that.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday and every weekday with Reusse and Mackey. Thanks to Terry Ryan for his bluntness when we had him on Sunday Sports Talk this morning.

 

Tebow is the devil, and this week's LPR, with lots of thoughts on Cuddyer, Ryan and Twins

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 16, 2011 - 1:07 PM

OK, as usual, the headline is a little strong. What I meant to say is that Tim Tebow isn't the devil. I just think he made a deal with the devil. All this religious stuff is just cover.

Tebow obviously has sold his soul for a few NFL victories. There is no other rational explanation for him going 7-1 while throwing like a drunk Tarvaris Jackson.

On to today's highly irrelevant Local Power Rankings, which are really just a vehicle that allows me to comment on the seven major revenue sports in town:

1. Minnesota Wild.

Duh. Still the No. 1 team in the NHL. I wrote in today's paper how everything is looking up for the franchise, whether you're looking at the standings or young talent or realignment.

I asked Mike Yeo on Wednesday night if he looked forward to playing more games against teams like the Jets and Blackhawks. Yeo said, yes, ``we already dislike the Jets. And we already dislike the Blackhawks.''

The Wild could be quite entertaining for years to come, and I hope they find a way to land Zach Parise, who owns a home in Minnesota and would the front-line scorer this team needs.

2. Gopher hockey

We're seeing slippage. I love the talent on this team but have to be shown that they can gut through the long season and be at their best in the postseason. So far they've been impressive, but I still don't think they're quite playing to their talent level.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Yes, the Gopher basketball team has a gaudy record. But just holding intrasquad scrimmages means the Timberwolves have faced tougher competition.

I'll be at Target Center on Saturday night to see the debut of Rubio, Adelman, et al. And I'm as intrigued and optimistic about this franchise as I've been since Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell staged their mutiny.

4. Gopher basketball

Can we please get to the point where the Gophers stop getting praised for playing and beating lousy teams?

The Gophers' nonconference schedule is an embarrassment for the program and an affront to ticket-buyers. I'm not going to take this team seriously until it plays, and wins, a few conference games.

5. Minnesota Twins

While the average ranting fan demands that the Twins make a blockbuster trade or sign a top free agent, realistic observers of the team should be able to recognize that Terry Ryan is having a very good offseason so far.

Bringing Matt Capps back doesn't impress anyone, but Ryan has always believed that competent relievers fluctuate year-to-year, so it's probably a worthwhile gamble. He got rid of Kevin Slowey, which could have the same positive effect on the Twins that the Wild trading Martin Havlat has had. Jamey Carroll is the kind of short-term, inexpensive stopgap that could help the 2012 Twins without busting the payroll or blocking any worthwhile infield prospects. Ryan Doumit is a perfect fit for a team that doesn't know how many games its catcher will catch.

And even for someone who has known Michael Cuddyer since 1997 and thinks very highly of him as a player and a human, the Josh Willingham signing is a winner. Willingham is a similar player to Cuddyer and is less expensive, and Cuddyer's departure brings two draft picks to a Twins franchise desperate to rebuild its farm system.

Ryan has also signed a number of minor-league players who are more talented than their struggles indicate. And remember, Ryan's strength was always finding hidding gems, like Lew Ford, Alexi Casilla, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana.

Also: Bringing back Bill Smith is a winning move for the organization. I don't think he was a natural general manager, but he does good work in Latin America and in Lee County, where he's always had a great working relationship with the stewards of the Twins' spring training ballpark.

Smith is a valuable employee, and it speaks volumes about his selflessness and his relationship with Ryan that he would come back to an organization that just fired him.

A couple of months ago, the Twins' front office looked overmatched. Now the Twins' front office features Ryan as the boss, former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky as a valued adviser, and Smith. Those moves, with the addition of Gene Glynn as the Triple-A manager, should pay dividends. If not this year, then in the future.

6. Gopher football

Jerry Kill hasn't lost a game in a long time.

7. Minnesota Vikings

They need to keep losing and draft Matt Kalil, then land either a speed receiver or quality defensive back at the top of the second round.

The Vikings have a dozen problems to address, but as Jacques Lemaire always said, ``Solve one problem, and two more disappear.''

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Upcoming: I'll be at Target Center to watch the new Wolves on Saturday, then at the future site of Zygiopolis on Sunday to watch the Saints and Vikings.

Today, I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05, and sometime tonight (between 6 and 8) with Tom Pelissero. Tom and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday before the Vikings game (also on 1500espn). My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

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