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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For a variety of reasons - a slow summer, local teams stinking it up, my Olympic excursion - I took a break from the all-important Local Power Rankings. Now, with the NFL returning to action, they're back.
If only Ricky Rubio were healthy, this could team might be the fastest-rising team in the NBA. As it is, the offseason roster improvements, along with Rubio's expected return from knee surgery, will make this easily the best and most fun-to-watch team in town. It's not really close.
What will be most interesting, to me, is to see how Kevin Love, who performed so well at the Olympics, plays this season. He's been able to improve in some way every year of his pro career, and he had to pick up some nuances, or confidence, playing with the world's best.
2. Gopher hockey
This should be a powerhouse team, which means I"ll be fascinated to see how Don Lucia handles the pressure of coaching a team with high expectations.
3. Gopher basketball
Tubby Smith should have his best team. I'm praying that none of his best players get hurt, partly because I'd love to have a fun winter in the Barn watching a good team, and partly because I don't want Smith to be able to cite any easy excuses. Other than his players having to walk outside in the cold to go to practice.
They'll be much better, but how much better? I say they're a playoff team, but as my hockey-minded buddies point out, the LA Kings barely made the playoffs last year, and they won the whole thing. Are the Wild better today than the Kings were last spring?
Maybe I'm crazy, but I see some hope for this franchise. I like Diamond. I like Deduno. I'm tremendously impressed by Cole De Vries' ability to get people out with average-at-best stuff. I think the Twins will re-sign Scott Baker, and Kyle Gibson could give them 100 good innings next year. Liam Hendricks has been awful, but there has to be something there - you can't dominate in the minors as much as he has without being able to eventually function in the majors.
Yes, they lack an ace, but this team went to the ALCS with a rotation of Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Rick Reed. They don't need Hall of Famers, they need functional big-league starters.
The Twins need to sign one innings-eater and hope Baker can become a staff leader.
A lot has to go right for the Twins to contend next year, but are they really that far away?
You can make the case that this is an improving team with a bright future. You can't make the case that this is a good team now.
7. Gopher football
UNLV stinks, and the Gophers almost found a way to lose to the Rebels. They are lucky to be playing New Hampshire this week.
Here's today's highly irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Ranking:
They're not just the best team in town (in comparison to the competition they face), they're the most entertaining and endearing team we've seen in this town since the 2001 Twins.
Like the '01 Twins, the Wolves are not only good, they are unexpectedly good, and young, and charming. (Can I call professional athletes charming?)
Last night was the rare night I covered a Wolves game without being restricted by writing on deadline, so I got to work the lockerroom at my leisure. It's hard not to like Derrick Williams, Kevin Love, Martell Webster, J.J. Barea and Nik Pekovich. You can tell they are enjoying themselves and each other.
Rick Adelman is positioning himself for coach of the year honors. I picked the Wolves to win 28 games this year and they're much better than that. And as the Wolves rise, the Western Conference suddenly looks vulnerable beyond the No. 1 seed. Oklahoma City is excellent. The Spurs are admirable but hardly spry. The Mavericks are suffering a predictable championship letdown. Who else scares you?
The Wolves have learned how to beat Portland, the Clippers and the Rockets. I love the way Memphis plays, but the Wolves are not overmatched against them. And the Lakers are a mess. Mike Brown might be the only defensive coach who can hold down Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.
If the Wolves can make it to the playoffs without burning out Love and Rubio, they could be dangerous. Now that they're in the 8th slot, they need to make a move so they face someone other than Oklahoma City in the first round. Even moving into the 6th seed would mean a matchup with Memphis or one of the LA teams.
The Wolves are the most interesting team in town, and they're growing more interesting by the day.
2. Gopher hockey
Don Lucia is having a good year. He has a team that seems to be peaking at the right time. But he still needs to prove he can prepare a team for the postseason and guide it to big victories, like he did in the old days.
I'll give them this: They're better than they were last year. But they could improve by 10 games and still lose 89 and finish fourth. Which, after spending time at spring training, is about what I expect.
If only they had lost that silly game at Washington, they'd have the No. 2 pick and a couple of wonderful options: Drafting Robert Griffin III or trading him. I've thought for months that Griffin has more upside than Andrew Luck. He's a greater risk, but I was not impressed with Luck's throwing motion this season, and I wouldn't want to spend the first pick in the draft on a so-called game manager.
5. Gopher basketball
The coach should be fired, and yet the Gophs rank ahead of two other teams in town. That's sad.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here.
7. Minnesota Wild
I like Yeo. I like Fletcher. I think they're both sharp. I think Fletcher has a credible plan for rebuilding with dynamic young scorers. But right now this is the most pathetic team we've seen in this town since...last year's Twins.
Congratulations to Glen Perkins. He's shown great humility and flexibility while rehabilitating his career and his relationships within the Twins' organization since filing a grievance against the team.
Twins signed him to a contract extension today because he's become a dynamic pitcher while proving that's he's grounded, and a good teammate, and that he's invested in the organization. It's remarkable how quicky he's gone from problem child to franchise cornerstone.
Upcoming: Tom Pelissero and I will host a rare double-headed, live-and-in-studio version of Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon Sunday on 1500espn. Lots of talk about all of the above, including Tom's look at NFL free agency and the Vikings' plans, and my thoughts on my trip to spring training and a week with the Wolves.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I had heard a lot about jetBlue Park, and now I'm sitting in the press box, looking at a replica of the Green Monster.
My information is that the Red Sox brass is miffed because they wanted an exact replica of the Green Monster, and somehow it wound up three feet bigger than the original. So I guess it's the Big Green Monster.
This place looks like Fenway Park with a spoiler. The panels placed over the stands to provide shade look like the wings of spaceships.
La Velle and I did a pregame video today, and I brought up this point: The Twins shouldn't be jealous of places like this. The Twins' spring training facility fits their personality. It's old-school Florida, simple, easy to navigate, low-key. It's perfect for fans wanting to watch workouts. You'll never have better access to the Twins than during workouts at Hammond Stadium.
And the Red Sox park befits a large-market team with plenty of money to spend on spring training parks. Grandiosity works for the Sox; it's unecessary for the Twins.
The Twins are working on a renovation of Hammond Stadium, though, and it needs one. The concessions are disappointing and the walkways are crowded. Add a tiki bar in leftfield, expand the corridors and upgrade the food, and the place will be fine.
Finally, a good day of sports for the Twin Cities on Saturday. The Twins had an ideal first game, the Gophers basketball team finally won, the Gopher hockey team won the WCHA and the Wolves finally beat Portland.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Rick Adelman has been to the Timberwolves what Tubby Smith should have been for the University of Minnesota. He makes a difference in such obvious ways.
Last night, the Gophers held Wisconsin to 16 first-half points and still found a way to lose, because finding a way to lose is what Tubby's teams have done the last two years.
Last night, the Timberwolves beat a good team on the road, whipping the Clippers in LA with a powerhouse fourth-quarter performance, in part because Adelman has a feel for when to play his players, and because he has tremendously upgraded the Wolves' offensive intelligence and defensive tenaciousness.
Darko is not a good player, yet Adelman has used him to good effect twice against the Clippers, particularly in keeping Blake Griffin from the basket. I know Adelman won't win the coach of the year award, but I'd consider him.
In light of last night's developments, here's my latest high-irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Rankings:
I left the No. 1 slot vacant in my last rankings because I couldn't reward the Wolves when they were playing poorly, and no other local teams had earned this spot. The Wolves, having won five of six, easily reclaim this spot. This is a likeable and surging team.
2. Gopher hockey
Four straight victories: That's impressive, but we all know we're going to judge this team by the way it performs in the postseason.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The last two seasons were abysmal, but I'm seeing signs of hope. The farther I get from last season the more willing I am to give Christian Ponder the benefit of the doubt as a rookie quarterback playing with a limited supporting cast. Add Matt Kalil, then find a starting cornerback and a speed receiver either in free agency or the draft, and this team could quickly make strides, especially if Ponder learns from last season.
4. Minnesota Twins
I don't think this is a good team, but there's no way it can suffer as many injuries as it did last season, and the infield defense is guaranteed to be better.
5. Minnesota Wild
Other than the Nick Leddy trade, I like all of Chuck Fletcher's moves. He's aggressive and forward-thinking and I do believe he's building a winner. I just think the young scorers he's drafted and acquired are going to have to make it to the X before the record will support that assertion.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here, although I continue to hear from Minnesotans about how much they like Jerry Kill. If that vibe works on recruits, we may have something here.
7. Gopher basketball
And your new last-place team in the LPR: I give you the Minnesota Golden Basketball Gophers.
Tubby Smith loses games he should have won, then blames the administration, or his players, or nightlife in Minneapolis. He did take the blame for one mistake: Moving Blake Hoffarber to the point last year. Otherwise, he's a finger-pointer of the first degree.
He must go. But does the new president and his 98-person advisory committee think he should go?
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers with Reusse and Mackey. I'll also be on from the stadium for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn on Sunday morning.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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.
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