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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Doing some housecleaning here as I sit in the FedEx press box...
-A lot of people are thanking me today for writing about Jim Kleinsasser, but I'm the one who is thankful, for the opportunity to meet some great people while reporting the story. Kleinsasser's family and friends are as they appear, down-to-earth, hard-working, straightforward Midwesterners.
I know a a few Viking employees who say Jimmy has always been one of their favorites. I met him at his wife's Make-A-Wish fundraiser a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by how naturally Jimmy fit into the scene. He stood by the cheese tray, greeting friends, neither acting nor being treated as a celebrity.
And I was struck by how his peers raved about him. NFL players are rathered hardened by their experience. Pro football is a brutal, Darwinian existence. I've never heard Steve Hutchinson gush the way he did about Kleinsasser, and Matt Birk would have talked all day about him.
-I'm taking a vacation after today's game, so I'll miss the Wolves' opener. This is the first time in a long time I can say that's a bad thing. I think it would be a mistake to assume the Wolves will suddenly leap into contention. They still have holes and defensive flaws, and Rubio and Derrick Williams will have growing pains. But it's going to look like basketball, and there are going to be nights when they shoot the lights out.
I'm most interested in seeing how Kevin Love handles all the changes, in his body and in the organization. I don't blame him for chasing stats last year - it was a way to stay motivated during a horrid season - but I want to see him play a more well-rounded game this year, and I think, under Adelman, he will. He strikes me as a much more mature guy this season.
-I've known Fred Zamberletti, the former Vikings trainer who became the team historian, since 1990. He's breaking a streak of 1,049 straight Vikings games today, as he missed the trip with an illness. The Vikings assure me he's doing OK.
The man is a great storyteller who loves the old Vikings. He's also a keen football analyst. I can't count the number of times he's made an observation that wound up being dead right.
Get better, Fred.
-The more I think about it, the more I think the Vikings would be foolish to do anything other than play for the Andrew Luck pick. They would either be able to trade that pick for great value, or would be able to install Luck as their quarterback and trade Ponder (not for value, but for a second or third-round pick.)
I'm not quite as high as most people on Luck. I don't see the next Tom Brady. I see a guy who is a very safe bet to be a good NFL starter for a long time. Of course, I could be wrong. I just haven't seen a lot of NFL-style throws from Luck. I've seen a guy who is very smart and controlled and knows how to operate a ball-control offense.
And now for today's LPR, the highly-irrelevant Local Power Rankings, my transparently shallow way to assess the key local sports teams:
1. Minnesota Wild
Slipping but still overachieving. As he did last year, Mikko Koivu is proving his worth by being injured. They're a very shallow, limited team without him.
2. Gopher hockey
Feels like college hockey begins at the start of football season and ends at the end of basketball season.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
I haven't been this excited for a Wolves opener since about 2005.
4. Gopher basketball
I can't wait for the Big Ten season to start, so the Gophers will be forced to play someone worth watching. What a disgusting, irrelevant non-conference schedule. Ticket-buyers should be livid.
5. Minnesota Twins
I liked and understood every move Terry Ryan had made this winter, until he signed Jason Marquis. I don't get it. NBy definition, a free-agent pitcher who can be had for a one-year, $3 million contract is viewed as nearly irrelevant by the free-agent market. The best argument for the signing, I guess, is that there is less chance that he will completely implode than one of the Twins' kid. But I would have been happy to see Anthony Swarzak take a shot at the fifth starter job. At least he has a little upside.
6. Minnesota Vikings
They're the worst and most disappointing team in town, but the possibility of landing the No. 1 pick adds value.
7. Gopher football
I'm hearing that Coach Kill is blaming the local media for recruiting woes. Coach, this is not a co-op. It's our job to reflect reality, not create a fantasy land that serves your purposes.
Upcoming: Won't be on Sunday Morning Sports Talk the next two weeks, tomorrow because of Christmas, the following week because of vacation. I'll be making my regular daily radio appearances on 1500espn at 2:05 each afternoon, and for those in the St. Cloud area, I'm on WJON daily at about 7:15 a.m.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I"ll be tweeting from the Vikings game today.
Stopping and popping from downtown. Well, OK, downtown Lakeville: -Exchanged emails with Princeton University basketball coach Sydney Johnson, whose team upset Harvard on a last-second shot to make it into the NCAA Tournament. A reader noted that Johnson played two seasons of high school basketball for Moorhead State High School, and Johnson confirmed this in an email, writing: ``
Stopping and popping from downtown. Well, OK, downtown Lakeville:
-Exchanged emails with Princeton University basketball coach Sydney Johnson, whose team upset Harvard on a last-second shot to make it into the NCAA Tournament.
A reader noted that Johnson played two seasons of high school basketball for Moorhead State High School, and Johnson confirmed this in an email, writing: ``
I played two seasons for Chuck Gulsvig at Moorhead High School (my sophomore and junior years in high school). The Moorhead Spuds share the colors of orange and black with the Princeton Tigers...ironic...All the best...’’
Johnson was the Ivy League player of the year in 1997 at Princeton who then had a successful run playing in Italy. He worked as an assistant coach at Georgetown before taking over Princeton.
He became the Princeton coach at 32 and four years later remains the youngest coach in the Ivy League.
He took over a struggling program. His records as a head coach: 6-23, 13-14, 22-9, 25-6.
Johnson gives us one more promising semi-local basketball personality to watch during the tourney. Princeton faces Kentucky in Tampa on Thursday.
Received a tremendous amount of response from my Gophers athletic department column today.
I always get a voluminous response from readers. What’s amazing to me is that every time I write about the Gophers, I hear from so many former players and employees at the U who are fed up with the way the place is being run.
In addition to the decline of the revenue sports, which is detailed in the column, Maturi also presides over the mess that is the golf program, thanks to his hiring of John Harris and Harris’ treatment of associate women’s coach Katie Brenny.
I’ve never seen such a mess. And I cover the Timberwolves.
So now we’re nearing the end of another long Timberwolves season. Let’s check in on David Kahn’s pet projects:
1. Darko Mlicic. He may be a relative bargain for a skilled big man, but how much does he actually produce? Not enough. And does anyone think this man’s heart is in it, or ever will be in it? Can you see him actually caring enough to be a key player on a good team? Didn’t think so.
2. Anthony Randolph. Talented. Intriguing. And I’ll ask the same questions of him that I just asked about Darko.
3. Michael Beasley. Worth what he cost in the trade, a wonderful scorer, but...I’ll ask the same questions of him that I just asked about Mlicic and Randolph.
4. Kevin Love. Obviously, keeping him was wise. He doesn’t play much defense, but he is remarkably skilled and productive. So...why couldn’t Love, who plays facing the basket and loves to crash the boards, play alongside low-post scorer Al Jefferson? I’ve had some outstanding basketball thinkers tell me there is no reason they couldn’t co-exist.
5. Ricky Rubio. Who you gonna believe about his willingness to play in Minnesota, all those Spanish reporters and sources, Rubio himself (who seems less enthusiastic about this prospect every day) or Mr. Kahn?
6. Jonny Flynn. Steph Curry would be the Wolves’ best point guard as well as their missing shooting guard.
7. Wes Johnson. Wes could develop into a nice player. I continue to say DeMarcus Cousins, with his franchise-player potential, was worth the risk.
There is no doubt that Kahn has upgraded this team’s physical ability. But how many winning basketball players has he accumulated?
Yes, Adrian Peterson compared millionaire players to slavery. It was a stupid thing to say. He should avoid doing interviews until the season begins and then he should speak only on football.
But my impression of him, after having been around him for years, is that Peterson is a quality guy. It’s always dangerous for writers to praise athletes, because we rarely know them all that well, but my sense of Peterson is that he’s a good-hearted, standup guy.
So while he certainly said something stupid, I don’t think what he said is a reflection of who he is.
I picked Kansas to win it all, which is strange, because I don’t think Kansas is going to win it all. But I think it’s such a watered-down field that I couldn’t find anyone in the bracket I think is going to beat Kansas head-to-head. So I’m stuck with my arch-rivals (I attended Missouri.)
Working on a piece on St. Thomas basketball and longtime coach Steve Fritz, a great guy who has his athletic department rolling, thanks to his coaching and his hiring of Glenn Caruso as football coach. Also planning to cover the Wild on Saturday.
Putting together the Sunday Morning Sports Talk show for 1500espn. We’ll start at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with the first Ron Gardenhire show, followed by the big show with co-host Tom Pelissero.
Here's what I hope happens tonight at the Barn:
I hope the Gophers play hard. All of them, not just Blake Hoffarber and Chip Armelin.
I hope Armelin starts at point guard, although I don't think Tubby Smith agrees with me. His loss.
I hope Trevor Mbakwe makes more contact with the Illinois front line than he has with ex-girlfriends who have restraining orders against him.
I hope Ralph Sampson steps foot in the paint.
I hope Rodney Williams offers evidence that he's in the arena.
I hope Tubby Smith does not again link his players' softness with the hardship of having to walk across the street - in the cold! - to lift weights. I'm sure Bud Grant would emphathize.
I hope the Gophers don't completely collapse, and miss the NCAA Tournament. (I like going to the NCAA Tournament.)
I hope this team has more than false hope to offer the rest of the way.
Should the Twins trade Francisco Liriano? Yes and no.
No, they shouldn't trade him just to trade him. He's their best pitcher, and by some statistical measures he was an elite pitcher in the American League last year. No contender should trade its best pitcher unless it receives equal value, and receiving equal value for Liriano would be difficult right now.
That's the way a fan, or a writer invested in this season, would think.
Here's the way the Twins are thinking:
Liriano is valuable. He's more valuable today than he has been since 2006. By next season, if he pitches decently this year, he will be expensive. By next season, when he is a year away from free agency, he may be difficult to trade for value. Most important, he is a constant injury risk.
So while anyone focused on this season would not want to see Liriano traded, anyone worried about the long-term health of the franchise might want to move Liriano, for value, before he flops or gets hurt again or fails in more big games, damaging his value to the teams that might be interested in trading for him.
It's a tough call, which means the Twins won't trade him just to trade him, but might be willing to trade him if they receive excellent value - say, a power arm for the bullpen and a top pitching prospect.
As with any trade rumor/speculation/report, what really matters is what they would get in return. I wouldn't call for the Twins to trade Joe Mauer, but if the deal happened to be Mauer for Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, I'd be all for it.
Last year, I called for the Twins to trade Delmon Young for an ace. I was accused of being mean to Young. Not at all. I was paying him quite a compliment: That he had improved his value to the point where he could be exchanged for an ace like Zack Greinke. Trades are only insults if you trade someone just to be rid of them.
Trading Liriano just to be rid of him would be foolish. Trading him for good value would just be sound management.
Looking back on the Johan Santana scenario, the Twins wound up making the worst possible decision - they traded Santana for detritus and lost his services for the '98 season.
We now know that they should have either traded him a year earlier, when he would have had more value, or carried him into the season, knowing they could move him at the deadline - or allow him to help them win the division, enjoy having him pitch in Game 1 of the playoffs, and then collect the draft picks.
Investigating deals for Liriano is only logical. The Twins have six starters, plus Kyle Gibson on the cusp of the big leagues.
It all depends on what they would get in return.
The Wild is becoming a fun team to watch. Which is strange for me to say, because generally I prefer hockey teams with star power and spectacular scoring.
The Wild, though, is becoming one of those teams that is easy to like because of its grit, depth and teamwork.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has told me he believes this team will make the playoffs because while it lacks star power, it can offer four solid lines and good goaltending. And teamwork.
This team has surged because it is playing better than the sum of its parts. Fletcher says Mikko Koivu remains his best player, but Brent Burns might be his most talented player, and Cal Clutterbuck might be his most emblematic - a gritty, hard-hitting player who contributes scoring.
This team has already exceeded my expectations. And, as Fletcher says, if this team gets into the playoffs and Backstrom is hot, it could give any team trouble.
Upcoming: I'm on 1500espn from noon-2 on Friday, with Strib hockey writer Michael Russo as my co-host. We'll have on Strib writer Phil Miller to talk Gophers football and Jerry Sloan's retirement - Phil covered Jerry for years on the Jazz beat before repairing to Minnesota.
Michael is also lining up a hockey guest - I believe Matt Cullen. We'll also take calls.
Sunday, Brad Lane and I will run our last Sunday Sports Talk together. With Brad shifting to program director of the station, Tom Pelissero will be my co-host starting on Feb. 20, when we'll broadcast from Twins spring training in Fort Myers.
My Twitter name is Souhanstrib. You should follow me. It's very entertaining, since I really don't know what I'm doing.
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