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.
Find him on Twitter
I can't believe it was only a few weeks ago I feared there would be nothing interesting to write about this summer.
Then the Twins got hot, David Kahn started scheming and by midday Thursday we had the news that Kahn plans to fire Kurt Rambis shortly, and Joe Mauer is out again today, this time because of a stiff back.
I've heard some of my radio colleagues suggesting that the Twins should cover for Mauer, saying he was given the day off. But there's no winning here. If Ron Gardenhire says he's just resting Mauer, then he gets hammered for failing to put his best hitter into a weak lineup. If it becomes known that Mauer is complaining about a stiff back shortly after returning from the disabled list, then he looks bad.
Well, he looks bad. Again. Maybe his back is really killing him, but don't you want your franchise player to fight to get into the lineup?
Then Kahn allows word to leak that he's about to fire Rambis, interrupting one of the best public-relations weeks in recent Wolves history. They hold a Ricky Rubio press conference and start selling his jersey and ticket packages tied to his jersey number, and they're about to make the highest draft pick in franchise history, and now the firing of Rambis looms over their draft party.
This is management malpractice.
Now we can only hope that the rumors aren't true, that Kahn isn't about to hire a 67-year-old coach whose last winning season as a head coach came in 1998 and whose peak season came in 1989.
Bernie Bickerstaff is considered a good guy, and a smart guy. But the idea of hiring him to shepherd the team until Wolves assistant J.B. Bickerstaff is ready is lunacy, and would occur only so Kahn, nearing the end of his contract, would not feel threatened by the man on the bench. He would know that Bernie would have no grand designs on taking over the primary decision-making role in the organization, and that Bernie would do everything he could to get along with management so that J.B. would remain his successor.
J.B., similarly, would be very much under Kahn's control.
We don't know whether this rumor is true or not. But it smells like something Kahn would do to maintain his power within the organization after his teams utterly failed on the court during his first two seasons.
Let's go pro-con on Kahn.
He blew the hiring of his first coach. He blew the assembling of the first coaching staff, too, since I'm told Bill Laimbeer and Reggie Theus are not quality assistants.
He blew his first draft pick, Jonny Flynn, and we're still a ways away from finding out whether he blew his second first-round draft pick, Ricky Rubio. He drafted Ty Lawson for the Nuggets, and, of course, it turned out that Lawson is the best of the three players, at least at this point in their careers.
We can debate how he did in his second draft. I preferred DeMarcus Cousins, and still do, because I believe his talent overwhelms his problematic personalty. Wes Johnson is less talented but far more reliable. We can wait another year or two before forming a final opinion.
Dark Mlicic? I say that's a swing and a miss. Martell Webster? Not as good as Kahn thought he was. Trading Al Jefferson? Not a thrilling deal from either end. Keeping Kevin Love? My sources tell me Kahn considered trading Love, so I don't know how much credit to give him for keeping Love. But you can mark that down in Kahn's win column, regardless, because he did indeed keep Love.
Dealing with the firing of McHale? Kahn gets an F, for waiting until after the draft to hire McHale's replacement. Firing Rambis? Kahn gets an F for playing it out so long and allowing it to ruin this week.
What Kahn's supporters will point to is the dramatic upgrading of talent on the roster. Remember, McHale gets the credit for acquiring Love in a fantastic deal. So Kahn doesn't get credit for the best player on the roster. He's also acquired two talented enigmas, in Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, whom other teams gave up on.
Do the Wolves have more talent today than they did two years ago? Yes. But what we don't know, especially after watching Kahn make so many mistakes in this job, whether he can choose a coach who will meld that talent into a winner, and whether the talented players he has assembled can play team basketball, or a lick of defense.
If raw talent was all that mattered in the NBA, the Mavericks not only would have failed to win the championship this year, they may not have made it out of the first round.
Kahn has acquired long, lean athletes. But if he can't hire a good coach, that won't matter at all. If he can't find real basketball players, this group will peak as a poor version of the exciting-but-unaccomplished Golden State Warriors.
-Upcoming: I'll be in Milwaukee this weekend to cover the Twins and Brewers. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 p.m. Friday. I'll be in the Brewers' press box for Sunday Morning Sports Talk, from 10-noon on 1500espn, and for the Gardenhire Show, from 9:30-10.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I'll be tweeting from the Wolves' draft tonight.
Thursday night, I watched the Twins and Rangers from the press box, while watching the A's and White Sox on my Ipad, while tracking the NBA game on espn.com, and then got to the Twins' clubhouse in time to ignore Michael Cuddyer's post-game interview while watching the NBA finals on one of the big-screen TVs that hang over the players' lockers.
So, for a moment, Alexi Casilla trumped LeBron James.
Even if this stretch of competent baseball winds up meaning nothing, you had to sense, if you were at Target Field last night, that seeing Alexi Casilla drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth, then run to first with his right fist in the air, brought back a lot of memories.
As horrid as this team has played for most of the season, this is the same manager, coaching staff and system that has produced three of the greatest comebacks in franchise history in the last eight years. The Twins were buried at the All-Star break in 2003, in early June in 2006 and by a few games in the waning days of the 2009 season, and won the division all three times.
If you care about math at all, you'd have to write this team off. They're 11 games out of first in mid-June, and 10 games behind a loaded Detroit team, and most of their quality players remain on the disabled list, and their bullpen, whatever its recent results, remains a tire fire.
If you looked at any other team this far out this far into the season, you'd write them off. Nobody would take Houston or the Cubs seriously in this situation.
And yet, the Twins are making themselves compelling once again, even though they have the second-worst record in baseball.
If you want to spend the summer watching meaningful baseball, this is wonderful news. If you think the Twins' farm system needs help, this is dicey. The worst-case scenario here is that the Twins play well enough to prevent them from trading for prospects in July, and yet not well enough to truly contend for a playoff spot.
Let's not overlook the business of baseball, though. The Twins will be much more willing to carry a hefty payroll next spring if they sell a lot of tickets this summer. You'd like to see the Target Field honeymoon last for more than a year and a couple of months. With Ben Revere and Casilla playing like latter-day piranhas, at least the Twins are making us watch right now.
-I want to believe that Ricky Rubio will be a decent NBA player, but he's stinking it up in Spain right now, and while he stinks it up, the Wolves continue to fail to make a decision on Kurt Rambis.
I want to believe that this group has some chance of making the Wolves competent, but I just don't think there's anybody in a decision-making position in the organization who can make a good decision. How can the status of their coach remain undecided this close to the draft? How can Rambis have a chance to keep his job after the way he coached the last two years?
-I love that Billy Beane fired manager Bob Geren today. Here's a guy who pretends that managers don't matter, and yet he fires his manager before the movie ``Moneyball'' can make it into theaters. Will the release of the movie be delayed until the A's are out of last place? Will theaters even exist then?
-Only caught a bit of the NBA game, but saw enough to catch LeBron doing what he so often does: Putting up an impressive stat line without making big shots down the stretch.
I picked Miami in seven games, and I'm sticking with that. My guess is that these tremendous playoffs, this tremendous Finals, will culminate with James taking the game-winning shot. Despite lots of evidence suggesting otherwise, I'm guessing he makes it.
Of course, I wrote that before I saw this statistic from ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter: ``Dirk Nowitzki has now outscored LeBron James 52-11'' in the fourth quarter this series, including 8-2 on Thursdahy night.
-Wrote about Joe Mauer for the Friday paper. I'm not sure I've ever heard so much criticism of a popular local athlete of great accomplishment who hasn't broken any laws or called out any teammates. Mauer simply has given people reason to believe that he's putting his own personal comfort over the needs of his team. In the sports world, that's a bigger crime than a DUI.
-Had a chance to speak with Leslie Frazier this morning while working on an upcoming story. I've had the opportunity to have a couple of lengthy talks with him, and I can see why he'd be so good with players and fellow coaches. He's one of those guys who has ``It,'' that combination of confidence, charisma and friendliness that compels people to follow.
-I'm passing on a note I received from Harmon Killebrew's longtime PR rep Molly Mulvehill Steinke:
``Although the Kwik Trip Harmon Killebrew Classic is sold out, there is still a chance for the public to honor Harmon on his 75th Birthday.
Picked up on this debate on Twitter last night: Should we blame Delmon Young's error or the Twins' bats for their 1-0 loss at Cleveland?
Both are culpable, of course. But while all teams and hitters will have a bad night, and sometimes will simply be overmatched by a good or hot pitcher, all Major League leftfielders should be capable (and interested in) bending over to pick up a bouncing baseball.
I saw someone defend Young because he smashed a double. That is missing the point.
A year after generating hope that he could become an MVP-type player, Young has been an embarrassment this season. He's played horribly in the field and has produced a stat line that would make Matt Tolbert giggle.
I'm not a big fan of the stat OPS for precise measurement of offensive capability, but it does provide a good snapshot into a player's performance.
Consider these OPS totals:
Alexi Casilla: .653
Rene Rivera: .620.
Matt Tolbert: .578.
Delmon Young: .534.
The Twins are getting no offensive production out of a player whose fielding has suggested that he can be valuable only if he is an exceptional offensive player. If you're determined to prove via your fielding that you are nothing but a designated hitter, you might want to get a few hits.
The biggest, strongest Twin now has six extra-base hits in 151 at-bats.
At this point, my chosen outfield for the 2012 Twins would be Ben Revere in left, Denard Span in center and Jason Kubel in right, with the hope that Joe Benson makes a push to be a contributor or the first player called up in case of injury.
Now the Twins have to hope Young can at least play well enough to bring value in a trade.
And while he's here, Young should at least be moved to leftfield. He has a strong arm and limited range. That would make him a perfect fit for right field at Target Field.
-A new report alleges that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor made $40,000 autographing memorabilia. I hope he saved some of the money.
Pryor is skipping his senior year at OSU to enter the draft. His problem is, he's not a very good quarterback, and he won't be a good pro quarterback, and he's not gifted enough to make a living at another position.
I don't blame college athletes for wanting to make a little money while they're generating tens of millions of dollars for their schools. I just hope for Pryor's sake he has positioned himself to make a living outside of football.
-It's interesting that the Golden State Warriors hired Mark Jackson shortly after hiring Jerry West as a consultant. When Jackson was a Wolves' candidate, I kept hearing from my NBA people that Jackson had a terrible reputation as a selfish player and clubhouse lawyer, and that the Wolves were lucky they didn't hire him.
Now Jackson will take over a skilled team that plays almost no defense. Is he really the right man to fix that problem? I tend to doubt it.
-It's fascinating that lame-duck Wolves coach Kurt Rambis is now trying to publicly position himself to return, considering the disdain with which he treated everyone in or near the Wolves organization last year.
If he comes back, I hope he does so with some class. I've had more than a few people in the Wolves' organization tell me that he is the worst, most arrogant guy with whom they've ever worked. I don't think he coached well enough to deserve to return, but there has to be a good basketball brain hidden somewhere behind all that unearned smugness. Who knows? Maybe coming close to getting fired would be enough to jolt him into the right mindset for coaching a young team.
I'd still rather see Dwane Casey or Sam Mitchell running this team.
-I covered the Lynx home opener on Sunday, and I thought it was a good time. The atmosphere felt different than most sporting events, and I kept trying to figure out exactly what was different.
Then it hit me: I didn't sense any anger from the stands. Usually when you attend a pro sporting, or a major-college revenue sporting event, there is an undercurrent of angst and anger. Particularly at basketball games, you hear fans cursing the refs and opponents.
The people at the Lynx game just seemed happy to be there, happy to support their team. The Lynx players seemed unified and gregarious.
I think this is going to be a really good team, and while most people in my business mock the Lynx and the WNBA, I would love to see them make a run at a championship and give us all reason to pay more attention.
-LeBron James remains a mystery. He's the best player in the game in part because of his unselfishness and passing ability, but it is so strange to see the best player in the game content to let other people dominate the ball at the end of close games.
James was incredibly passive last night, and that's one big reason why the Mavs won Game 4. I'm still picking the Heat in seven games, but if the Heat had played with a little more intelligent and and intensity at the end of Games 2 and 4, it might already be over.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today, as long as the Twins' game ends in time. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Tom Pelissero and I are starting to make plans for Sunday Morning Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn. We'll run the show from the St. Thomas Mobile Press Box outside Target Field.
You can bash David Kahn for any number of reasons, but bashing him for trying to joke about the draft lottery being fixed is to take yourselves - and his comments - way too seriously.
We tend to overanalyze everything in sports, but we shouldn't parse every public comment made by every public figure. We need to allow these people to make an attempt at humor - successfully or not - and extemporaneous speech. The alternative is living in the worst that is fast-approaching - a world of canned, processed quotes issued in press releases.
Get off Kahn's back.
Unless you want to pick on him for the way he does his job. Then, fire away.
-If the NBA draft lottery were fixed, the Cleveland Cavaliers would not have gotten the first and fourth picks in this draft. If the NBA draft lotterhy were fixed, the Los Angeles Clippers would be a marquee team. If the NBA draft lottery were fixed, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard wouldn't have wound up in Orlando, and David Robinson and Tim Duncan wouldn't have wound up in San Antonio and the Knicks wouldn't have been so bad for so long.
-What's scary about Kahn landing the No. 2 draft, is it creates an opportunity for him to get creative. If he would have landed the first pick, he might have been obligated to take Kyrie Irving. If he had landed the third pick, he might have been obligated to take the best big man available, or trade the pick.
At No. 2, he should take Derrick Williams, adhering to the philosophy that a team this bad should always take the best availabel player. At No. 2, with Williams playing the same position as Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, Kahn could try to swing some 16-team trade that lands him Ralph Sampson, Hosea Crittenden, 12 second-round draft picks and lots of ``cap space'' he can use to not sign star free agents.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
-I was so happy to see that Sandy Stephens will be inducted into the college football hall of fame. This is a well-deserved honor.
-After watching the Twins this season, I will no longer be able to make fun of soccer for its lack of scoring and long periods of uninteresting play. In fact, now that I'm conditioned to watching the Twins, I'm not sure my heart would be able to bear the excitement of watching soccer.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 on Thursday and Friday. Sunday morning, Tom Pelissero and I will return to the studio at 9:30 for the Ron Gardenhire Show (we'll take more calls this week; please ask a short question and withhold your stories) followed by Sunday Morning Sports Talk. We hope to have a former Twin and an NBA analyst on.
-Belated congratulations to St. Thomas basketball coach Steve Fritz, who is retiring from the sideline to concentrate on his duties as athletic director.
Let's be honest. I don't know if Christian Ponder is going to be a star or a bust. You don't know, either. The Vikings' braintrust, which invested countless hours dissecting his film and background and interviewing him and his coaches, don't really know, either.
But if you stop worrying about where draft experts had him ranked, he has a lot going for him.
According to consensus and statistics, he's:
-Personable. (Personality matters for quarterbacks; they have to be leaders.)
-Accurate (he completed 69 percent of his passes as a junior, and 62 percent as a senior.)
The biggest knock on him seems to be durability, but the Vikings say they thought he displayed toughness in trying to play through his injuries.
My column, in the Friday paper, makes this point: We don't know how good this kid is, but if he can play, we are about to be treated to the best drama in sports: The nurturing of a young quarterback.
For now, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier. I think Frazier knows what makes an NFL player tick, and Spielman is a tireless worker. I think they feel they landed a guy with great strengths and no glaring weaknesses.
I'll say this: I'm much more interested in this team today than I was yesterday.
-Congratulations to Michael Cuddyer for ripping into his teammates today. Somebody had to say it.
I think this will be Cuddyer's last season in Minnesota - he'll be a free agent and is not likely to want to take the kind of pay cut necessary to keep him here - and I'll miss him. He's honest, team-oriented, selfless and has a sense of humor. And he's responsible and accountable. A few of his teammates should take note.
-Joe Mauer wants to remain a catcher? Then he needs to prove he can recover from injuries and stay behind the plate. At some point, the Twins may have to remind him that he's the employee, not the employer.
-I know, I know, the Twins stink right now. They're a rather pathetic group.
Let me just remind you how lousy a team can look and still win something, though. In April of 2006, the Twins were swept by Cleveland early in the season by a combined 17-8. Then they were swept by Chicago by a combined 23-6. Then they were swept by Detroit by a combined 33-1.
That team, of course, won 96 games.
That's not a prediction of future success, merely a reminder that past failures haven't always been terrible omens.
-Ralph Sampson is declaring for the NBA draft?
Then I'm declaring that I'm about to win $1 billion dollars.
-While other NBA teams conduct their coaching searches, the Wolves...are...still...thinking...about...it...very...slowly...so...as...to...create...the...illusion...of...thoughful...ness.
-Upcoming: I'm outta here. Taking my first real adult vacation in a long, long time. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 tomorrow, then going on a cruise. Tom Pelissero will conduct the Gardenhire Show and Sunday Morning Sports Talk along with my Strib colleague Judd Zulgad. I'm guessing they might talk about the draft.
I'll be back the following Sunday.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. I may tweet from the beach; I may not, but this is a good time to thank y'all for reading, and listening.
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