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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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.
Initial impressions from Ricky Rubio's introductory press conference:
-Would we think of him differently if his name were ``Rick'' and his voice was an octave deeper?
-David Kahn said Rubio would go 1 or 2 in this year's draft if he were draft-eligible this year. I doubt it. If someone's going to take a project in this draft, it's going to be Enes Kanter. And after the way he played in Spain, I think Rubio would be lucky to be a top-10 pick.
-Kahn wouldn't elaborate on Kurt Rambis' status. I kept waiting for Rambis to show up, dressed like the Unabomber (like most media members), hide in the middle of the pack and ask Kahn what he was going to do for a coach.
-Rubio handled himself very well during the presser. He was composed and funny. I have no idea if that matters in terms of his NBA career. I remember everyone liking Jonny Flynn a lot, too, until he took the court.
-Kahn said that if the Cavs take Derrick Williams No. 1, the Wolves will take Kyrie Irving No. 2. That's the right approach. Take the best player available. Your team isn't good enough to worry about having too many players at a particular position, even if the national media will make Kahn-point guard jokes the rest of the summer.
-I've never seen a team bad be this intriguing.
-Kahn ruled out trading Rubio or Kevin Love. I believe him this far: I don't think other NBA teams will make a worthwhile offer for either, so keeping them will be an easy decision.
-Rubio defended his poor statistics by saying that he often made the pass that led to the pass that led to the basket. That's probably true to an extent, because running an offense is Rubio's strength.
But you don't build around the guy who makes the first pass, you build around guys who can make the direct pass, or who can make a shot. Rubio has so much to prove in a league stocked with physical, athletic point guards. I think at best he's going to be a project, not matter how charming or polished he may seem.
-I'm writing more about Rubio for the morning paper, and will be covering the NBA draft on Thursday. I imagine Mr. Kahn will do something intriguing.
-I'll be on 1500ESPN at 2:40 today to talk Rubio Fever and Twins Plague.
Amazing how our quiet, borderline-depressing sports scene continues to make news. A month ago, I feared a summer in which the Twins were irrelevant and the NFL was dormant.
Now I expect the Twins to play meaningful games all season, the NFL to start on time, and the Wolves to be much more interesting by this fall.
I'm not sure what they're thinking.
They pushed Jacques Lemaire out. Lemaire's message may have gotten old, but he's a hockey genius. They replaced him with Todd Richards. Fine, you went with a young coach and planned to be patient while he developed. But then you fired him after two years, probably just as he was adapting fully to the job.
And then you went looking for a veteran coach. Craig MacTavish? Sounds good. Ken Hitchcock? Love it.
Now, I'm not predicting that Yeo will fail. Maybe he'll be a great coach, and Chuck Fletcher has made a brilliant, insightful, move. That wouldn't be shocking.
But this is a strange progression, from veteran brilliant coach to long shot to...long shot.
Because what Fletcher doesn't know about Yeo is exactly what he didn't know about Richards - how he would react to the pressure, the speed, and the players of the NHL.
This smells like a money-saving move. Yeo is thrilled to have the job. MacTavish and Hitchcock would have wanted money and influence. For a franchise needing credibility and a way to keep fans interested, this is a puzzling move.
Whatever the Wolves' problems, they may be close to passing the Wild in terms of intrigue and watchability.
-Wolves' exec Tony Ronzone told our Jerry Zgoda and other reporters today that the Wolves plan to hold onto the No. 2 pick and take the best player available. That is exactly the right approach. Derrick Williams is the right choice at No. 2. He might be talented enough to make Ricky Rubio look good.
After speaking with a few people around the NBA, I believe that if the Wolves take Williams, they'll need to trade Michael Beasley. Beasley is a nice enough guy, and he can score, but he doesn't play defense and doesn't get his points in a structured, reliable, way. You don't want Williams having to share shots with him. Williams could become a star.
-I'm rooting for Rory McIlroy. Golf needs a magnetic, charismatic, brilliantly-talented star to capture the imagination. Martin Kaymer doesn't cut it. And Phil Mickelson looks like he'll never win another major.
-Joe Mauer spoke today. He looked lean and tanned, and he handled the tougher questions very well.
He was asked about people who have criticized him for an unwillingness to play hurt. He called the critics, ``Misinformed.'' That's a logical response, but what he should know is that his slow recovery created critics not just in the media, but throughout his organization and in his clubhouse and among former players.
The percentage of Twins' employees rolling their eyes about Mauer's timetable was about the same as the percentage of fans screaming about him.
-Wrote my Friday column on the Twins' latest improbable victory, and Ozzie Guillen's latest nickname for their lineup. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 Friday.
-My prayers go out to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who is recovering from a stroke. I listened to a bunch of hair bands with my high school buddies until one day we were driving around, and this sax break played over the radio, interrupting a song featuring lyrics about life, and death, and redemption, and I could never listen to Styx again.
Clarence played that sax, and as much as I love Springsteen, the best moments of his glorious concerts always feature Clemons, as soloist or foil. I stopped listening to ``Jungleland'' years ago...except for Clemons' amazing, emotive, expressive solo, during which, in concert, Springsteen always walks around the stage, pumping his fist, leading cheers for the Big Man. As it should be, and I hope someday will be again.
After all of his fourth-quarter failures, after LeBron James choked in the same building where he celebrated like a champion before ever playing a game with the Miami Heat, here is what James had to say late last night:
According to the Associated Press, James said this of fans who ridicule him:
``All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. So they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point."
James is telling everyone who doubts him that they are losers with lousy lives. Once again, he has proved he has no sense of timing on or off the court.
The man celebrates a championship before he wins one. He disses Cleveland with his TV special. He fades in the fourth quarter.
He and the Heat should have the ability to win a handful of NBA championships if they can add talent and depth to the roster that almost won it all this year. But will James ever be a go-to-guy again? While he may be able to improve his game, especially on the low post, will he be able to alter a personality that had him passing up good shots and missing many of those he took in the fourth quarter of a Finals in which Dirk Nowitzki made him look like a chump?
I don't know, but I do know it's time for me to go be happy for a few months before facing the real world again.
-I don't know if I've ever liked a champion athlete as much as I like Dirk. I"ve admired many. I've been awed by a few. I don't know if I ever got to the end of a championship game or series and admire anyone more for so many reasons.
Nowitzki played hurt. He played sick. He made big shots. He overcame difficult shooting nights. He called out his teammates without losing their respect. He led. He excelled. He demonstrated the fruits of his long hours in the gym and dedication to his craft.
-I keep hearing NHL fans and writers say that the NBA celebration pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup handshake line. They're right. Too bad you have to sit through so much boring hockey to get to the handshakes.
I will watch the NHL finals tonight. I would appreciate them keeping me awake with the occasional, legitimate, scoring chance, and I would appreciate seeing a few clean, pretty, goals.
-Our hockey guy Michael Russo writes that Craig MacTavish could be closing in on the Wild head coaching job. I've been pushing for Ken Hitchcock, but MacTavish is a good, accomplished, candidate. He'd bring credibility and a strong personality, and an ability to reach players.
-Derek Jeter has reached 2,993 hits. I used to love baseball milestones. I don't know why, but I don't care much about this one.
I don't know if that's a reaction to baseball's steroid era, which blew up so many meaningful records. I don't know if my loathing for Yankee entitlement has diminished my enthusiasm for this particular milestone. I don't know if it's Jeter's sense of outrage over the Yankees' unwillingness to pay him $30 million to be a mediocre shortstop.
But I just don't care as much as I used to about players reaching numerical milestones.
-Wrote for today's paper about the Twins' chances of getting back into the race. I don't know if it's possible, but what I always root for, as a daily newspaper columnist, is meaningful games. If the Twins can play meaningful games in September after their lousy start, I'll consider this season less of a failure.
-From my twitter feed (@Souhanstrib): Ricky Rubio has another chance in the Spanish finals to pull off a Rubio double-double: Two points, two assists.
-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 p.m. today.
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.
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