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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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.
Prepping for the Bulls-Wolves game tonight, noticed lots of Bulls jerseys hanging around downtown.
Lot of storylines here tonight, including:
-Derrick Rose continuing to remind us how much better he is than the guy picked right behind him, Michael Beasley.
-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the reigning coach of the year, was once a lowly Wolves assistant. If the Wolves hadn't hired someone as accomplished as Rick Adelman, we would be accusing them of letting a good one get away.
-According to Canishoopus, the Wolves are 22-95 with Darko Milicic on their roster. Manna from Somewhere.
-According to espnstats, Ricky Rubio has three of the four double-digit assist games turned in by a bench player in the NBA this season, with Andre Miller owning the other. Rubio also has played more fourth-quarter minutes than anyone else in the NBA, having missed only 7 fourth-quarter seconds.
-According to espnstats, NBA teams are 6-0 this year on the third game of back-to-backs. (Either that or I read that one wrong. Seems very strange). The Wolves are playing a third straight day, following a victory over hapless Washington and an ugly loss in Toronto.
-The Wolves' bench has dramatically outperformed the starters. I blame Wes Johnson and Darko, two guys who I can't see lasting in the NBA.
-Kevin Love ranks first in the NBA with 14.9 rebounds per game. He averaged 15.2 last year when he led the league. But he played with no energy last night in Toronto, which affected every aspect of his game.
Love leads the NBA with nine double-doubles and is the only player to record a double-double in each of his team's games this year.
-Ricky Rubio is 8-for-16 on three-pointers this year. In fourth quarters, Rubio is 16-for-31 with 20 assists. He ranks 11th in the NBA and first among rookies with 7.4 assists per game.
-The Wolves rank first in the NBA in fourth-quarter field goal percentage on defense, holding opponents to 34.3 percent. Last year, the Wolves ranked last in that category in the NBA.
-The Bulls allow 86.6 points per game, second-best in the league behind Philadelphia.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn with Tom Pelissero tonight at 6:40 or so, and I'm on the station every weekday at 2:05 with Reusse and Mackey. Please follow me on Twitter, @Souhanstrib.
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.
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.''
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.
I know we tend to react strongly when a winning team doesn't draw well, and the empty seats at the X have been troubling, given the outstanding performance of this year's Wild team.
My take: Don't sweat it. If this continues to be a good team, and I think it will, the fans will arrive. Probably after football season and the holidays pass, and the NHL standings become more meaningful.
Wrote about the Wild for the Friday paper. A quick preview: This team is overachieving right now, given the injuries and difficult recent schedule, but I think this organization is set up to win for a long time. GM Chuck Fletcher has done a masterful job of giving this year's team a chance to win while also acquiring young talent.
The Wild is four good goalies deep, meaning Fletcher may be able to trade one for value. About all the Wild seems to lack moving forward is a signature scorer, a 40-goal guy. If Fletcher could somehow land Parise, this team could become a championship contender.
One thing I've heard from a lot of people around the Wild is that Martin Havlat's departure was a key for this team. He was quite disliked in the lockerroom, and he was not an end-to-end player. If he had played for the Wild this year, Mike Yeo would have had to make an example of him. Chuck Fletcher spared Yeo the trouble.
I think the signing of Josh Willingham rules out the Twins' re-signing Michael Cuddyer, and here's the catch for those who want to see Cuddyer brought back at any price:
If the Twins are willing to pay Cuddyer what he wants, about $10 million a year, that could be a sign that they don't think Justin Morneau is going to be healthy.
If Morneau is healthy, the Twins don't have a huge need for Cuddyer. If Morneau isn't healthy, then Cuddyer could be the starting first baseman.
Saw two Wolves practices this week, and was struck by how much better this coaching staff is than its predecessor, and many in Wolves' history.
You've got Adelman, one of the best coaches of his generation, and Jack Sikma coaching big men, and Terry Porter coaching guards. I heard from a lot of people last year that not only was Kurt Rambis challenged as a head coach, but his staff was awful. Bill Laimbeer mailed it in. Reggie Theus was looking for his next job. Dave Wohl was not well-liked.
This staff will get the most out of this roster.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn from 6-8 tonight with a bunch of guests, including Jared Spurgeon, Toby Gerhart and probably someone from the Wolves from Mankato. Also joining me will be Brian Allee-Walsh, an old friend who has covered the Saints for decades.
Also, I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 tomorrow with Reusse and Mackey, and Tom Pelissero and I will run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon before the Vikings game on Sunday.
My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.
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