Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where even the old guys are a decade younger than us. Let’s get to it:
*A Timberwolves season mostly sabotaged by Jimmy Butler early and a rash of injuries later has been revived, at least to a point, by an on-the-surface unlikely suspect: veteran Luol Deng, a man we tend to think of as old but who in real life is just 33.
A few years back, Deng was a pretty efficient and solid player for the Heat — not quite the scorer he was earlier on with the Bulls, but a good enough player to fetch a four-year, $72 million with the Lakers just as the avalanche of TV money was pouring into the NBA before the 2016-17 season.
Deng struggled for half a season in L.A., and the Lakers struggled even more. Then a full-scale youth movement kicked in, and Deng basically sat dormant for more than 100 games until a buyout freed him. He arrived in Minnesota in September on a one-year minimum deal and, despite being reunited with his old coach Tom Thibodeau, continued to sit.
Then, of course, Thibs was fired halfway through this season. And now? Deng is enjoying a sort of second act in his career thanks to running with an opportunity given him by interim coach Ryan Saunders — a man who we think of young, and who is in fact just a year younger than Deng.
Two weeks ago, the Wolves’ season was going nowhere. It still might not be going anywhere, but Deng is trying his hardest to give it an upward trajectory. On Feb. 11, he started in place of the ill Andrew Wiggins.
Beginning with that game, a victory over the Clippers, the Wolves are 4-1 and Deng is a ridiculous plus-86 — meaning Minnesota has outscored opponents by 86 points when Deng was on the court in those five games. The Wolves overall are plus-26 in those five games. So they’re minus-60 when Deng is not on the court.
The Wolves probably gave away too many winnable games early in the year through the Butler drama, and their bizarre stretch without enough healthy point guards (or Rob Covington) led to a string of losses in winnable games.
At 29-31 after this 4-1 stretch, they’re still barely lurking in the Western Conference race — three back of No. 8 San Antonio (two in the loss column) after the Spurs’ disastrous 1-7 road trip. Maybe the Clippers or Spurs are still catchable, but it still probably takes at least 44 wins to make it. That would mean closing with a 15-8 run for the Wolves (by extension a 19-9 run counting the work they’ve already done) against a tough schedule.
For now, this much is clear: the old guy (Deng) and young guy (Saunders) are sure helping each other get NBA jobs next year and beyond. Neither might have imagined they would be in this position just a couple months ago.
*As a reporter, there isn’t a more mortifying feeling than having your phone ring in the middle of a news conference — except, maybe, having a call come in from your mom and the phone answered by the head coach of an NHL team.
Kudos, then, to John Tortorella for making sweet lemonade from lemons.
*I enjoyed this, so I’m sharing it. My answer: Brett Favre, Robert Smith, Randy Moss and Jim Kleinsasser.