Monday, February 25, 2013

Flip Saunders Not The Gophers Answer

With the Gophers' basketball team collapsing in conference play for what seems like the fifth straight year under Tubby Smith, the whispers are growing that the Gophers are going to need to move on from Tubby this off-season. While I think that's unlikely, if it does happen, I'm here to ask that you as fans don't beg, borrow and deal for Flip Saunders to become the next head coach. He'll be a bigger failure than Tubby.

I covered the local recruiting issues that have haunted Tubby since he was hired, and those who are in favor of Flip Saunders taking over the reins seem convinced he'd do a better job of keeping the in-state talent, well, in-state. Because Saunders played at the U and coached the Timberwolves, fans just assume his connection to the state would result in better in-state recruiting. Even if Saunders does manage to keep more in-state recruits than Tubby, they still need to be coached properly and developed.

Saunders time in the NBA began in 1995, the same year the Timberwolves selected a skinny high schooler named Kevin Garnett. Does Saunders deserve credit for helping develop the greatest player in Timberwolves history? Certainly. However, "developing" someone like KG, who was an athletic freak, an incredibly hard worker and likely the most competitive person in the organization, likely didn't take a lot of skill. The Wolves failed to develop a single first rounder into a real star type player over the rest of Flip's tenure, including the inability to correctly manage Stephon Marbury. Saunders also was never able to broker peace between KG and Wally Sczerbiak during Wally's tenure in Minnesota, as it was widely reported he and Garnett didn't get along. The Timberwolves version of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

Saunders did win for three seasons in Detroit after being fired by the Timberwolves, but he took over a dynasty that had already been built. The Pistons lost three straight Eastern Conference Finals series with Saunders on the bench. Flip then struggled mightily in Washington, even encouraging management to trade the 5th overall pick in the 2009 draft (which became Ricky Rubio) for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, because Saunders wanted "veterans" to make a run at the playoffs.

Saunders biggest strength as a coach seems to be letting his players play the game. He doesn't constantly micro manage every possession, and he seemed to give his players a long leash if they were going through a tough stretch. Those strengths may translate well to the college game, but unfortunately as Tubby has reminded us fans plenty over the last five years, a head coach that understands the X's and O's is just as important as anything else. While recruiting gets all the attention, Tubby's inability to create plays out of timeouts, the team's complete unpreparedness to attack any kind of zone defense, and his odd substitution patterns has cost the team dearly over the last few seasons. Saunders offense in the NBA was very jump shot happy, which means Saunders would need to successfully recruit good shooters on a consistent basis, something nobody's been able to do at the U of M in decades.

The team needs a great X's and O's coach who can recruit well or delegate the recruiting to a highly paid and highly regarded recruiting coordinator, because developing players and keeping players from transferring is also a big part of getting a team into contention, and Tubby Smith has failed miserably on both accounts. Saunders may be a "players coach" which would likely help keep recruits from transferring, but his X's and O's from the bench left a lot to be desired in the NBA.

Saunders NBA past at first glance would seem to be a solid recruiting tool, but in all honesty it's a very small positive for a recruit. Saunders last winning season with the Wolves was in 2004, and a team headlined by KG gave Saunders a lot of national publicity. His last year in Detroit was the 07-08 season, in which the team won 59 games. However, as mentioned earlier, the ECF series loss kept national publicity somewhat low until he was fired. My point is simply that the players Saunders would be recruiting would have been 8 years old or younger when Saunders was being praised in the 03-04 Western Conference Finals. For most recruits, they won't remember Saunders as the old Wolves coach, or the old Pistons coach, and most won't even remember he coached a terrible Wizards team for a few year recently. He'll simply be the Minnesota Gophers basketball coach, and for someone who's not great at the "coaching" part of the game, it'd be a silly hire.

Fire Tubby. Don't Hire Flip. I don't care what else happens.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Today's Thoughts

How pretty it is, the first games of the year.

Today's random sports thoughts, as Major League Baseball gets underway again:

- It's ridiculous that "Bullets" was considered too offensive of a nickname for Washington D.C.'s basketball team, but the districts football team doesn't find "Redskins" offensive. Only in DC, I suppose.

- The Atlanta Hawks should've simply taken the best deal that was offered for Josh Smith. I'm sure they believe someone will give a first round pick or two for Smith in a sign and trade (Smith gets more money this way) and while it's possible, a Kris Humphries/Marshon Brooks/First Round Pick combination is a lot better than one or two mid-to-late first round picks in my mind.

- It'll be interesting to see who runs the fastest 40 time at this year's NFL draft combine this weekend. Expect it to be a defensive back.

- In regards to the Houston-Sacramento NBA trade, people seem shocked that the Kings made this deal. They clearly gave up more talent, and really only saved money for this season. Why would they do that? It's really actually quite simple. The Maloofs have already agreed to sell the team, as everyone knows, to Seattle businessmen. Even if Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson is able to find someone to keep the team in Sacramento, the Maloofs will still be selling the team. So the only savings they care about are for this season, obviously. They saved something like $4.3MM this season by making the trade; they get back Patrick Patterson to save face a little bit, and even if Thomas Robinson explodes in Houston to become the next Chris Webber, why do the Maloofs care? They won't own an NBA team anymore. This trade was done by the Maloofs, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

- Hopefully the trade allows Cole Aldrich to be given a real chance at some playing time, as he's played well in stretches. As an upcoming free agent, hopefully he can use this trade as a chance to showcase himself for another team this summer.

- Even with the Gophers basketball team's collapse of late, they still have a very high chance of making the NCAA tournament. They'll likely lose to Indiana at home on Tuesday, but three favorable games to end the season could see the team finish 21-10 overall and 9-9 in the country's best conference, which would be good for their usual one and done NCAA tournament approach.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and Rebuilding

After addressing the Timberwolves, Gophers basketball, and the Vikings in the three previous days, today we'll be addressing* the Minnesota Twins, who after a great decade run from 2001-2010 have really struggled lately.

*It's purely a coincidence that this became sort of a "State of Minnesota sports" the same week the "State of the Union" address occurred, but then again maybe it's just my subconscious.

The Twins followed up their 63-99 season in 2011 with an almost equally as bad 66-96 record this past season. Despite the team's struggles the past two seasons, the team's future appears to be bright thanks to a highly regarded farm system that Terry Ryan has helped rebuild in a very short period of time.

This off-season saw the Twins finally target high upside, hard throwing starting pitching prospects for the first time in a long while. The Twins wisely traded from a position of strength when trading both Denard Span and Ben Revere. Aaron Hicks seems unlikely to make the team out of Spring Training, mainly because the Twins should wisely delay his service time to ensure an extra season of control by promoting him in late May or possibly early June.

Trading Ben Revere was something I was entirely on board with, mainly because Revere seems like a poor man's Juan Pierre, which is obviously nothing to be proud of. Revere had a good season last year, but with no power and little patience, as well as the league's worst throwing arm among outfielders, he's simply not a consistent starter in this league. His base stealing was good last year, and he added value with it undoubtedly. However, the Twins were wise to move Revere now, as his production is likely to decrease rather than increase.

Revere hit .294/.333/.342 last season in 124 games, and stole 40 bases in 49 attempts. For a 24-year-old outfielder it was a good season. However, Revere's batting average on balls in play last season was .325, compared to just .289 between 2010 and 2011. Of course, it's possible that Revere is improving, and will sustain that high BABip. The league average BABip in 2012 was .297, although Revere's speed, contact rate and bunting should make his BABip higher than the league average in his prime in my opinion. Of course, even if Revere drops to .310 on balls in play, he'll still be above league average but should expect a decline in his .294/.333/.342 line because he won't be getting as lucky as he did last season. The power will never come, and drawing walks seems unlikely for someone an opposing pitcher will never need to be afraid of.

In other words, the Twins woud have done well to get just Vance Worley for Revere, but Terry Ryan was also able to acquire Trevor May in the deal with Philadelphia.

Over the last two seasons, Worley has made 44 starts and thrown 264 innings. He's posted a 3.60 ERA and  a record of 17-12. While Worley's not overpowering, he has managed a respectable 7.7 K/9 in his big league career. Last season his K/9 dropped while his H/9 increased, which could suggest his stuff has gotten worse. However, since Worley is just 25 years old and hasn't dealt with any major injuries recently, that seems unlikely. The changes are likely attributable to, simply, bad luck. And while that may seem like an excuse, it's not. Opposing hitters managed to hit .351 on balls in play against Worley last season, which means more bloopers were falling in and more ground balls were finding seams. It's likely not a coincidence that the Phillies defense was below average as well. Worley won't be a number one starter, but he should be a solid #3 or #4 starter who the Twins control for three more seasons, at least. He's a good pitcher and a good acquisition. He should outproduce Ben Revere by himself.

Trevor May was a highly regarded prospect heading into the 2012 season, but he struggled a bit in AA, posting a 4.87 ERA in 150 innings. May has had control issues at every level, but his strikeout numbers have been very impressive so the control issues weren't a huge concern. His strikeout rate dropped to 9.1 in 2012, down from well over 11, although that's expected as he faces more experienced players. May was 22 years old in 2012, while the average hitter was 24.5 and the average pitcher was almost 25. May's ERA was almost a run over the league average, his BB rate was about a walk higher per 9 innings than league average, but he also averaged almost 2 K/9 more than league average. May allowed 22 home runs after allowing just 31 over his first three minor league seasons. Again, it's hard to know if that's simply bad luck or if May's going to continue to get knocked around as he gets to higher levels. However, as someone who was well under the league average age, and who had a track record of success at every other minor league stop, May's home runs and ERA are just as likely flukes as they are proof he's a bust. His stuff is clearly outstanding to rack up the strikeouts he has, but he'll need to learn to harness it more effectively to improve both his BB/9 and HR/9 rate. 

Terry Ryan deserves a ton of credit for the Ben Revere trade, even before any of the players play another game. What about the Denard Span trade?

The differing values placed on Denard Span and Ben Revere shows the financial aspect of trade value. Span's contract is certainly team friendly, as he makes $4.75MM in 2013, $6MM in 2014 and a team option in 2015 for $9MM. Revere, though, has just over 1 year of service time. He will make the league minimum, or very close to it, for both 2013 and 2014. The Phillies then control Revere for his three arbitration years, which will likely cost about $9MM or $10MM total barring some unforeseen breakout performance. That means the Phillies get 5 years of Ben Revere at a total cost of about $11MM, while the Nationals are getting 3 years out of Denard Span for $19.75MM. Span is clearly a better player at this point, but the years of control and salaries meant the Twins were able to actually get more in return for an inferior player. Don't let anyone tell you it's not about the money. It's always about the money.

The Twins received starting pitching prospect Alex Meyer from the Nationals for Span. Meyer was the former 23rd overall pick selected out of Kentucky, and he's been great in his short pro career. He's torn up the lower minors, as expected, but unlike Trevor May, Meyer has been about the same age as his competition, if not older, which makes his stats less noteworthy. Him excelling is better than him struggling, of course. His stuff is reportedly great, including a mid to high 90's fastball, so the high strikeout rates aren't necessarily going to disappear as Meyer moves up the minor league ladder. The Twins seem likely to start Meyer out in AA, and if all goes well I'd expect a possible mid-season promotion to AAA to try and get him ready for opening day 2014. A more realistic target date might be June of 2014, but we'll see how this year goes first. 

While I think the Twins could've gotten more for Span, it's clear the team's scouts think very highly of Meyer. I would imagine they project him as a number 1 starter in the future, at which point trading Span makes perfect sense. Ryan deserves praise as well for targeting hard throwing pitching prospects as opposed to the soft throwing pitchers of Twins' past.

I expect the Twins to bad in 2013, but not as bad as they have been. A 71 or 72 win season seems like a low guess, assuming everyone stays healthy, but that's a big assumption so I'll say the Twins win 71 games. 

Will that be enough to get Ron Gardenhire fired? I'm not sure. Despite Gardy's inability to grasp late inning concepts, I think he's a decent manager. He has the players respect, he's not terrible with the media, and well that's about it. I don't think very highly of baseball managers outside of a select few. Gardy is about middle of the pack in my opinion, so if the team wants to fire him after another terrible season, that's just fine. If they want to extend him because prior to three horrible seasons he led a great stretch for almost a decade, that's just fine too. I'm pretty indifferent when it comes to Ron Gardenhire.

Thanks to the trades this off-season and solid draft picks and international signings over the last few seasons, the team's rebuilding effort might result in an even better core than the successful teams of the early 2000's. The organization has elite offensive upside coupled with a handful of high upside starting pitchers and another top 5 pick this coming June. While the 90's (or the Royals) showed us that rebuilding can be a pain in the ass for years, the Twins seem to be on the right track thanks in large part to Terry Ryan moving back into the GM role. So, as always, blame Bill Smith.

Cot's Baseball Contracts was used for all salary data, all the credit to them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rick Spielman and Percy Harvin

After spending Monday and Tuesday calling for the firings of David Kahn and Tubby Smith, it seemed only fair to give credit where credit is due. Rick Spielman, Leslie Frazier and the rest of the Vikings front office did a great job in last year's draft, getting contributions from several rookies that helped carry them to the post-season.

Choosing Christian Ponder over Colin Kaepernick (and Ryan Mallett) in 2011 is a mistake that the team will likely regret for years to come. However, as important as the QB position is, teams still need to build a roster around a QB to make the playoffs. The Vikings managed to make the playoffs without a real NFL QB on their roster, which is a major accomplishment. A quick look at the team's draft class last season:

Matt Kalil was a pro bowler at left tackle, Harrison Smith is the team's best safety in a long long time (he's better than Robert Griffith was overall, already) and Josh Robinson did as solid as rookie corner backs are expected to do. Greg Childs was a big whiff, as he suffered a knee injury in training camp and will likely never be anywhere close to the player the Vikings drafted. Jarius Wright showed some flashes when the team deactivated Percy Harvin, and while I doubt he'll ever become a great player he should be decent out of the slot for the next few years. Rhett Ellison, Robert Blanton, Audie Cole and Trevor Guyton didn't do a whole lot, but Cole was solid on special teams and the other 3 were likely drafted as developmental players anyway. Blair Walsh put together quite possibly the best season ever by a kicker, making the pro bowl and converting an amazing 10 50+ yard field goals into points for the passing challenged Vikings.

The team appears likely to trade Percy Harvin this off-season, which is too bad, but not entirely surprising. As great as Harvin has been, especially last season, he's been somewhat of a problem for years. Fans were able to brush off reports of a heated argument with Brad Childress years ago because everyone just assumed Childress was an instigator at times and Percy simply gave him what he deserved. Fans weren't very high on Brad Childress, in case anyone forgot. But when it was reported that the Vikings may have deactivated Percy Harvin because of an argument in front of coaches and players with the usually calm Leslie Frazier and not because of his ankle injury, the writing was on the wall.

While most fans won't want to see Percy traded, myself included, Spielman and Frazier and company are the ones that have spent most of the last three years around Harvin. They're the only ones who really know the extent of the problems and the issues he might create if the team gives him the big money extension he's reportedly looking for. If the Vikings do trade Harvin, I don't expect the Vikings to be able to get a first round pick. As great as he's been, he only has one year left on his deal, is coming off of an injury, and likely will require big time money to extend.

In an ideal world the Vikings will keep Percy and continue to build a dynamic offense around Percy and Adrian Peterson, but as we all know, this isn't the ideal world. Expect to see Percy Harvin traded sometime before the draft, likely for a pair of third round picks, at best. If that happens it'll be unfortunate, but after the front office turned a 3-13 team into a 10-6 team with a solid draft, they get the benefit of the doubt at least for this season.

One silver lining of a Percy Harvin trade is that Ponder's stats will certainly get worse. Without the ability to throw a 1 yard screen pass to Harvin and have him run for 20 yards, Ponder's yardage and completion percentage will undoubtedly take a hit without Harvin around. That's a silver lining because Ponder clearly isn't the answer at QB, and it might take a poor showing from him for an entire season for the Vikings finally choose to move on and get a more talented player at that position.

Regardless, unlike in 2005 when a mediocre Vikings franchise traded Randy Moss for what turned out to be a pile of crap, I'll give the Vikings the benefit of the doubt. If they think they can build a winner by allocating Percy's extension money to other parts of the roster, and get multiple draft picks as well, then maybe it is the right decision. Expecting the Vikings to return to the playoffs next year is probably a pipe dream, but if Spielman and company can have another great draft, we might see them competing in the playoffs for years to come, Percy or no Percy.

Firing Tubby & Keeping In-State Talent

With the Gophers most recent loss at home to Illinois, it's clear that Tubby Smith needs to be fired at season's end. Sure, Smith has been considerably better than his predecessor, Dan Monson, but that's not saying much. The Gophers have had some of the strangest luck with their recruits transferring for random reasons ever since Tubby took over in 2008.

A big reason many Gopher fans don't want to see Tubby fired yet is because he's put in a lot of work trying to recruit in-state talent Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn, and those people feel that firing Tubby will put the Gophers behind the 8 ball as far as recruiting the two 5 star studs. If the Gophers could somehow manage to lock up both players, a starting backcourt comprised of two freshman phenoms would give them a great chance to win a Big 10 title.

However, Tubby doesn't have any past history to suggest he's the right man to keep the in state talent here. Tubby took over the Gophers a little before the 2008 recruits committed; I don't fault Tubby for failing to keep the players listed in 2008 because he really only got a few weeks to recruit them. However, we'll start in 2008 and go though 2012 and take a look at the in-state talent Tubby has let leave.


Top Minnesota prospects:

Jordan Taylor - Wisconsin
Jared Berggren - Wisconsin
Anthony Tucker - Iowa

Who Minnesota signed:

Ralph Sampson

Colton Iverson
Devoe Joseph
Paul Carter
Devron Bostick

Sampson never quite lived up to his potential, and Colton Iverson decided to transfer for his senior season, which just happens to be his best season by far. Iverson is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds in just over 28 minutes a game and has helped lead Colorado State to a 19-4 record. He would be a huge upgrade over Elliot Elliason this season; it's a shame Tubby and company couldn't keep him.

Joseph was kind of a head case and transferred to Oregon because he wanted to be in a faster paced offense, one that "allowed him to shoot more" despite the fact he was leading the Gophers in shot attempts per game. Paul Carter was a decent player before a family illness forced him to transfer closer to home, and Devron Bostick was simply terrible. Hindsight being 20/20 it would've been nice to land Iverson, Sampson, Berggren and Taylor for sure, with an argument to be made for Tucker or Paul Carter or Joseph.
Tucker was very good at Iowa in stretches before he got into trouble with the law enforcement several times for underage drinking, and it's at least possible he would've stayed out of trouble easier playing in Minnesota. Of course, with Tubby's history of past problem players, that seems unlikely.


Top Minnesota prospects:

Rodney Williams - Minnesota
Royce White - Minnesota, Iowa State
Trent Lockett - ASU, Marquette
Sam Dower - Gonzaga
Mike Broghammer - Notre Dame
Mike Bruesewitz - Wisconsin
Ethan Wragge - Creighton
Nate Wolters - South Dakota St

Who Minnesota signed:

Rodney Williams

Royce White
Trevor Mbakwe (JUCO)
Justin Cobbs

The 2009 class in Minnesota was very deep, and very solid. Mbakwe was undoubtedly a better signing at the time than anyone other than Williams or White, and Cobbs is becoming a solid point guard although he's already transferred out.

Tubby deserves some credit for the recruiting class itself, as all four players would've been key contributors for at least a season or two had they all stayed together. Rodney Williams remains one of the most underrated players in Gophers history, and he's been a very good and versatile player. Mbakwe's had his share of off the court issues and injuries, but he's been very good as well when he's been on the court.

Royce White was involved in a laptop theft situation at the U and eventually transferred to Iowa State, where he starred for one season before heading to the NBA. He was considered a top 10 talent but he fell to 16th overall because he's a head case, as evidenced by the fact he's finally reporting to the Rockets this week after months of hammering out mental health issues and treatments.

The biggest problem I have with Tubby's 2009 class is the same problem I have with him every other year: he signs a kid from California or another far away place, and neglects kids in his own backyard here in Minnesota. After one season, the kid is home sick and decides to transfer closer to home, mainly because the offense at the U is boring or because Tubby chooses to play 10 or 11 players every game and it cuts into the better players minutes.

By signing Cobbs over Wolters, Tubby has hurt the Gophers chances this season, 2013, of contending. If the team was to replace Maverick Ahanmisi with Nate Wolters, arguably the best scoring point guard in college basketball, I feel safe saying the team wouldn't have as many losses as it does. They'd likely be a top 10 team and quite possibly top 5.


Top Minnesota prospects:

Marshall Bjorklund - NDSU
Kevin Noreen - West Virginia

Who Minnesota signed:

Elliott Eliason
Mo Walker
Austin Hollins
Oto Osenieks

2010 was a down year for both Minnesota recruits and the Gophers recruiting class. Eliason hasn't been terrible, but Bjorklund has been far more efficient for North Dakota State. Walker and Osenieks continue to get playing time this season, but neither looks like even an average regular. Osenieks has good shooting form but never seems to make anything, and Mo Walker's skill set is lacking pretty much everything.

Austin Hollins has been a great signing, as he's developed into a very good player. He's the only player on the Gophers who seems to bring it every single night, and his defense makes him the Gophers best NBA prospect, even if mock drafts and such don't seem to agree yet. His game will translate to the next level a lot better than any other current Gophers, that's for sure.

Noreen's been decent for West Virginia, certainly better than Osenieks and Walker, which makes it a shame that Tubby went out of state for four players and only found one that can contribute on a consistent basis.


Top Minnesota prospects:

Joe Coleman - Minnesota
Ross Travis - Penn State

Who Minnesota signed:

Andre Hollins
Joe Coleman
Julian Welch

Another down year for Minnesota high school players, Tubby did well to sign Coleman, who to this point has been a better player than Ross Travis. Tubby seemed intent on bringing in multiple point guards, so picking Welch over Travis isn't a huge deal, but Welch hasn't been anything special. The Gophers should probably stop targeting JUCO point guards, it just doesn't seem to work out much for them.

Andre Hollins has obviously been a great signing, but he's a streaky player and he's also still learning how to be a point guard after playing almost exclusively as a shooting guard in high school. When Hollins is on, him and Austin are a great duo that complement each other almost perfectly. When he's off, the Gophers almost always lose, because Hollins backups at point guard are Julian Welch and Ahanmisi.


Top Minnesota prospects:

Siyani Chambers - Harvard

Who Minnesota signed:

Wally Ellenson
Charles Buggs

Siyani Chambers went to Harvard, and he's playing 38 minutes a game this season, averaging 13.5 points and 6 assists a game as a freshman. Chambers may not have even been attainable, because a lot of kids that can get in to Harvard will choose it regardless, but the Gophers by all accounts didn't even recruit him hard. He couldn't possibly be any worse than Ahanimisi or Welch, and as a freshman he'd have a lot more room to grow than either of those two. Trent Lockett also transferred from ASU, so the Gophers could have had him for one season instead of Ellenson or Buggs.

Ellenson and Buggs have contributed very little or nothing at this point, so it's possible both could become good players and make this class a good one. That's a few years away. But I think the smart thing to do would've been to offer Lockett one of the two scholarships considering the team was built to contend this season.

However, what's clear is that Tubby Smith doesn't seem to care about keeping the in-state talent around. He wants specific types of players to fit his system, which is a huge mistake for a college coach. When your roster is constantly changing, as it does in college sports, coaches need to be able to adjust their schemes to their players strengths from time to time. Tubby Smith has shown no ability to do that in his time as the Gophers coach.

If the team were simply to fire Tubby after what is likely to be at best a first round tournament loss again, they could move quickly to hire a big enough name (Shaka Smart?) that they won't really lose out on whatever slim chances they had of keeping Jones and Vaughn. Of course, if the plan is to hire Flip Saunders, then you might as well just keep Tubby in place, because Flip has struggled as a coach on every team that didn't have Kevin Garnett on it.

If the Gophers really want to show Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn that they should help change the culture of Gophers sports, the University needs to begin by making changes at the top. Tubby's time is over.

Monday, February 11, 2013

David Kahn Continues TWolves Sucktitude

Who is the worst organization in sports today? After decades of holding that honor, the Los Angeles Clippers aren't even the laughingstock in their own city anymore. Any team that's currently residing in Cleveland may have an argument currently, as the Browns, Indians and Cavs are all among their league's worst teams and have been for several years. The Charlotte Bobcats are terrible and have been since they came into the league in 2004, but nine years of futility isn't enough to qualify for the worst organization in sports, even if Michael Jordan's talent evaluating skills leave something to be desired.

In my opinion, it's the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since their inception in 1989, the team has employed ten different head coaches. Only one, Flip Saunders, finished his time in Minnesota with a winning record. The Timberwolves overall are just 731-1107 since they came into the league, good for a winning percentage of .398. The Wolves early struggles before they drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995 obviously contribute to that terrible winning percentage, but since the team traded KG in 2007, they've won just 122 games in six seasons, which is basically 20 wins a season. Even with a lockout shortened season mixed in, a 20 win average over a six year span after trading your franchise's only superstar qualifies as dysfunctional at best and  horrendous if we're being honest.

Glen Taylor has consistently shown he's incapable of hiring the right people at any moment, which begs the question: How could someone who's so terrible at making key hires for a huge organization get so rich in the first place? If all of these sports owners are so business savvy* that they can make enough money to purchase a sports team, why are they so bad at hiring a GM and coach? It'd be baffling, if these owners showed any inclination at being intelligent instead of opportunistic.

*That's sarcasm. I'd be willing to bet every single owner in sports that "earned" their money and didn't inherit it screwed over numerous "smaller" people on their way to the top.

Not only has Taylor failed to make a significantly successful hire in his entire history as the Wolves owners, he's managed to alienate their only star player in order to keep his friend Kevin McHale on the payroll. In 2007, after the Wolves had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons in Kevin Garnett's prime** Taylor chose to keep McHale and trade KG because the team was afraid KG might sign elsewhere after the 2008 season. Of course, KG never wanted to leave 'Sota, he just wanted McHale to be fired. Instead, the Wolves made arguably the worst trade in NBA history.

**How do you put together such a poor cast of players around Kevin Garnett that the team, in the MIDDLE OF HIS PRIME, failed to make the playoffs for three straight seasons. KG will go down as one of the top 10 players in NBA history, or close to it by the time he's done playing. To watch a team waste a transcendent talent like KG year after year was frustrating enough; but to watch them trade him away was even worse.

The team landed Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, two first round picks and cash from Boston when they traded Kevin Garnett. As bad as the trade looks initially, it gets even worse. One of the two picks was an unprotected pick the Wolves had traded to Boston years earlier in the Ricky Davis-Wally Sczerbiak trade. McHale had wanted to reacquire the pick badly, as the team was clearly going to be terrible and he didn't want to give up a top 10 pick. Both first round picks were used in 2009--the Wolves selected Jonny Flynn at 6th overall and Wayne Ellington at 28th overall.

Gerald Green barely played in Minnesota before a D-League stint revived his career and even now he's not even an average bench player for the Pacers. Al Jefferson put up nice numbers for a few seasons, but his efficiency was spotty at best and his defense was terrible. Once the team added Kevin Love, another mostly offensive player, it was clear the two players couldn't work together because the defense would be horrible.

Telfair and Gomes were bench players for a team that was among the league's worst teams each season they were here. The Wolves traded Flynn to Houston for Brad Miller and a 2013 first round pick, although the pick is lottery protected through 2015, at which point the Wolves would simply get a 2016 second round pick. The Rockets likely will make the playoffs in either 2014 or 2015, if not this year, so that should end up as a first round pick, but it's still a terrible use of the #6 pick.

Why Glen Taylor chose to hire David Kahn is beyond me. Obviously, NBA commissioner David Stern and Taylor are close and have been for many years. It was rumored at the time of the hire that Stern had pushed Kahn on Taylor, although it seems more likely Stern recommended Kahn and Taylor's foolish self gave him an interview and was wrongly impressed. At this point, Stern has been rumored to have recommended two major hires in the last decade plus: Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner who has become the epitome of what not to do as a commissioner, was a former Stern pal who got hired by the NHL because of his work with the NBA commissioner's office. And David Kahn. Mr. Stern, please never recommend me for anything.

Kahn also angered the team's only franchise player, Kevin Love, by refusing to offer him a maximum, five-year contract extension and instead offering a four-year contract with a player termination option that could make it three seasons. Fans assumed Kahn was doing it to save the 5-year extension for Rubio, since you can only use it on one player's expiring rookie contract at a time. However, Kahn and the Timberwolves front office mentioned several times this off-season that Ricky Rubio will likely get the same extension offer Love did, or in other words Kahn is giving our two best players opt out clauses far before he needs to for no good reason.

The Love debacle is far less forgivable, because the Wolves have shown how difficult it is to draft a franchise caliber player even if you're in the lottery basically every season. As a franchise, when you finally luck out and find a player that can be the focal point of the team, you should do everything in your power to keep that player as long as possible.

Love's opt-out clause coincides perfectly with the Los Angeles Lakers payroll emptying out; As it is now the Lakers would easily be able to offer Love a maximum deal, even if they resign Dwight Howard. That's assuming Kobe Bryant retires, or takes a pay cut, but if Kobe's making the maximum and Howard chooses to leave, Love could simply be Howard's replacement in the near future. It's no secret Love is quite fond of LA, as he went to UCLA despite being from Oregon. He lives in LA during the off-season, and if you were to look at the Lakers and Timberwolves from an objective viewpoint, it's easy to understand why Kevin Love might be more inclined to play for the Lakers.

That's not to say Love wouldn't stay; he's said several times he was angered that he didn't get the five year extension, and he mentioned this past week how much he likes Minnesota and how much he wants to stay. The team, however, needs to win and win soon. Injuries have turned this hopeful season into yet another lottery-bound one, and while that's not Kahn's fault, his inability to build a team is alarming. Trading a mid first round draft pick for a proven commodity like Chase Budinger makes sense if the team is 100% going to contend, but to give up four years of a possible cheap role player for one season of Budinger lacks the foresight necessary to build a consistent winner. Add in the fact that Budinger got hurt and played less than 1/3 of a season for the Wolves, he's a free agent and the Wolves probably can't afford to keep him, and you realize how short sighted the trade actually was.

Kahn has traded Corey Brewer for Anthony Randolph, and while Brewer was a colossal bust in Minnesota, he's become a decent high energy bench wing in Denver. The Wolves could certainly use a defender at the 2 guard this year--especially since they didn't bother to keep Randolph. Outside of trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for the 5th overall pick, which became Rubio, it's tough to find anything Kahn did well, and even that is probably more Flip Saunders fault (he was the Wizards new coach, intent on contending) than David Kahn's genius.

The Timberwolves have been a winning team in just seven of their first twenty-three seasons, have a worse playoff winning percentage than regular season winning percentage (.362 to .398) and haven't been to the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season when they lost in the Western Conference Finals. Despite picking inside the top 5 a handful of times since then as well as having several other first round draft picks, Wolves fans continue to be exposed to simply bad basketball teams. Glen Taylor has mentioned he will sell the majority ownership in the Wolves over the next few years, and that's great news. There will be a clause that requires the team to stay in Minnesota (according to Taylor) so since the team can't move, pretty much any owner would be an upgrade over Taylor.

However, before Taylor sells the team, he needs to make some tough decisions this off-season. The team needs to fire David Kahn, and for the first time in franchise history, it needs to make the correct hire for a key front office position. If Kahn stays, we should expect to see Love leave in the near future and the Wolves to continue to botch lottery picks.

With everything that's wrong with the Wolves, and has been for quite some time, there's really no logical reason to continue to cheer for this team. They stink, plain and simple. But that doesn't matter--regardless of the team's inability to be successful at anything, I'll always be a Wolves fan, for better or, as is often the case, for worse.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reuben's Rule: Why We Get To Keep Foul Balls

Have you ever wondered why fans at Major League Baseball stadiums are allowed to keep foul balls and home runs and anything else they catch? It's been going on around baseball for as long as anyone living can remember, so it's one of those things that people don't question.

Fans get to keep foul balls at baseball games, that's accepted in our sports culture. But rarely do you see an NBA fan allowed to keep a basketball if it goes rolling into the crowd, or do you see a football fan catching a made field goal and holding onto it for the whole game. The ball generally is given back to someone who will put the ball back in play at some point.

Obviously the amount of money professional baseball teams make allows them to be more charitable with their baseballs, but owners aren't known to be especially liberal with their spending. So why do we get to keep the balls without any kind of fuss from team owners or league commissioners? Simple. Reuben Berman.

According to The Dickson Baseball Dictionaryon May 16, 1921, Reuben Berman caught a foul ball at the Polo Grounds and refused to give the ball back. He was ejected from the stadium, but he sued the Giants for mental and physical distress. He won the court case as well as $100, but more importantly precedent had been set in the legal system. Some teams at the time were already letting fans keep foul balls, like the Cubs, but now that the legal system had spoken, there was no argument league owners could make to make fans give back the balls.

So the next time you catch a foul ball at a baseball game, other than making sure you give it to the nearest kid, remember Reuben Berman too.


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