Back in April I called for Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau to step down as head coach--but not necessarily as president. The Jimmy Butler trade provides additional evidence of his ability as a team-builder, and his inbounds “plays” provide additional evidence of his inability to coach offense.

Thibodeau Spits in the Face of Evolution, Again

Good coaches get their guys good looks on inbounds plays and before the end of quarters. Thibs doesn't; he is not a schemer. That's why he needed Teague instead of Rubio. He wouldn't know what to do on offense without players who can create their own shots. He did build a playoff team playing mostly isolation offense with very little ball movement, though. It’s the second time he’s spit in the face of evolution and managed to hold his own in the ensuing fight. The first time was when he dared to win with defense as teams made it more difficult to defend by spreading the floor and exploiting the three-point shot.

The Timberwolves still aren’t moving the ball. They were 23rd in passes made and received last season and are 23rd again this season. They aren’t playing particularly faster either. The Timberwolves had the second-slowest pace on offense last year and are third-slowest this season. So they’re still not moving the ball or running the floor, which means they have to be shooting more threes, right? That they are.

Thibodeau Finally Adapts, A Little

Thibodeau knew coming into the season what his team needed to improve. Minnesota needed three-point shooting. The Timberwolves were dead last in three-pointers attempted (22.5) and made (8) last season because their best three-point shooter happened to be their center, and the only other player connecting on more than 40 percent of his threes attempted less than three per game.

Thibs addressed the three-point shooting by adding Anthony Tolliver instead of retaining Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica is hitting more than half of his threes this season while Tolliver plays less and less, but given the lack of payroll flexibility, there wasn’t much more Thibs could do. And no one was up in arms over this deal. Bjelica was about to move back home and play in Serbia before Sacramento came calling.

Despite Bjelica finding his stroke in Sacramento, this season the Wolves are 21st in three-pointers attempted and 16th in three pointers made, which is directly related to the trade of Jimmy Butler and wouldn’t be possible had Thibodeau taken any of the other rumored offers from Miami or Houston. Only the 76ers had what the Timberwolves needed to win now, and Thibodeau managed to get it.

Last season Minnesota didn’t have one player average more than two made threes per game. This year they have one averaging three made threes per game, and it happens to be 2017-18 All-Defensive First Team honoree, Robert Covington. Covington is the very reason why I didn’t get bent out of shape like this guy when I heard of the Butler trade.

Covington’s under contract for this season and three more at a reasonable rate (just under $12 million annually on average). And not only is he an All-Defensive First-Teamer with length who can defend both guards and forwards and force turnovers. He takes a ton of threes and hits about 39 percent of them. He’s exactly what the Wolves lacked with Butler (three-point shooting) while providing Butler-like defense but with more length. And Minnesota got the bench version of Covington in Dario Saric, too.

Saric can’t defend guards for long, but he can assist Towns in the paint on forwards and centers. He too hit on 39 percent of his three-point attempts last season, but has struggled from long range thus far this season. Still, he provides additional length and depth Minnesota needed to alter shots.

Thibodeau Really Did Get the Best Deal for Butler

On the offensive end, Butler isn’t much help beyond the arc, and wasn’t expected to be when he was acquired from Chicago with Justin Patton for Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn. It’s only fitting that Patton, who’s played four minutes in the NBA due to foot injuries, was shipped out to Philadelphia along with Butler to start anew.

So LaVine, Markkanen, and Dunn basically became Covington, Saric, and a future second-round pick. More importantly, the Timberwolves rid themselves of a cancer that cost them games early in the season. Butler missed all but one practice of the preseason before posting an effective field goal percentage (EFG%) of 41.3 in Minnesota’s season opener at San Antonio. Butler’s EFG% was 51.2 in 2017-18. The Wolves lost by four. Butler then sat out a four-point loss at Dallas that saw 276 combined points scored in the second game of a back-to-back for Minnesota. Butler’s defense was missed as the tired legs of Karl-Anthony Towns played more than 33 minutes a day after playing more than 34.    

Butler was meant to be a sort of security blanket for Towns. His ability to stick with just about anyone on the perimeter meant fewer drives into the paint that forced Towns to move his slow feet and close out on the ball handler. In those situations, Towns is always going to be in a pickle because of his footspeed. If he commits to the ball handler early to make up for his lack of quickness, then his man is wide open under the rim, leaving little chance help could come to close the passing lane. If he commits too late, he doesn’t block or alter the shot. But that was before the long arms of Covington and Saric were swiping at ball handlers driving the lane. Fewer drives are actually getting to Towns, allowing him to avoid that lose-lose decision he has to time and defend perfectly to win. Covington alone is averaging three steals per game to go with his almost three threes made per game.

The deal Thibodeau swung with Philly isn’t just the deal he wanted most, but the deal the Timberwolves needed most. He got an upgrade on defense given the remaining roster, which is incredible considering Butler’s defensive prowess, but he also added three-point shooting to a team that needed it most. He got another three-and-D guy in Saric at an even more affordable rate than Covington’s (owed roughly $6 million over the next two years), and a draft pick to boot.

The team chemistry has also visibly improved. Covington is a natural leader, but a soft-spoken one who might connect better with the similarly silent assassins Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Most importantly, Thibs is playing the game his way again (offensive schemes optional). Since Butler was traded to Philadelphia, the Timberwolves have the NBA’s best defensive rating, climbing over Dallas by holding San Antonio to 89 points and tying their third-best margin of victory in franchise history with a 39-point win. The 76ers are 25th in defensive rating.

In short, Robert Covington is the most perfect replacement Thibodeau could possibly find for Butler, both on the court and in the locker room. Thibodeau really did get the best deal for Butler, but I’m still not convinced he should be coaching offense. We’ll let him live until the Trade Deadline, though. It’s the Minnesota nice thing to do.

Published in Sports

As a Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, I have plenty of personal experience when it comes to overpaying for season ticket packages because of lofty playoff hopes. This year, though, it was the Twins and not the Timberwolves that put a paltry product on the field, even with Jimmy Butler inevitably being traded before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 7 at 3 p.m. EST.

The $539 I paid for a 10-game, flex season ticket package for the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 season was a relative steal compared to the $760 I paid for a 20-game, flex season ticket package with the Twins’ for the 2018 season. Neither is the cheapest season ticket package available that assures you playoff ticket priority, but sometimes the seats are the only thing that make a Twins game worth watching, whereas the Timberwolves have an ample amount of visiting teams with players and even coaches worth watching.

Picking the games I’ll attend each season is like a holiday. I determined which dozen games I wanted to see moments after the NBA schedule was released, and I chose most of my Twins games on the same day. But instead of cutting Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks from my 10-game package, I was choosing baseball games based on promotions like Dollar Dog Day (Wednesdays) and $5 Kids’ Meal Day (Sundays). Here are the games I chose (number of tickets in parentheses) to see during the Timberwolves’ 2018-19 impending dumpster fire sale of a season.

Oct. 29, Lakers (1)

Nov. 14, New Orleans (1)

Dec. 1, Boston (1)

Jan. 6, Lakers (1)

Jan. 18, San Antonio (1)

Feb. 13, Houston (2)

March 29, Golden State (1)

March 30, Philadelphia (1)

April 1, Portland (1)

April 9, Toronto (1)

The NBA has so much to offer in opposing teams that choosing to attend 10 of 41 home games (24.4 percent) is easier than finding a similar percentage (24.7 percent) of baseball home games worth watching. Seeing LeBron James twice is a no-brainer, as is Anthony Davis once. The Brad Stephens-coached Boston Celtics are absolutely worth the price of admission regardless of whom they’re playing, as are Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs. James Harden and Chris Paul visiting in a rematch of last season’s playoff matchup I had to see at least once. Golden State as a whole is another no-brainer. That roster could feature five All-Stars if DeMarcus Cousins returns to form. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are worth watching, as is Kawhi Leonard, regardless of whom they’re playing. Portland is very well-coached, Damian Lillard is fun to watch, and an April 1 matchup could have playoff implications. Even if the Jimmy Butler-less Wolves aren’t in the playoff picture, they could play spoilers down the stretch. I even got a free ticket to the home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which thanks to Jimmy Butler drama, was a must-see game.

There aren’t as many premium games in baseball. In 2018, I saw just about every premium game the Twins played, including every game they played at home against the eventual champions, the Boston Red Sox (3). I saw every game they played at home against the American League runners-up, the New York Yankees (3). I also saw six (6) of the seven games the AL Central Champion Cleveland Indians played at Target Field (two Twins home games were played in Puerto Rico). Add a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels and baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, and I still have eight games left to choose. (I had tickets to all three games against Houston at Target Field, but that was through a separate ticket deal for April games.)

My hypothesis is that the NBA offers fans of its worst teams the best value when it comes to their cheapest season ticket package because of the vast array of entertaining and exceptional teams, players, and coaches visiting. But let’s do the research and find out the best value for the cheapest season ticket packages for sports’ worst teams.

NHL

Ottawa Senators, 10 games, $600

The Senators were the second-worst NHL team in the 2017-18 season, and at $60 per seat per game, their cheapest season ticket package leaves a lot to be desired. This might simply be due to the Ottawa market, which is no doubt more interested in the sport of hockey than that of the worst team in the NHL last season, the Buffalo Sabres. While Ottawa doesn’t have an NFL team to compete with the Senators, neither does Buffalo, really.

Buffalo Sabres: 5 games, $183

This is a smoking hot deal to see five premium games you can customize. I chose late season matchups against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Washington. Those are fantastic matchups featuring the best offensive players in hockey: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews (who should be healthy by March 20), and the Stanley Cup Champion Alexander Ovechkin.

The Sabres also offer the smallest percentage of games (12.2 percent) you can purchase to qualify for playoff ticket priority. Buffalo’s other awful pro sports team isn’t nearly as friendly to your pocketbook and won’t even sell you a season ticket package if you live outside Western New York.

NFL

Buffalo Bills: 10 games (2 preseason), $400

In a live chat with Buffalo Bills season ticket representative Sarah Beth, I was told the cheapest season ticket package was $400 for this season, but they are no longer selling them. I could purchase single game tickets, but not a season ticket package for next season.

Cleveland Browns: 4 games, $200

As of Wednesday, October 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST, you could see MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes and the equally electrifying Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt along with the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs running Andy Reid’s schemes for $50. Then you could catch Julio Jones making Matt Ryan look better than he is for $50. Then Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey visit Cleveland, and the final game of your four-game, season ticket package ensuring playoff ticket priority is capped by another wide receiver making his quarterback look better than he is. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton come to town.

Even though most of the games won’t be close, you could argue that four of the most entertaining players playing professional football right now (Mahomes, Newton, Jones, and Green) could all be seen for $200. The Cavaliers couldn’t do better than that simply because they’re a worse team than their crosstown, gridiron counterparts.

NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers: 1 game, $500

The Cavs aren’t selling season ticket packages anymore, and the sales rep couldn’t look back at prices from games already played. But if you want to know how much it would cost to see LeBron visit with his Lakers from the cheapest seats in Quicken Loans Arena, it’s $460 to $500. And that wouldn't even qualify you for playoff ticket priority.

Atlanta Hawks: 11 games, $448

For the 10 best games on the Hawks’ schedule, including the Golden State Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers, plus one more for free at a total under $450, Atlanta offers its fans immense value. For $91 less than I paid to see the same opposing teams visit the newly renovated Target Center, Hawks’ fans can secure their playoff ticket priority, but more importantly, member access to the soon-to-be-renovated State Farm Arena, featuring suites with golf simulators and a barbershop where you can get a shave and a haircut while watching the game.

MLB

Baltimore Orioles: 13 games, $228

The Orioles’ Sunday season ticket package featured a game against Boston, the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Angels, but also featured games against Texas, Tampa Bay (2), Miami, and Minnesota. There’s value in allowing fans to pick the games they want to see, but paying less than $18 per game is relatively affordable. The Twins’ “Pick 10” package runs $220 and features just three premium games. Baltimore’s Sunday package features four premium games for $8 more.

Miami Marlins: 10 games, $130

The Marlins’ “Variety,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday” plans run at least $130, but I could only find a single seat in the cheapest section for the weekend plans. The variety plan, which most likely provides admission to the best games, was not available in any of the cheaper sections of Marlins Park. If we assume, however, that Miami’s Sunday package offers a similar percentage of premium games as Baltimore’s 13-game package and Minnesota’s 10-game, flex plan, then we can expect to see three premium matchups out of the 10. At $13 per seat per game, it doesn’t get any cheaper to secure playoff ticket priority in any league, but you have to watch the Marlins. At least they got rid of that hideous home run sculpture, though.

Ranking the Cheapest Season Ticket Packages for Sports’ Worst Teams

  1. Buffalo Sabres: 5 of 5 premium games at $36.60 per game

The price per game might not be as low as baseball or basketball can offer, but the freedom to choose your own games ensuring every one of them is a premium matchup makes Buffalo a go-to town for hockey. My editor in Toronto, Dan Szczepanek, said trips to Buffalo are a Toronto tradition. “It was always cheaper to drive two hours to Buffalo to watch the Leafs and Sabres, get a hotel, and spend a few days than it was to see the Leafs in Toronto.” The fact that you can establish playoff ticket priority for a measly $183 makes me want to buy a Buffalo Sabres season ticket package, and both of my teams are in the Western Conference.

  1. Atlanta Hawks: 11 of 11 premium games at $40.73 per game

Again, the percentage of premium games offered in the Hawks’ cheapest season ticket package make up for the higher price point per seat. Even if the Hawks operate the same way the Timberwolves do and make your free game the home opener, that was against Dallas and third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Luka Doncic, whom Atlanta traded for Trae Young at fifth overall and a future first-rounder. If you haven’t seen Doncic play, I assure you, he and Deandre Jordan make for premium entertainment.

  1. Cleveland Browns: 4 of 4 premium games at $50 per game

It’s not all bad in Cleveland. Even with LeBron leaving and both the Browns and Cavs firing their head coaches in a 24-hour time period, you can still get premium entertainment from the teams and players visiting FirstEnergy Stadium at an affordable price. Even while Buffalo was in town, it would have cost twice as much for the same seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.

  1. Ottawa Senators: 10 of 10 premium games at $60 per game

Ottawa is the last of our worst teams to provide incredible value when it comes to choosing the quality of opposing teams in their season ticket package. At $60 per game, it’s a bit pricey per seat, but the assurance of seeing the best opposing players in the NHL makes $60 worth every penny.

  1. Miami Marlins: 3 premium games out of 10 at $13 per game

While just 30 percent of your games are against playoff-caliber competition, you’re paying $13 to see a baseball game. You can’t get a beer and a hot dog at a ballgame for $13.

  1. Baltimore Orioles: 4 premium games out of 13 at $17.54 per game

While the Orioles’ cheapest season ticket package has a marginally higher percentage of premium games than Miami’s, the $17.54 price point per seat is more than it ought to be given their .290 winning percentage last season. The beauty of Camden Yards can’t compensate for the collosal incompetence of baseball played by Orioles at Oriole Park.

  1. Buffalo Bills: 2 premium games out of 10 at $40 per game

Since preseason games can’t be considered premium games, and the Bills are so bad the best game on their schedule annually is a visit by Tom Brady and the Patriots, there’s really nothing to like about being a Bills season ticket holder. The Jaguars were the other “premium” game on the Bills’ schedule this season, and we’ve seen how far they’ve fallen.

Seems my hypothesis was wrong. The NHL, not the NBA, provides the best value to fans of its worst teams when it comes to their season ticket offerings. The NBA is a close second, however, and the Cleveland Browns coming in third was a pleasant surprise. Baseball and the Buffalo Bills, however, have a long way to go to make their cheapest season ticket packages more appealing to fans of the sports’ worst teams.

Published in Money
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My First Love, Basketball, Has Returned

I’ve only just realized that I’ve never been a fan of any National Basketball Association (NBA) team, but simply a fan of fun basketball. The Minnesota Timberwolves helped me realize this by playing the least fun basketball I’ve ever seen on Friday night, while the Milwaukee Bucks repeatedly made me smile and laugh. My first love, basketball, has returned.

I gave up professional basketball for a long time after Michael Jordan retired a second time in 1999, but I never stopped watching Duke University men’s basketball. I’ve been a fan of Duke University men’s basketball for as long as I can remember. And I wasn’t a bandwagon fan like I was with the Minnesota Twins, with whom I took an interest because of a chubby, gleeful center fielder who carried his team to a World Series Championship in 1991.

Even though the Duke Blue Devils won it all in 1991 and got there on the back of Christian Leattner’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” I attribute by Duke fandom to my aunt’s indoctrination of me. She was a campus dispatcher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and hated it, so she sent me a postcard featuring an overhead look of the Duke University campus surrounded by the Duke Forest. I think I checked their academic standards and immediately wanted to attend after high school, but when I first witnessed the energy at Cameron Indoor on television, I was hooked.

I was a nerd who was always a better coach than player, so I appreciated the idea of smart kids beating the talented kids with schemes and heart. I was bringing up the rear in the top 10 percent of my high school class of 88 graduates, so I’m relatively smart given where I grew up. My best friends were the two smartest kids in the state. But when I watched the 1991-92 Blue Devils, it felt like I was meant to go there. I didn’t have a very good concept of my family’s fiscal situation, however.

So while I relentlessly rooted for the Chicago Bulls of the ’90s, it was because they were so fun to watch. They played my kind of basketball—above the rim and in the paint on offense, and physical on defense. That’s why I came back to the NBA in 2009, when Derrick Rose arrived on the scene as Rookie of the Year, then All-Star, then youngest MVP ever. But I didn’t come back because of Rose; I came back because the Bulls were holding teams to under 90 points with physical defense.

Besides Michael Jordan’s final game at Target Center, it was Tom Thibodeau who got me watching the NBA for the first time in six years. It was Tom Thibodeau who brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves and got me to spend money on a 10-game, season ticket package. And it’s Tom Thibodeau who now has me watching anyone but the Timberwolves.

I had already put down a $250 deposit to retain my season ticket package with the Timberwolves, but it wasn’t difficult to find 10 games I wanted to watch. In the NBA, there are enough athletic freaks to go around that aren’t playing for the Timberwolves and would be worth seeing. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one. Antetokounmpo alone, scoring just 15 points, made the $80 I paid to sit a little lower than I sat when Jordan played his last game in Target Center worth every penny. That and seeing Sterling Brown get into the game and score some points. His jersey was the first NBA jersey I ever bought, not for his play on the court, but because of the way he handled himself when questioned and then tased by Milwaukee police for parking in handicapped spaces. Despite a vast Milwaukee crowd, I was the only one in the building proudly sporting Brown’s jersey.

LeBron James is obviously another one of those athletic freaks worth seeing regardless of your team’s ability, and the Los Angeles Lakers visit Target Center twice this season. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are another two. Anthony Davis another. Joel Embiid is another. James Harden another. Kawhi Leonard. Kyrie Irving and his coach Brad Stevens make the list. Speaking of coaches worth paying to see scheme, Gregg Popovich is one. And with all the hoopla over Jimmy Butler’s trade request, the Timberwolves’ home opener against the lowly, LeBron-less Cavaliers was must-see. That’s 10 games worth watching regardless of whether Jimmy Butler or anyone else plays for the Timberwolves.

Now I’m even planning a basketball/ski trip to Utah during the first round of the NBA Playoffs. I don’t expect the Timberwolves to be playing Utah, and couldn’t care less who does. I like Utah’s game. They play pretty good defense. I also like the Lakers’ game. They score all the points they can in the paint and as fast as they can to make up for their collective inability to shoot the three. It’s exactly what the Timberwolves should be doing, but Tom Thibodeau’s in the way. I won’t let it stop me from enjoying my newfound love of fun basketball, and I don't even like the evolution of the game via the exploitation of the three-point line.

Published in Sports

When I first looked at the Minnesota Timberwolves schedule when it was released, I figured there was no way I’d want to see the Timberwolves’ home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James leaving for Los Angeles. Even with a free ticket, I figured I’d skip the home opener and take whatever I could get for the ticket, if anything at all. Now the home opener might be the must-see game of the year, and perhaps the last game worth seeing.

“The Dumpster Fire”

The televised circus that has been the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise history reached soap operatic status when the show’s star, Jimmy Butler, requested a trade on Sept. 18, dictating the teams for which he’d prefer to play and a date by which he’d like the deal done in a meeting with Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations, Tom Thibodeau. Butler’s dumping of his longtime partner in basketball crimes (and crimes against basketball) might have come as a shock to Thibodeau, but not to anyone watching at home. Butler was giving Thibodeau all the signals; he just was blind to them.

Butler is a free agent when he waives his player option after this season and will likely sign the final max deal of his NBA career (he’s 29). But Butler stands to make the most money with whichever team is paying him at the end of this season, so he obviously doesn’t think the Timberwolves are a championship-caliber team now or maybe ever. Given Golden State’s addition of DeMarcus Cousins, Houston’s addition of Carmelo Anthony, and the Lakers’ addition of LeBron, he’s probably right. Things don’t look promising for any other Western Conference team either, but at least the Timberwolves with Butler are ahead of those other teams.

Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus last season, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). After Butler’s injury the Wolves were 19th in net rating (-1.0), so to say Butler’s valuable to the Wolves would be an understatement. He’s invaluable, which is why Thibodeau is having such a hard time finding what he perceives to be a fair trade. Butler has allowed Thibodeau to not only minimize the defensive deficiencies of the young Towns and Wiggins, but hide his own offensive incompetencies. The Wolves took more contested shots than any team in the NBA last season and attempted the second fewest wide open shots.

Thibodeau isn’t putting his players in positions to succeed on offense; he’s relying on players to create their own scoring opportunities and always has. His dependence on Derrick Rose, trading of Ricky Rubio, a premiere facilitator on a team with three, top-flight scoring options, and his head-scratching acquisition of Jeff Teague, a score-first guard on a team with those same three scoring options ahead of him, are indicative of Thibodeau’s disinterest in offensive strategizing while the rest of the league enjoys an offensive evolution. It would be like seeing the earliest humans figure out upright walking for the first time and not only refusing to follow suit, but continue resisting after seeing the obvious advantages of having hands free to hold things like tools.

If championships aren’t part of the benefits package teams can offer Butler in contract negotiations, why wouldn’t he play where he wants to play for as much money as he can make? One thing Butler’s made pretty clear is that Minnesota isn’t where he wants to play with what’s left of his prime. I sensed this when I saw how much he was enjoying California during the offseason. Minnesota weather during basketball season is enough to make most any employee consider relocation, whether they’re playing a game for a living or waiting tables. Unfortunately for Timberwolves fans, the weather this winter won’t be as cold as Butler’s relationships with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

The feud between Butler and Towns has long been alleged and finally confirmed. Butler’s made it pretty clear that Towns and Wiggins are not the players with whom he wants to play for the rest of his prime years. calling Towns and Wiggins soft after a climactic clubbing of the Timberwolves’ first team while scrimmaging with the third team. And I don’t think Butler’s wrong.

The Haves and Have-nots of Basketball

In basketball just as in life, there are haves and have-nots. Those born into money don’t know what it’s like without it, and those without don’t forget what it took to make it without money. The same goes for athletic talent. Those with exceptional talent never know what it’s like to live without it, and those without talent never forget what it took to live without it. Towns and Wiggins are haves; Butler is a have not.  

There aren’t many NBA players of Butler’s caliber who had to work harder and longer than Butler to get where they are today. Not even Michael Jordan, who was famously cut from his high school team, had a more difficult path to NBA superstardom. Butler didn’t have LeBron’s build or talent to enter the league out of high school; he didn’t even have the game for NCAA Division I basketball. After a year at Tyler Junior College he transferred to Marquette, where he spent another three years honing his skills. Then, after the Bulls drafted him with the final selection of the first round in the 2011 NBA Draft, he didn’t play in an NBA game until Jan. 1, 2012, with his first start coming 80 games later. He was already 25 years old when he was first named an All-Star. As of this writing, Towns is 22, and Wiggins is 23.

Obviously things came a lot easier for Towns and Wiggins relative to Butler, and Butler’s probably frustrated that a couple of gifted kids who haven’t put in the work he has are already earning max money. But he’s definitely frustrated that they aren’t meeting his demands when it comes to effort and intensity. He might be demanding more of his teammates than anyone else in the league, but so did Michael Jordan. Butler just doesn’t have the rings to justify his expectations for his teammates, and frankly, with this generation, I don’t know that rings would be convincing either.

Who’s to Blame?

Towns and Wiggins might think Butler’s demands are unrealistic—even unhealthy—but making youngsters uncomfortable and challenging them physically and mentally in practice prepares them for in-game adversity. You learn a lot about yourself when faced with adversity, but you can only learn to overcome it if you embrace it. Towns and Wiggins don’t seem to be the adversity-embracing types.

"Every time I get switched out onto you, you pass it,” he said of Towns in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. When faced with adversity in the form of Jimmy Butler, Towns and Wiggins are passers; they avoid the adversity. It’s unfortunate for fans of Minnesota Timberwolves basketball that Towns and Wiggins aren’t willing to be led by Butler because what they need in order to get what they want are Butler’s lessons in leadership they’ve dismissed. They aren’t going to get what they need from anyone else, and what they want—to lead themselves—is more unrealistic than Butler’s expectations of them.

Regardless, Butler, Towns, and Wiggins are still, as of this writing, on the same team. But when the Cavaliers visit Target Center for the home opener, I urge Timberwolves fans in attendance to support their team. Booing Jimmy Butler during pregame introductions is not going to make him change his mind about playing in Minnesota, and even if nothing will, he’s not responsible for turning the Timberwolves franchise into the butt of a basketball joke. If you’re going to boo someone on Friday, boo Tom Thibodeau, because the guy who hired him, owner Glen Taylor, won’t be announced.

Published in Sports

Each week at Foul Play-by-Play (follow the link to listen to the audio) we will review the week’s cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports for a sports talk radio show, eventually airing online and on GCNLive radio affiliates. Here are your top law-related sports headlines and cheats of the week for May 11-17, 2018.

Headlines Audio: Legal Sports Gambling and Domestic Violence

Cheats of the Week Audio: Rafael Palmeiro, Robinson Cano, and Mark Ingram

Headlines

The Supreme Court Allows States to Determine Legality of Sports Betting

The Supreme Court struck down the federal law prohibiting state-sponsored sports betting after almost a six-year legal battle. States can now decide whether to allow or disallow sports gambling, with 20 states having already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.

New Jersey expects to have its sportsbooks up and running before the start of the NBA Finals, but tribal casinos could theoretically open sportsbooks immediately because they are their own sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation of New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible.

Tribal casinos in rural America have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision, because sports gambling could actually cut into the profits of urban, tribal casinos by moving money from most profitable gaming machines to less profitable sportsbooks. Setting up a sportsbook is also expensive, especially an online sportsbook, which gamblers will demand. The cautious approach of urban, tribal casinos to open sportsbooks could allow rural, tribal casinos to be first to market in the American online sportsbook industry. But your state, Montana, has long been against sports gambling. It’s one of nine states prohibiting residents from betting on fantasy sports.

While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.

New Detroit Lions Head Coach Defends his Innocence 22 Years Later

Newly hired coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was forced to once again express his innocence when Robert Snell of The Detroit News published a story about sexual assault allegations brought against him that resulted in an indictment but no trial for Patricia 22 years ago. Patricia’s accuser declined to testify citing “stress” as a reason, but Patricia and his attorney vehemently denied the abuse ever occurring.

As a former journalist, I’ll just say that Robert Snell of The Detroit News isn’t starting his work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions on the right foot. I had the difficulty of covering a similar story involving a high school golf coach with an alleged history of sexual harassment of female golfers. But when that teacher/coach was first hired by the district, no story was written about his alleged past because no charges were brought against him and his former district sealed all details of the allegations from the public as part of the terms of his termination.

No charges were brought against the coach the second time, either, but despite that, my employer wanted me to write a story based solely on unsubstantiated allegations that could further undermine that teacher/coach’s career. It ultimately resulted in me submitting my resignation, and I feel I was correct in doing so.

Patricia’s case is entirely different because he was charged and indicted, and while I think Snell might have risked his employer’s work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions, somebody should have and would have brought attention to this 22-year-old story.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are Still Looking for Work

Also in the news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, a couple of capable football players who can’t find jobs because of the expression of their personal views, are working out together with hopes of landing on an NFL roster.

Both players have waged grievances against the league for colluding against them to keep them from making a living in their chosen profession. Reid was asked about his anthem protest plans by the Bengals, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, and Kaepernick was similarly asked about his plans for the anthem by the Seahawks, who postponed a scheduled workout with the Super Bowl quarterback because Kaepernick reportedly had no plan in place, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.

But these players aren’t breaking any rules. The NFL owners and players’ association could have collectively bargained for players to be required to stand of the national anthem had they foreseen it as an issue. The NBA did, but the NFL didn’t.

I think my biggest problem with all the haters of these anthem protesters is their attempt at justifying their hate. For once I’d just like to run into someone who says, “You know, I just really like the national anthem as a song, and the protests don’t allow me to enjoy it as much.” I think that’s the only justification for disliking the anthem protests. The whole “honor the military and stand for the flag” argument just doesn’t compute with me because I’ve never seen the flag or the anthem as representative of our military specifically. To me, it’s representative of this nation and the rights of those of us who reside here, especially the right to free speech, which I feel is the First Amendment of the Constitution because it’s most important. Kaepernick even altered his protest, going from sitting to kneeling, acknowledging and accepting the opinion of ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer.

My least favorite justification for hating the anthem protesters is the ‘if I did that at my job I’d be fired’ defense. My old man made that argument just a few days ago, and I wanted to tell him he shouldn’t be mad at Kaepernick for using his workplace as a means to create awareness for a cause for which he’s passionate. He should be mad at himself for not obtaining a job that would allow him to also do so.

The railroad workday is not televised, and they don’t kickoff the railroad workday with what was, for the longest time, a paid advertisement by the United States military exploiting the national anthem to appeal to the patriotic sensibilities of the NFL’s mostly American audience. But imagine every American industry started the workday with the national anthem. Before an attorney tried a case the national anthem would be played in the courtroom. Before I could sit at my desk and read the news, the national anthem would be played over the intercom. Before my dad could fix a locomotive, the national anthem would be played throughout the roundhouse.

Now, assuming the same situation facing the NFL, where players are not contractually obligated to stand for the national anthem, employees of all industries could use the anthem as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, and, in turn, a cause of their choosing. You might not have the media reporting on a railroad machinist’s decision to kneel for the anthem, but his fellow coworkers would probably ask why he didn’t stand for the anthem.

You might even have employers like NFL owners who dismiss employees for their anthem protests. They’d have good reason if morale or production is effected or damage is done to the employers’ brand. But, I ask you, is it not still illegal for an employer who has terminated an anthem protester to contact all the other employers in his industry and make sure they never hire that employee? It indeed is, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t that employee be due lost wages for the employers colluding to take away his or her right to work? He most certainly would. I don’t understand why so many people insist these guys should be banned from the sport and forced to find a new job. If you were fired from your job for expressing your political views and then colluded against by the employers of your chosen career, would you accept that you were terminated justly and humbly find work at a convenience store?

Cheats of the Week

Honorable mention: Former Texas Rangers’ first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, at 53, got a hit in his second at-bat with the Independent League’s Cleburne Railroaders, his son, Patrick’s team. Patrick also had a hit and made a great play at third base, throwing over to his dad at first to complete it.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stu Gotz there’s no way Palmeiro makes it back to the majors because teams want nothing to do with him after lying under oath about using performance-enhancing drugs.  

Bronze medalist: Seattle Mariners All-star second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for use of the banned substance Furosemide, a diuretic commonly used to mask performance-enhancing drug use. Cano said in a statement that he was given the substance by licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical condition. Furosemide is used to treat fluid retention in people with congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disorders, as well as high blood pressure, or hypertension. Under MLB's drug policy, a player is not automatically suspended for use of a diuretic unless MLB can prove he intended to use it as a masking agent. Cano reportedly tested positive for the drug prior to the season and appealed the potential suspension, but MLB was apparently able to prove his intent, resulting in Cano dropping his appeal. It will cost him $11,850,000.

Silver medalist: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Rick Brunson resigned amid allegations of “improper interactions with several women while on the job,” according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Brunson is still married despite admitting to an extramarital affair with a massage therapist in June 2014 that resulted in him being charged with attempted criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery and domestic battery. Brunson was acquitted of the charges.

Gold medalist: New Orleans running back Mark Ingram not only failed a drug test and was suspended four games for a drug “permissible with the proper use exemption from the NFL,” but will also sit out voluntary organized team activities entering a contract year. I probably don’t need to tell you, Mike, but Ingram had one of his best seasons last year, scoring 12 touchdowns and setting a career high in rushing yards.

In Ingram’s case, amphetamine was likely the drug “permissible with the proper use exemption,” a drug that has long been popular amongst athletes, especially baseball players. "'Greenies’" (Dexedrine) were a club house staple for decades beginning just after World War II, when ball players drafted into the military returned to the diamond having been exposed to the stimulant pills, which the armed forces dispensed by the millions. Another incubator of baseball speed-freakery was the winter Caribbean baseball circuit. There, players on seasonal hiatus discovered the two coffee pot system, where each club house had one pot with regular coffee and one with an amphetamine additive."

As of 2009 according to Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times, “[t]he 106 players who received exemptions for attention deficit disorder represent about 8 percent of the major league players, based on 40-man rosters. The percentage of American adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder is somewhere between 1 and 3.5 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, although some experts believe the actual number is much higher, citing a large number of undiagnosed cases.”

As someone diagnosed with Adult Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AADHD), I can tell you it’s very easy to obtain a prescription for amphetamines if you familiarize yourself with the symptoms prior to taking the tests medical professionals administer. I answered the questions as honestly as I could because I long suspected I suffered from ADHD. As early as first grade I would do something, anything, to break the boredom of being seated at my desk in the classroom. It got to the point my teacher had a sticky note attached to my desk with each day of the week, and she would mark the days that I behaved with a smiley face and the days I didn’t with a frowny face, delivering reports to my mother. When I was introduced to pens I clicked them incessantly. Even after being asked to stop, I would revert back to the habit in times of boredom. My teacher’s eventually inherited enough of my pens to never have to visit the school’s materials closet.

Amphetamines streamline your focus, and I imagine it slows down the spin and speed of a MLB fastball ever so slightly. For a running back like Ingram who relies on his vision to find holes in the defense, I’m sure it slows down that part of the game for him to react quicker. He won’t be doing any reacting for the first four games of the Saints’ season, though, and likely won’t be back with the Saints after this year given his free agent status and the abilities of their second-year back Alvin Kamara.

Published in Sports

The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.

1. Even without Stephen Curry, the Warriors are too much for the Spurs

If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.

Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.

2. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can struggle, and the Raptors can still win

You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.

These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.

4. Even without Joel Embiid, the 76ers are too much for Miami

Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.

5. Even without DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans can upset the Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.

6. Even without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have enough to dispatch the Bucks

Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.

7. The Bucks will still prevail over the Celtics

Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.

8. LeBron James could miss the Finals for the first time in eight years

The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.

LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.

9. Oklahoma City’s bench will be just enough against the Jazz

Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.

10. The Timberwolves might have discovered a formula to beat Houston...at least once

Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.

Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

I don’t enjoy writing the “fire the coach/GM” letter. I hope no one does. Calling people’s job performance into question publicly isn’t something I long to do. I’m not the current President. Firing people isn’t my thing. But when I feel a change is needed to improve the product for which I and my neighbors pay handsomely, I’m not going to bite my tongue and suffer in silence.

Twice I've written letters calling for sports executives to be fired, and in both instances they were. On Oct. 17, 2011, I called for Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith to resign. Less than a month later, he was dismissed. On July 14, 2016, I called for most of the Twins’ front office to be fired, including Smith’s predecessor and replacement, Terry Ryan. Four days later Ryan was fired.

It’s not that I think these “fire the coach/GM” pieces actually instigate change. I doubt they even reach the decision-makers. But they make me feel better and, hopefully, provide you some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a frustrated season ticket holder and the reasons for that frustration.

In the past, I wrote my “fire the coach/GM” letters in reactionary anger. They were fueled mostly by emotion, not logic. With Ryan, it was an inactive trade deadline that set me to punching the keys. With Smith, a slew of bad trades got me started down the same path (JJ Hardy, Johan Santana, Wilson Ramos). Only the Twins’ on-field success kept me from writing. But when Smith traded Delmon Young for Minnesota local, lefty Cole Nelson in A-ball and Lester Oliveros, I had had enough. I didn’t need to know both players’ careers would end three years later to know the trade was no good for the Twins. And while Delmon Young was hardly a hot commodity, he did go on to carry the Detroit Tigers to a World Series, winning ALCS MVP honors the following season -- a year after posting an 1.170 OPS in 21 plate appearances for the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS.

This time I’m taking a different, more reserved approach. I’ve been putting this off for months with hopes of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau giving me a reason not to write this. He hasn’t, so I am.

I’ve been a supporter of Thibodeau’s since his first season with the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I hadn’t watched an NBA game since Jordan’s last in 2003 until Thibodeau took over in Chicago and installed an attitude instead of an offense. The Bulls’ physicality on defense was nostalgic in its ferocity, raising memories of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman frustrating the hell out of everyone they guarded. I always liked the idea of figuratively “punching opponents in the mouth” and literally hurting them with physical play on defense.

I enjoyed watching low-scoring games in which baskets were hard to get, and scars and bruises were just the price paid to play in the paint. I loved hard fouls, not because of the violence or the further potential for violence they sometimes instigated, but because I am a firm believer that if you’re the last line of defense between your opponent and the basket, and your opponent gets by you, it’s your job to make sure your opponent doesn’t hit a shot. And if you could put them on their ass in the process of fouling, you did your job, even if your opponent hits the foul shots. Now everything’s a flagrant foul and players on defense are more apt to shy away from contact rather than initiate it.  

I so wanted Thibodeau to succeed while much of the league started exploiting the three-point line. I feel like it was the last chance to save basketball as I knew and loved it, and Thibodeau inherited a pretty good team when he left Boston for Chicago. The Bulls finished at .500 the season prior to Thibodeau’s arrival and were 11th in defensive efficiency but 27th in offensive efficiency.

Thibodeau made me look like a genius that first season, as the Bulls finished first in the Central Division at 62-20, 11th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. But was it Thibodeau who made me look like a genius or league MVP Derrick Rose? It certainly wasn’t Thibodeau’s offensive schemes, which boiled down to Rose playing in isolation, driving the lane, with or without a screen, and either dishing or finishing.

Not much has changed, except instead of Rose driving and dishing or finishing, it’s Jeff Teague dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until the shot clock expires. Teague can’t finish at the rim like Rose could, so defenders happily trap him under the basket where they know he can’t finish over them and an interior pass is difficult. Teague can’t hit the three, either, so defenders can play him closer to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of Teague’s dribble drive. It’s hard to beat a defender off the dribble when he’s so far away, and if there’s no help needed to defend against the dribble drive, there’s nobody left open to take a shot off Teague’s pass.

Thibodeau has done very little on the offensive end to adapt to the players he has and the skills they possess. It’s still isolation plays in a spread offense with virtually no movement away from the ball except the occasional high pick and roll. He’s not putting his players in a position to find success or even an open shot. Phil Mackey crunched some numbers at NBA.com, and the Wolves take more contested shots than any team in the NBA and take the second fewest wide open shots. A team that struggles shooting like the Wolves needs all the open shots it can get.

Thibodeau has long been known to be a defensive guru, but his offensive schemes leave much to be desired. The Timberwolves didn’t hire him to improve their offense, though. It was already ranked 12th in efficiency before he got there, thanks to an effective facilitator in Ricky Rubio, whom Thibodeau traded for Oklahoma City’s 2018 first round draft pick and cap space to sign Teague. Thibodeau blew up a successful offense to add a score-first point guard on a team with its three top scoring options already established. It seems Thibodeau thought he could just assemble five effective scorers and not have to worry about designing offensive schemes for them. If they can all create their own shot, there’s no need to run a play, right? But this time he didn’t have a 22-year-old Rose to hide his lack of offensive ingenuity behind highlight reel finishes at the rim.

So Thibodeau made the move that sold seats at the newly renovated Target Center and gave Wolves fans reason for hope. He traded for Jimmy Butler -- a trade that already looks like Chicago won despite almost everyone in the sports media agreeing the Wolves had fleeced the Bulls on draft day. Regardless of who won the trade, the Wolves won my money. I became a season ticket holder because Butler was coming to town (and the seats at Target Center were comfortable). He was my favorite player in the league at the time because, again, he plays defense, and does it better than almost anyone. Since he’s been gone, we’ve all seen how truly invaluable he is. Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). Since Butler’s injury, the Wolves are 19th in net rating (-1.0).

Butler was Thibodeau’s way of covering for his weak defenders until they learned how to play defense. Correcting poor footwork takes time. You can’t blame Thibodeau for the poor defense of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Expecting him to turn Towns into the young Joakim Noah (4.2 DBPM in 2010-11) and Wiggins into Ronnie Brewer (3.2 DBPM in 2010-11) in two seasons is unfair. Noah was already an elite defender before Thibodeau arrived (3.3 DBPM in 2009-10, his third season after four years in college), and Brewer was already trending up in his fourth season (1.6 DBPM in 2009-10). Wiggins is also trending up on defense in his fourth season, albeit from a lower starting point. His -1.5 DBPM this season is a vast improvement on the -2.9 and -2.5 DBPM he posted the two previous seasons. Towns’s 1.0 DBPM is better than positional peers Kevin Love (-1.5), Channing Frye (-1.0), Tristan Thompson (-0.7), Tyler Zeller (-0.6) and Robin Lopez (-0.2).

Both Towns and Wiggins have the offensive ability to make up for their subpar defense, though. So if they aren’t scoring -- a lot -- they’re a liability. With Butler gone, they’re the top two scoring options -- just like they were last year. Towns gets the touches on offense to cover for his defensive shortcomings. He had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting for a +10 rating in Denver, Thursday night.

Wiggins doesn’t get those dedicated touches Towns demands in the paint, however. He has to settle for Teague’s desperation passes when his dribble drive fails to draw a helper on defense, which never leaves Wiggins an open shot and forces him to shake a defender before settling for a contested jump shot at the end of the shot clock. Wiggins is at his best when driving to the basket, but you don’t see too many high pick and roll plays called for him. In fact, it’s as if Thibodeau’s spread offense has gone and made the Wolves’ best athlete into a spot-up shooter, and a bad one at that. Wiggins had nine points on Thursday night on four-of-12 shooting, and the Wolves allowed 13 net points while Wiggins was on the floor. He needed to score 22 to avoid being a liability. If the defense isn’t there yet, the offense must be, or there’s no reason to have Wiggins on the court. The Wolves were 11 net points better with Jamal Crawford and 24 points better with Rose on the court. They scored nine and four points, respectively, but were buoyed by their defensive ability.

Minnesota doesn’t have much time to rebuild their chemistry with Butler, but they’ll immediately be better thanks to Butler guarding the opposition’s best player whenever possible. What’s worrisome is that Butler’s addition doesn’t seem to be showing itself in the numbers. Minnesota’s defense was 27th in efficiency last year, and the Wolves remain the 27th-ranked team in defensive efficiency after adding one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler’s DBPM is just .1 this season, a career low and way down from the 1.1 he posted last year. His defensive rating is also at a career low this season, so Butler is having a down year on defense, and his offensive numbers are understandably down having gone from a team where he was the scoring option to a team with ample scoring options.

All that said, after the season, regardless of outcome, Thibodeau should step down as the Timberwolves head coach. I don’t have much faith in his ability to act as president of basketball operations, either, but he did bring me Jimmy Butler, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, he should remain the president of basketball operations. I don’t even mind him serving as a defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, but the best thing he could do as president of basketball operations is go out and hire the offensive Yin to his defensive Yang. The Timberwolves could have avoided giving Thibodeau so much control and just hired David Blatt like Joseph Gill recommended at SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus back in January of 2016. But Thibodeau can make it up to them by hiring Blatt himself. It would be a classy move and allow Thibodeau to focus on team-building and management, so Minnesotans have a quality basketball team worth watching for years to come.

If Thibodeau fails to win a playoff series, he isn’t going to be on the hot seat. But the Tweeters are rumbling and the word “fire” is being thrown around the Internet. That’s the spark that leads to letters like these being sent to ownership and published online, and then as letters to the editor in newspapers (although getting this down to 700 words will be a challenge).

You have to give Thibodeau some props, though. Despite running his players into the ground under an avalanche of minutes, potentially shortening Derrick Rose’s and Joakim Noah’s careers, and being known for having an abrasive attitude, his former players love and defend him. Without Thibodeau, the Wolves wouldn’t have Jimmy Butler or a shot to make the playoffs, so despite me calling for the end of his head coaching career, I’m just like one of his players. I love Thibodeau for giving me a reason to watch professional basketball again, and I’ll defend his ability to build a winner, but I can’t defend his offensive strategy anymore. 1953 called, Tom. It wants its pace and playbook back.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

The best days of the Minnesota sports year are here, and I’m not just saying that because Target Field opens its gates for baseball on Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are, as of this writing, playing their home opener against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.

Even if the foot of snow the Twin Cities received Tuesday doesn’t melt by game time or more rain and snow moves into the area forcing a postponement, at least Minnesota sports fans will have two more games to watch later that night. Both the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves play games that could affect the postseason, and both play at the same time, which is frustrating and frankly, should be illegal.

Thursday is going to be the best day of the Minnesota sports season. That is until Saturday, April 14, when four professional sports teams in Minnesota could all play on the same day for the first time ever. We know the Twins and Minnesota United FC (MNUFC or Loons for short) will be in action. But with the NBA Playoffs set to begin that same day, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs also underway, Minnesota sports fans could watch their home teams for up to 11 consecutive hours on April 14. The Twins host the Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. CDT and MNUFC’s match in Portland kicks off at 9:30 p.m. That leaves plenty of room in the television schedule for both the Wolves and Wild.

These really are the best days of the Minnesota sports year, and they’ll continue for as long as the Wild and Timberwolves allow. Here’s the potential schedule for the best days of the Minnesota sports year. You’ll notice this is not a complete schedule of upcoming sporting events featuring a team from Minnesota. Days during which just one Minnesota sports team plays a game are not included. Each day listed has the potential for at least two games to be played by a team from Minnesota. All times are Central. Asterisks indicate a potential game not yet scheduled. Check back for updates.

Thursday, April 5

  • MLB Home Opener: Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 3:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ Los Angeles Kings, 9:30 p.m. on FSN
  • Timberwolves @ Denver Nuggets, 9:30 p.m. on TNT

Saturday, April 7

  • Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 1:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ San Jose Sharks, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Monday, April 9

  • Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 7 p.m. on FSN Plus
  • Twins vs. Houston Astros, 7:10 p.m. on FSN

Wednesday, April 11

Friday, April 13:

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 14

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 1:10 p.m.
  • Minnesota United FC @ Portland Timbers, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 15

Tuesday, April 17

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on FS1 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7 p.m. on CNBC

Wednesday, April 18

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on ESPN in San Juan, Puerto Rico
      • José Berríos is scheduled to start this one in his home state of Puerto Rico, just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Bayamon. Berríos is an excitable, emotional player who obviously loves the game. He shed tears of joy when he was drafted by the Twins, who looked past his control issues to draft him with the 32nd overall pick in 2012 because of his electric stuff. If you watched Berríos struggle to an 8.02 ERA over 58.1 innings his rookie year after dominating every level of the minors, you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. With so much natural movement on his pitches -- even his four-seam fastball -- it’s understandable that throwing them all where he wants -- especially his curveball -- is a lot easier said than done, as indicated by his first season in the bigs. After allowing 5.4 walks per nine innings his rookie year -- at 22 years old -- he almost cut that in half the following season. He walked just one Baltimore batter over his first nine innings of the season, and would have had a perfect game going into the ninth inning had Eddie Rosario caught a ball he usually would. While Berríos has been both victimized and vindicated by his passion and emotion, in Baltimore he showed that he’s more mature, both mentally and physically. He worked out of trouble in the ninth inning in Baltimore to earn his first career complete game and shutout because of that mental and physical maturation. The experience he gained playing most of an MLB season with Ervin Santana as a mentor has certainly contributed to Berríos’s confidence to attack the strike zone with all his pitches. And his dedication in the offseason, culminating in a video of him pushing a full-sized van 22 days before Spring Training, certainly indicates his legs are firmly underneath him, but more importantly, that his dedication is unwavering. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berríos dominates the Cleveland lineup backed by the Twins’ superb defense and a raucous Puerto Rican crowd. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he allows some early runs, overthrowing some fastballs and leaving them up in the zone because he’s so amped. Regardless, as an American, and Puerto Ricans are Americans, it’s hard to root against anyone so dedicated to and passionate about what they do for a living. While Berríos will be joined on the field by fellow Puerto Ricans Rosario and Francisco Lindor, Berríos will be the center of attention. It is a home game for the Twins and should feel like it. Lindor’s first at-bat against Berríos should be interesting, though, as both played for the runner-up Puerto Rican team in last year’s World Baseball Classic. Lindor performed better than Berríos in the WBC, so there will undoubtedly be some friendly competition between the two.
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, 8:30 p.m. on TNT

Friday, April 20

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 6:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 21

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 5:10 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 3: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN

Sunday, April 22

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 12:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC @ Seattle Sounders FC, 3 p.m. on FSN
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD

Monday, April 23

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 6:05 p.m. on ESPN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m. on TNT

Wednesday, April 25

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 5:35 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, TBD on TBD
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD
    • Seven games are necessary in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because the margin of victory is so small. Even baseball has a better argument than basketball for making its first playoff round a seven-game series. Most teams play outdoors, where wind, heat, humidity, precipitation, sunlight and shadows can affect the outcome of a game. And if they don’t play outdoors, the different dimensions of every playing field can affect the outcome. I would happily cut the MLB regular season back down to 154 games if it meant making the Divisional Round of the playoffs a seven-game series. I’d be even happier to cut the first round of the NBA Playoffs down to five games, but more on that later.

Friday, April 27

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 6 and 9:30 p.m. on ESPN or ESPNEWS

Saturday, April 28

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 7 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 29

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 12 and 2:30 p.m. on ABC
    • With two Game 7s already penciled in for Sunday, April 29, the Wolves’ first-round matchup could take two whole weeks to complete, and like the NHL, that’s not out of the ordinary. The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers went to seven games in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs last year. They started play on April 15 and completed the series on April 30, with nine of those 16 days being off days. Worse yet, the result of the series would have been the same had they played five games. But that’s another opinion piece for when the NBA Playoffs become uninteresting, which will be whenever the Wolves, if they in fact qualify for the postseason, are eliminated. Even with those five bodies playing all those minutes all season long, the Timberwolves might have a better chance to advance in the postseason than the Minnesota Wild. The Wolves are getting their leader back in Butler; the Wild just lost one of theirs in Ryan Suter (broken fibula) for the season. Regardless, it’s apparent that the best days of the Minnesota sports year are here. Let’s hope we stay busy watching four Minnesota sports teams into May.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are a mess without Jimmy Butler, and the question isn’t whether Butler will be able to return for the playoffs, but if the Wolves can make the playoffs without him.

Karl-Anthony Towns did everything he could to carry his Wolves to a win in Portland to no avail on Thursday night. He scored 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, went 11-for-12 from the free throw line and grabbed 17 rebounds, which was still only good enough for a -6 plus/minus. But a -6 plus/minus is better than not having Towns on the floor.

Towns followed Thursday’s performance with an ejection in the closing minutes of the first half the following night in Utah -- a game in which his plus/minus was +6 and replaced by the -2 of Gorgui Dieng, who scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes. Towns couldn’t have picked a worse time for the first ejection of his career.

Minnesota nearly pulled off a comeback without Towns, but things spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter -- as usual -- culminating in Jeff Teague lowering his shoulder into Marco Rubio, sending him into the seats with 5:20 to go and the Wolves down nine. It was the first time in franchise history the Timberwolves had two players ejected in the same game. Head coach Tom Thibodeau also earned two technical fouls. While the Wolves’ struggles on defense and scoring in the fourth quarter without Butler were evident on Thursday, their collective frustration and lack of leadership was ever present on Friday.

The Timberwolves might be leading the NBA’s Northwest Division despite the consecutive losses in consecutive nights, but they are not a lock to make the playoffs let alone win the division. The Denver Nuggets, the eighth seed in the Western Conference currently, are just two games behind the Wolves in the standings. Utah is just four games back after its win on Friday, and things only get tougher for Minnesota.

The Wolves play 10 of their remaining 16 games against teams with records above .500 and another against a young, running Laker squad that gave the Wolves trouble when Butler was on the floor. The Wolves probably don’t have to worry about the Los Angeles Clippers taking their spot in the playoffs. While the Clippers are just a game and a half behind Denver for the eighth seed in the West, they play 16 of their final 21 games against teams over .500.

The Jazz are most likely to replace the Wolves in the playoffs. They play nine of their 20 remaining games against teams above .500. So not only do the Jazz have four games in hand to gain ground on the Wolves, but they play an easier schedule, despite three back-to-backs to Minnesota’s two.

It wouldn’t be unrealistic to see Minnesota lose its next six games, which would make for an eight-game losing streak. The Wolves’ current three-game losing streak is the longest of the season, but they host Boston and Golden State, visit the Wizards and Spurs, and then host the Rockets and Clippers -- all teams above .500. A single win during that stretch would be a huge lift for a young team struggling to manage its emotions in the face of adversity.

During the same stretch, Utah has already beaten Sacramento and get to face Orlando, Indiana, Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Phoenix, Sacramento again, and the hapless Hawks. If the Jazz can win just four of those eight remaining games, and Minnesota goes winless, Utah would be just half a game behind Minnesota in the West, and Butler would still be out at least another five days.

Butler had surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee on Sunday, Feb. 25. The expected recovery time is four to six weeks, which keeps him out until March 25 at the earliest. You can be sure the moment Butler is physically cleared to play, he will play. That’s just his nature, which is probably why he and Thibodeau are inseparable. They’re both old-school ballers.

Given the best case scenario, Butler could return in time to get his feet under him during the Wolves’ final eight regular season games. But the Wolves won’t likely be able to extend Butler the courtesy of easing back into the game. The Timberwolves need Jimmy Butler just to make the playoffs. By the earliest time Butler can play, Minnesota could be 39-35 and no longer in control of its postseason destiny. While Minnesota has the Knicks to recover from the grueling stretch of their schedule and end a potential eight-game losing streak, the Wolves play in Philadelphia the very next day.

Luckily, the Jazz enter the tough stretch of their remaining schedule during Butler’s potential return. After playing in San Antonio, the Jazz travel to Golden State and then play host to Boston and Memphis before an April 1 game in Minnesota that will be bigger than anyone could have imagined when the two teams met in Minnesota’s home opener of the renovated Target Center on Oct. 20. If the Jazz win the games they should and lose to Indiana, New Orleans, San Antonio, Golden State and Boston, they’ll enter that game in Minnesota 41-35.

If Butler can’t return in four weeks, the Wolves can take some comfort in their schedule while they wait. Memphis, Atlanta and Dallas fill the schedule prior to the April 1 meeting with the Jazz, giving Minnesota a chance to gain some ground on Utah. Wins in all three of those games would put Minnesota at 42-35 -- a half game up on Utah.

Regardless of where the Wolves sit in the standings come April 1, winning that game would give them the tiebreaker over the Jazz. A loss wouldn’t eliminate Minnesota, though. Utah has to deal with the running Lakers twice, the Clippers, the Warriors and the Trail Blazers to finish the regular season. The Wolves also visit the Lakers, but get Memphis at home and Denver twice to close the regular season.

If it takes Butler the six weeks to be physically cleared to play, the Wolves will have him for two games at home against Memphis and Denver. Whether he returns at all will depend on where the Wolves are in the standings at the time, but odds are they’ll be fighting for their playoff lives rather than resting their legs for the playoffs. Without Butler, the Wolves are the worst defensive team in the NBA, according to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. With him, they have the 11th best defensive rating in the league. They have five days off to prepare for the visiting Celtics on Thursday in a nationally televised game.


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A local take on the Super Bowl

While I’ve only been a Minnesotan for about a year, the state has been my second home since I was a kid fishing the Land of 10,000 Lakes with my dad and uncles. I’m now a Minneapolis resident and homeowner. I drive home from work on South 11th Street to avoid the backed-up Interstate 94 West at least three times per week. I attend Minnesota Timberwolves games regularly and Minnesota Twins games even more regularly. So my take on the Super Bowl is this: I’m ready for it to end and never come back.

1) You don’t get to complain about the cold

If you have tickets to the big game, you probably have enough money to invest in warm outerwear. If you refuse to do so, you still don’t have to subject yourself to the elements. I walked nearly a mile from the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center on 2nd Ave South and South 12th Street to Target Center on 1st Avenue North and North 7th Street -- without going outside. The skyway system should allow you to get from just about any downtown hotel to U.S. Bank Stadium without going outside, so you don’t get to complain about the cold. You knew this game would be played in Minneapolis in the winter, so you had ample time to prepare. The Super Bowl doesn’t sneak up on anyone, except The Dan LeBatard Show.

2) Bicycling is the best way to get around Minneapolis

Whether you’re a local or not, you don’t want to be driving around downtown Minneapolis. Army National Guard members in armored Humvees are serving as extra traffic cops and some four-lane streets are cut down to just two lanes to account for increased pedestrian traffic. Even bike lanes are being sacrificed to accommodate increased foot traffic, but at the speed of downtown traffic, bicycles will blow by cars on the crowded streets. Bicycle parking isn’t much of an issue either given the weather. I had no problem finding a place to lock up my bike just a block away from the Verizon Up stage for the free Morris Day and the Time concert on Monday night, which brings me to my next point…

3) Perhaps putting a sledding hill on Nicollet Mall wasn’t such a great idea

Getting to the Verizon Up stage was a nightmare because of a giant, man made snow hill parked on Nicollet Mall. You couldn’t move for minutes at times because it was so packed with people. Nicollet Mall was just remodeled to better accommodate foot traffic, and the first opportunity we have to test it a sledding hill is installed instead. While streets around the stage were closed, pop-up tents selling overpriced food and drinks minimized the added area for foot traffic. So the sidewalks are basically the only means of entrance or exit to the Verizon Up stage despite the ample increase in foot traffic.

4) The Super Bowl Experience is a children’s playground

If you have children, they’ll love the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and at $25 per child 12 years of age or under, it’s a bargain. There are tons of games to keep them busy all day, including actual NFL combine competitions against pro football players. There’s even a mini-football field in the basement that looked to be setup for a field goal kicking contest. There’s a punt, pass and kick competition, and, of course, there’s plenty of people selling stuff.

The Super Bowl Experience might not be too attractive to adults, though. There are lounges throughout the convention center where you can play pool and get some food or a drink. There are Super Bowl rings on display as well as the Lombardi Trophy. Even some Hall of Fame busts made the trip to Minneapolis, including Vikings’ Cris Carter’s and Brett Favre’s. The most interesting thing I found at the Super Bowl Experience, though, were the tiles chronicling the game’s history. I’m betting there’s a bunch you didn’t know about football, like a touchdown used to be worth four points prior to 1898, which was less than a field goal’s five points until it was changed to four points in 1904, and then three points in 1909. A touchdown wasn’t worth six points until 1912.

I bet you didn’t know baseball’s Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies formed professional football teams in 1902. Ace pitcher Christy Mathewson played fullback for Pittsburgh, and the first World Series of pro football was a five-team tournament featuring a team made up of players from both the A’s and Phillies. I never knew the St. Paul Ideals and Duluth Eskimos existed, with Duluth having the coolest uniforms ever.

5) Radio Row is a circus

I couldn’t imagine standing around the Mall of America watching people do radio with celebrities, but plenty of fans did it with hopes of getting a picture with their favorite players. It took me about 15 minutes to realize my media pass actually granted me access to Radio Row, so upon entering I broke the only rule posted at the area: I asked Allyson Turner of The Dan LeBatard Show to autograph my headphones, and she obliged. Had I not had access, I would have gone into the office to write this immediately after my short conversation with her. Instead, I literally bumped into Drew Brees, met local, comedy legend Louie Anderson, and told Busta Rhymes how much I appreciated his music. He patted me on the shoulder with a hand the size and weight of a prize fighter’s while he said, “I appreciate you, too, man.” The highlight of my Super Bowl week was meeting Busta Rhymes. I wanted to thank Rod Carew for being such a damn fine human being, but he was the busiest person at Radio Row -- and for good reason.

So there’s a local take on the Super Bowl I’m sure my fellow Minneapolites can appreciate. Had the Vikings made the Super Bowl my take might not be so harsh, but that would be an even more biased opinion based on elation brought on by lust and desire. Do yourself a favor and heed the advice offered. We can only be “Minnesota Nice” for so long.


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