Minnesota Timberwolves: Tom Thibodeau needs to trade Jimmy Butler or he needs to lose his job

There’s an alternate universe where Fred Hoiberg is the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. That alternate universe team has three All-Stars on it and they are ready to challenge the Golden State Warriors of the world for the Western Conference title. Karl-Anthony Towns is even more MVP-like in that universe, Andrew Wiggins actually plays defense and Zach LaVine is throwing down monstrous dunks in Timberwolves bright-as-hell safety-vest green.

That, of course, is not reality. Sadly, most alternate universes are not reality.

In reality, the Timberwovles are living through a nightmare that keeps sports teams executives up at night. One of the current studs on the team has requested a trade and that is just over a year after his joining the team. Welcome to Jimmy Butler’s world, we are truly living in it now.

Butler pretty much forced his way out of Chicago two off-seasons ago because he couldn’t get along with anyone. It looks like that has come to fruition in Minnesota, too. Most thought that the Tom Thibodeau and Butler reunion was going to be a nice marriage that would result in deep playoff runs for the franchise. The theory was that Butler would be a middle man between the barky coach and the young players. It appears that Butler has just become his own version of Thibodeau and there’s not enough room in the Timberwolves locker room for that much stubbornness.

We don’t know who Butler is truly mad at or non-compatible with. It could be Towns or Wiggins or owner Glenn Taylor or maybe it has all turned upside down and Thibodeau is the reason? Either way something isn’t clicking and Butler’s ticket out of town should have been punched long before the week prior to training camp.

In typical Timberwolves fashion, this whole situation has been butchered, sautéed and dipped in Cherry Berry. Taylor should have never given Thibodeau the keys to the whole franchise. Taylor then should have then made Thibodeau either trade Butler or fire him very early in the off-season. It is becoming clearer and clearer that this whole Butler mess is the reason Towns hasn’t signed his max contract extension. Towns isn’t holding out for money, because the Timberwolves have offered as much as they possibly can. Towns isn’t happy because Butler is still here. If you, Taylor and Thibodeau, aren’t doing everything humanly possible to make Towns happy, you’re doing your franchise and it’s fans a disservice.

Towns is the future of the franchise and, frankly, one of the bright futures of the NBA. Towns is super talented on the court and seems to be the nicest guy off the court, too. Towns is someone you need to build around. Sure, if Butler wanted to come along for the ride, well, that would have been great, but that isn’t happening.

Now here the Timberwolves sit with multiple issues on their plate. Their best player, Towns, hasn’t signed an obvious extension and is, to at some level, unhappy. Your basketball czar, Thibodeau, has rebuilt his Chicago Bulls rosters with the best player that he coached there, Butler, requesting a trade out of Minnesota.

Nothing has gone right for this franchise, I was going to say this offseason, but in reality, not many things have fully meshed since Flip Saunders was fired in the middle of the 2004-05 season.

Training Camp starts next week. Media Day is on Tuesday. It’ll be awkward. All of Timberwolves history is awkward. Nothing will be as awkward as the Thibodeau having to trade his pride and joy away and he better do it quick.

Maybe, one thing could be more awkward. If Thibodeau refuses to trade Butler. That should force Taylor to fire Thibodeau or trade away Butler himself during training camp or maybe even both.

We are in a universe where Thibodeau will have to trade Jimmy Butler or lose his job. That seemed like it would have to be an alternate universe just a few months ago, but now is a harsh, harsh reality.


Kirk Cousins finally gives the Minnesota Vikings quarterback stability

Back when I was a school-aged boy, my mother would take me shopping annually right before the school year began. I imagine there wasn’t much out of the ordinary from this very common practice, except for one yearly purchase: a Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback shirsey.

The fact that getting a new shirsey every time the Vikings got a new quarterback was a yearly occurrence is pretty sad when you sit and think about it.

Any Green Bay Packer fan that did the same practice would only have bought two shirseys in the past 25 years: Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. My childhood Vikings shirseys saw a line featuring Brad Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre and, yes, even Christian Ponder.

The shirsey buying eventually stopped for myself, but the continuing factory-line of Vikings starting quarterbacks didn’t. Since 2000, only Daunte Culpepper has been the planned starting quarterback for more than two seasons for Minnesota.

That factory-line will finally stop now.

We might now know all the details yet of the Kirk Cousins signing with the Minnesota Vikings, but we do know one thing, it will finally give the Vikings stability in a position that the team hasn’t had stability in more than a couple times in nearly 60 years as a franchise.

Cousins might not be the to the level of the future Hall of Famer in Green Bay, but he is the first quarterback since Culpepper to, more than likely, be, frankly, good for a stretch of years in purple.

Granted, I am assuming a lot. Cousins could be a flop, but it is unlikely. Heck, he might just get to the same level as that Green Bay QB. Cousins is set to have better seasons than what he has had in Washington and those were pretty darn good.

What I am trying to say is this: the Vikings finally have a quarterback, folks.

When was the last time you could confidently say that? Probably 2009 with Brett Favre and the one game of Sam Bradford to start the 2017 season. Now Vikings fans can look ahead to the season confident in the quarterback. That is a 1 in 10,000 feeling in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Vikings fans are used to a lot of questions, but there is really only one question that should remain: are we going to get a white or purple Kirk Cousins shirsey?

The Plane Truth: the University of Minnesota needs to give Richard Pitino a bigger travel budget

It’s no real secret that the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball program really hasn’t lifted off under the tutelage of Richard Pitino. It’s widely known that the players that have graced Dinkytown during Pitino’s reign haven’t exactly been the best characters in the world with PR nightmares ranging from sex tapes on social media to an arrest for sexual assault. All of those are big problems, Richard Pitino’s travel expenses, and apparent overages on them, are not a problem.

Pitino’s travel expenses were thrown into the spotlight via the Star Tribune when it was revealed that the young coach had gone past his budgeted $150,000 over the past two fiscal years and had actually spent $325,000 over that span.

First of all, this overspending was approved by then-current Athletic Director Norwood Teague. Can you really overspend your budget when it is approved by your superior? Sure, that superior is a creep and is gone from the University now, but you can’t change the game on Pitino after the game was played.

Second, there is no real reason the University needs to be looking at the books of the athletic department. Athletics are self-funded, they spend the money that they make, and, to the best of my knowledge, are not taking money from the rest of the school. They are basically a standalone entity using the name of the school and its students to run itself. As long as the department isn’t stealing money from academic departments and is still operating at a sustainable level, President Eric Kaler and the Board of Regents should get their nosy noses out of athletics’ business. The nosy-ness probably comes from the hire of Teague and his later dismissal, but this is what happens when you hire an AD that had never overseen a football team before. That hire wasn’t a smart big boy move in a school that should be with the big boys.

Speaking of which, this paragraph is integral in the Star Tribune story:

“Elsewhere, other coaches have bigger private jet budgets. Rick Pitino, Richard’s father and the coach at Louisville, has a reported annual budget of $250,000 for private jet travel. At Kentucky, John Calipari spent more than $342,000 in 2013-14. In the Big Ten, Indiana spent $569,000 on chartered planes for all of its coaches to recruit that year. At Ohio State, Thad Matta is given a budget of $65,000 or roughly 11 hours, for recruiting, as well as an additional 15 hours of jet time for private use.”

His father has four times the budget at Louisville. Conference rival Indiana has over 11 times the budget. Thad Matta at Ohio State has well over double the budget if you factor in the private use hours. If you want to play with the big boys, the $50,000 budget that Pitino has isn’t going to get you anywhere close to the best schools in the country or, more importantly, close to the recruits you need to be successful. Hell, these other schools probably hire someone to fill up their head coaches’ rental car gas tanks, too. Pitino was flagged in the audit for returning rental cars without a full gas tank.

Pitino has this team in a mess, but his overuse of private plans isn’t a problem. The real plain plane problem is the lack of a reasonable travel budget for the head coach of a profitable sport at a Division One school.

Mark Coyle has more than enough on his plate as the new AD of the Gophers, but he should be adjusting the private plane budget before his new business cards are even made. The next basketball coach will greatly enjoy the added privilege if Pitino leads the Gophers to 8-23 again.

For crying out loud, can’t you just lie to us, Jim Pohlad?

The baseball season is only a little over a month into the season and already the local nine in Minnesota are doomed. The Minnesota Twins stand at 8-23 with the 7-23 Atlanta Braves being the only other team in Major League Baseball to not have at least 12 victories so far. It’s pathetic, it’s sad and it’s painful.

The list of reasons why the Twins are so bad runs as long as it is from Buffalo Lake to San Diego but if you say the right things, maybe the fans will get off the team’s back for awhile and simply accept a losing season. Sure, it’s not the best option, but the right public statement can help, at a minimum, contain the fire for a little while.

The Minnesota Twins can’t even get that right.

Jim Pohlad, owner of the Minnesota Twins, talked with Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune on Friday and made all the wrong comments. The highlight being:

“We’ve been at this for a little while … the owner can’t do a whole lot. But what could (General Manager) Terry (Ryan) do? Or what could (Manager) Paul (Molitor) do? I just don’t know at this point. It’s just a total system failure, so to speak.”

First of all, the owner of a Major League Baseball team can do a lot of things. The owner of any business can do a lot of things, really. The owner has power that is only controlled by the laws and, in this specific case, the rules of the MLB. If Jim Pohlad wanted to fire everybody from Twins President Dave St. Peter all the way down to the fry-cook at Hrbrek’s, he has that power. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the powers that owners have.

Should someone be fired for this, to put it nicely, mess? There’s truly an argument for both sides. The view that many have right now is that it’s hard to know what to even do to start to fix the Twins. That’s okay for fans and the media to say that they don’t know what to do, but not the owner of the team. Even if Pohlad isn’t the most hands-on owner in the sports world, you still need to be able to say something half-intelligent to put the fans at ease. That something intelligent isn’t putting the blame fully on the players either which is something Pohlad also did in his talk with Scoggins:

“I believe that somebody on this team has to step up as individuals and start winning some games for us. I don’t mean the team. I mean individuals have to step up and win games. They do on other teams. We’ve got to do it for our team.”

Would it be nice if Brian Dozier would be playing like he did before the All-Star break last year? Of course, it would. Would it have been nice if Byron Buxton could have not been a strikeout victim seemingly every at-bat during his MLB tenure to start the season? No doubt. But at the point of crisis, and in the sports world the Twins are well-beyond crisis, someone needs to take responsibility of what is going on.

Jim Pohlad had the perfect platform in front of him to take the blame and say that he needed to do better and that Terry Ryan needed to do better and that Paul Molitor needed to do better, but instead he guaranteed the job security of Ryan and Molitor and blamed the 25-some guys that Ryan assembled and Molitor has to get ready to win games and they both have miserably failed.

Somewhere along the line, most of us are taught, I hope, that you should take responsibility for your actions. Ultimately, Pohlad is responsible for the Twins. Maybe he doesn’t do day-to-day decision making, but he has the authority to put the pieces in place and so far that has failed this year and has been a failure a majority of the time since the team has moved into Target Field.

This isn’t leading up to a call for the Pohlad’s to sell the Twins, if you got the money and you want to be hated by your fans, hey, that’s your prerogative. Just own up to the mistakes of your organization. Be like a politician and lie to our faces if you have to. Say things are in action to fix the problem when, in reality, you don’t have a clue where to begin. Sure, people might still be mad, but at least it looks like you know how to run your business.

The formula to the Minnesota State High School League allowing schools to drop down a class

It’s becoming increasingly hard to run a school in many parts of Minnesota. The state owes each and every school district millions of dollars, for starters, but keeping enrollment up is also a challenge in the out-state and in the biggest cities. The state funds the school districts based on enrollment so it’s pertinent to keep enrollments up and to keep the money flowing.

Enrollments are also important when it comes to the athletic competitions that are organized by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). A school’s 9-12 enrollment dictates which class of competition they participate in. In a lot of sports that ranges from Single-A to Quadruple-A which is the case in boys’ basketball.

On March 12, Minneapolis North won the Single-A Championship against Goodhue. The same Minneapolis North that won the Quadruple-A title in 2003 and 1997. The cutoff for a team to be moved from Single-A to Double-A is 200 kids and when Minneapolis North’s enrollment was listed as 199 throughout MSHSL materials, well, it turned my head.

I understand that Minneapolis North has seen better times and has seen, literally, a mass exodus from the school’s population, but it’s still hard to believe that a school located in a city with over 400,000 people could only wrangle up 199 students.

The fact is that they didn’t. North has over 200 students which can be shown via documents from Minneapolis’ public schools websites here and here and here.

How is North playing Single-A basketball then?

Welcome to section 400 of the bylaws of the MSHSL:

  1. h) Prior to any classification determination, schools who believe their school demographics unfairly place their team sports (Football, Hockey, Basketball, Baseball, Lacrosse, Soccer, Softball, and Volleyball) in a larger tournament classification may appeal their placement to the MSHSL office provided that the criteria below is met:

                       1.1 The schools’ free/reduced lunch counts provided to the League office by the Department of Education exceeds 50% of the school’s grade 9-12 enrollment.

This is how Minneapolis North is playing in the realm of teams like Goodhue that come from towns with a population of only 1,179. According to Minneapolis Public School documents, North has only 38 students in grades 9-12 that are not eligible for free/reduced lunch. A remarkable 87% of students at North are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program.

To be clear, Minneapolis North isn’t playing tricks on us or making kids magically disappear to get their enrollment to 199, but they are taking advantage, and rightfully so, of the above rule set out by the MSHSL.

The question that remained was ‘why’. In athletics, shouldn’t a student count as a student? Why is there a need to fudge the numbers based on who can or cannot afford lunch? I asked that question to Assistant Director of the MSHSL Chris Franson and here’s his response via email:

“About 10-12 years ago we had a special committee that looked at factors that contributed to kids going out for activities.  One of the things they found was that a disproportionate number of kids who are on freed/reduced lunch participated in extra-curricular activities.  That could be because they didn’t grow up playing the sports, or had extra family responsibilities, or the costs associated with being on the teams was too much.  The committee felt that it was enough of a factor that we should include it in the enrollment calculation.  They found that on average, there was a 40% higher participation rate in kids who weren’t on Free/Reduced Lunch.

“So the 50% appeal came into play about 10 years ago and it allows a school to drop one classification (if approved by the AD Advisory Committee and MSHSL Board) in a particular sport.  We see a few in basketball, but the majority are in games where numbers matter, like football.    We’ve only had about 20 schools who fit this criteria and are large enough that they could drop down a class.  Most of those schools are Mpls. or St. Paul public schools, but we’ve seen it expanding out into the first ring suburbs like Fridley, Richfield, etc.”

The schools are playing by the rules that they are given, so don’t blame North or ‘the about 20 schools’ that fit the criteria.  The question that remains is should this be a rule, should a school’s enrollment virtually change because of the amount of children they have on the free/reduced lunch program?

You can decide.