Archive for Jacob Wandersee

What are reasonable expectations?

What are reasonable expectations? No, this time I am not talking about your Minnesota Twins. I didn’t feel like consoling nervous Twins fans after experiencing their first three game losing streak of the season and seeing the division lead fall to just four games.

No, this time I am talking about the Minnesota Vikings. In just 48 days, the NFL season will kick off with a Thursday Night affair between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Just three days later, your Vikings will be opening their 2019 campaign against the Falcons at US Bank Stadium.

The last two years have been somewhat of a roller coaster. In a season with very tempered expectations, Minnesota shocked the world, finished 13-3 and had the Minneapolis Miracle. We all know how that ended.

Last year, with a new $84 million dollar quarterback and high expectations, things never seemed quite right and the Vikings stumbled through a 8-7-1 season.

In 2019, Minnesota is bringing back a bulk of the roster and did not lose any significant pieces. The Vikings bring back a tandem of wide receivers who are considered among the best, if not the best, in the entire league. They bring back a dependable tight end and an explosive, albeit injury prone, running back that can transform the offense. They also bring back a career .500 quarterback and a shaky offensive line.

Defensively, 9 of the 11 starters will be the same as last year, only missing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and safety Andrew Sendejo. Even Anthony Barr decided to return after originally accepting an offer with the New York Jets. At least the Vikings are more reliable than one other franchise!

Anyway, so where does that leave us? Well, that offense they are bringing back ranked 20th in overall yards and 19th in points per game last season at 22.5. In 2017, under the tutelage of Case Keenum, Minnesota ranked 11th in yards and 10th in points per game at 23.9.

Defensively, the story is a little greener. In 2018 we saw Minnesota finish 4th in yards given up and 9th in points per game. A small step down from 2017 when the Vikings finished 1st in both categories, but still a very legitimate defense.

What can these trends tell us about the potential of the 2019 season? My first takeaway, and perhaps the most obvious, is that this team will always be a top 10 defense under Mike Zimmer. Their worst year defensively in his tenure was in 2014 where they finished 11th in points per game, which also happened to be his first year at the helm.

The identity of this team will always be defense. As long as the offense is even minorly competent, the Vikings should at least be in the playoff picture.

Now to briefly discuss that hopefully even minorly competent offense. As I alluded to earlier in the piece, the offense relies on two factors. First, how well can the offensive line play? And second, can Kirk Cousins lead a playoff team?

So far, neither of these questions have had positive results. The Vikings offensive line has been a mess for years. Whether it is draft picks that don’t quite pan out or signing guys who are past their prime, Minnesota hasn’t been able to put together a line worth much of anything in recent memory. Hopefully the past three draft picks in Brian O’Neill, Pat Elfein and Garrett Bradbury can be the much needed change.

Lastly, Kirk is a career .500 quarterback. His stats are always decent but not great, which also seems to be the montra of the teams that he leads. If the Vikings are going to go anywhere, Kirk is going to need to take a big step up. Not that I am a football expert, but it is really hard to tell if he will be able to. He shows flashes of brilliance while also showing why he has only made the playoffs one time in his career.

The reality of the NFL is that the stars need to align in order to win a championship. You need to have a great defense and great quarterback play. It is probably safe to say that the floor for this team is about seven wins. The ceiling, however, is a deep playoff run if things go right. I guess that is all you can ask for as a fan – reasonable expectations.

Let’s Just Enjoy the Twins Season

In 2019 it seems that everyone has something to complain about. It might just be that internet trolls seem to have the loudest voices and get noticed the most. Maybe in reality most of us are actually positive about the season but we don’t pen our thoughts on Twitter very often.

The Minnesota Twins have had a surprising, exciting and impressive first half of the season. At 56-33 coming out of the All-Star break, they are only 1.5 games back from the AL best New York Yankees. The Twins also still hold a 5.5 game division lead over the Cleveland Indians.

According to baseball-reference.com, Minnesota has a 99.1% chance of making the postseason, 96.3% chance of winning the division, and after opening the season as the 20th team for odds to win the World Series, the Twins find themselves as the 5th best favorite.

With all of this team success, there have been plenty of individuals who have made this season enjoyable to watch. All-Star Jorge Polanco led the AL in batting average for an extended period of time and currently comes in at 5th with a .312 average.

Eddie Rosario led the AL for a long stretch when it came to home runs and currently sits at 10th place with 20, while teammate Max Kepler is tied for 6th with 21. Rosario, Kepler, and CJ Cron all rank in the top 15 when it comes to RBI’s as well.

In terms of pitching, All-Star Jake Odorizzi led the AL in ERA for a large part of the season and is currently tied for 3rd with 10 wins, while still bolstering a 3.15 ERA. The Twins other All-Star pitcher Jose Berrios is currently 4th in the AL in ERA with a 3.00.

On top of all of those individual performances, the team hitting stats have been off the charts. Minnesota is on pace to set the MLB record for home runs in a season. They are currently at 166, which is 6 more than Seattle while having played 5 less games. They also are tied for first in the league in team batting average and have the fifth fewest strikeouts.

Throw in a pitching staff that is top 15 in every major statistical category and you have yourself a very talented team.

So why has there been such a bout of negativity about the Twins? The primary reason is that fans have watched a large division lead of 8-11 games dwindle down to 5.5 over the past month. Minnesota has gone 16-14 in their last 30 games while Cleveland has gone an impressive 21-9.

But in reality, what did Twins fans expect? Did they think that the Indians would give up and the Twins would win the division by 20 games? The fact remains that Minnesota is still in the driver’s seat when it comes to this division and making the playoffs.

Since the Twins moved into Target Field in 2011, they have the worst record in the league. They have only reached 80-plus wins twice and the playoffs once… but sure, let’s complain that Indians played a good stretch of baseball.

Minnesota is on pace to win 100 games, a mark that hasn’t been reached since 1965 when they lost to the Dodgers in the World series.This is one of the best teams the Twins have put together in franchise history. So please, spare me the negativity. Let’s just appreciate great baseball, something we haven’t had in Minnesota for a long time.

It is Thib’s Fault

Generally speaking, I don’t get too worked up by professional sports. I enjoy occasionally watching the Twins and attending a game or two each summer. I watch the Timberwolves on nights that I am not coaching high school basketball. Sunday’s are reserved for Vikings football where I watch every week, but I often find myself focusing on my fantasy football team as much as the Vikings game.

I used to be a much more devout fan, but January 2016 changed me for the better. I was watching the NFL playoffs alone in my dorm room at Bethel University. The kick that would seal the game for the Vikings went up and was not even close. I got up, kicked my door and was in a sour mood.

After returning to my couch, I realized that these professional athletes who don’t know me, care about me or care about our state should not affect my mood like this. So I’ve mostly become a much more easy-going fan. If we win – great! If we lose – life goes on. But I digress.

Going into this past Sunday evening, I was admittedly buzzing over the potential move looming for the Minnesota Timberwolves. You can ask my wife, who was probably very annoyed with how often I was checking my phone for an update from Woj.

It was coming in from all angles. National writer Zach Lowe and player JJ Redick agreed that Minnesota was up to something. Wolves writer for The Athletic Jon Krawczynski also seemed to be hearing that the Wolves were trying to get something done, among many others.

That something was to acquire All-Star D’Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets, either via signing him as a free agent after trading away players that matched his cap or completing a sign-and-trade with multiple teams.

The news was breaking the right way for the Wolves early. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were signing with the Nets, meaning they would not have room for Russell.

Based on reports, it seems that Minnesota was the number one destination of choice for the star point guard. The chance to play with one of his best friends along with being a leader on a young team was enticing.

However, with the blink of an eye, the Wolves hopes were dashed. Reports came in that the Warriors had completed a sign-and-trade, essentially swapping Durant for Russell.

Although Russell would not have made the Timberwolves instant title contenders, it still was a gut punch to the franchise and fan base. I was probably more annoyed than I should have been if I am being completely honest.

I had to remind myself that this was Minnesota we were talking about. One playoff appearance in 15 years isn’t exactly the best way to lure in free agents.

At this point you might be thinking to yourself… Wait, what does missing out on Russel have to do with Thibs?

The reason things with Russell were so difficult was primarily because the lack of cap room or flexibility. Our faithful former President of Basketball Operations signed Gogui Dieng to a four year $64 million deal. He signed Jeff Teague to a three year $57 million deal. He signed Andrew Wiggins to a maximum deal worth $147 million.

These contracts hamstrung the Timberwolves at the most inopportune time in the past 10 years. The one time an All-Star willingly wants to come to Minnesota, we are too busy paying Teague and Dieng roughly $35 million and can’t find any trade partners to take them off our hands.

Thanks, Thibs, for reminding me why I’m not going to let Minnesota sports affect my mood ever again. At least until the Vikings miss another important playoff kick.

*PS: For the record, as limited as the options were for the Wolves, I liked the signings of Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell for minimum deals. They are both young, defensive-minded forwards with a lot to prove. That is about as good as you can do considering the cap situation.

 

Wolves Assistant to the General Manager

If I was the Assistant to the General Manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, things would have played out a lot differently the past handful of years… Namely, I wouldn’t have gone with Jonny Flynn AND Ricky Rubio over Steph Curry nor would I have signed Andrew Wiggins to a maximum deal, but I digress.

I left last Tuesday night for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a 6 day trip with no access to any form of technology. Dreams of a draft day trade where Wiggins was shipped filled my head and I was eager to turn on my phone on Sunday afternoon to see what Minnesota had done.

If you didn’t know, the Wolves traded their 11th pick along with Dario Saric for the 6th pick. There was a ton of steam that Minnesota wanted to get up to the 4th pick so that they could draft Darius Garland. After the Hawks took De’Andre Hunter, Minnesota assumed they were golden as Garland is a point guard and the Cavs already had one in Collin Sexton.

However, the Cavs dashed the Wolves hopes with the 5th pick and chose Garland, leaving Minnesota with Jarrett Culver, a shooting guard from Texas Tech.

So where does that leave the Minnesota roster? I’m sure new GM Gersson Rosas is more than capable of making these decisions, but let me submit my candidacy to be the Assistant to the General Manager.

Minnesota’s number one target needs to be D’Angelo Russell. The 22 year old is coming off an All-Star season where he averaged 21 points and 7 assists while shooting 48% from the field and 37% from 3.

The idea of pairing Russell with the 23 year old Karl-Anthony Towns for the next five seasons is something to be seriously excited about. Those two players create a core that is destined to be a playoff team with the potential of budding into a legitimate championship contender.

“But Jacob, how do we make that happen? If Russell is that good, why would the Nets just let him go?” I knew you’d ask that question and I have the answer.

Based on multiple reports, the Nets likely are going to sign star point guard Kyrie Irving to a four or five year maximum salary deal. This would obviously negate their need for another point guard in Russell, making him very available.

The key question for the Nets will be: Is Kevin Durant going to sign as well? After reading through some of the most plugged in NBA writers, neither the media members or any of the teams know what Durant is planning on doing. He did officially opt out of his player option with the Warriors, making him a free agent.

If Durant joins the Nets for the max, Brooklyn’s cap situation would be a little more dicey. Irving would make $32.7 million and Durant would make $38.1, putting Brooklyn at a total of about $100 million. This would only leave them about $9 million in space.

In this scenario, the Nets would likely renounce the rights of Russell, making him an unrestricted free agent. The Wolves would have to find a trade partner to dump the salaries of either Wiggins or two of Teague, Dieng and Covington to make room for Russell.

However, if the Nets strike out on Durant, they would only have Kyrie to go along with $47 million in space. In this scenario, the Nets would likely be interested in a sign-and-trade deal to get value for Russell.

If I’m the Assistant to the GM, I poke around to see if they might be interested in Andrew Wiggins. After they do a spit-take, I give them my serious offer. Jeff Teague and his expiring $19 million contract (which they can waive, trade, or let expire so they have cap space again next year to make a run at any free agent they want), Robert Covington and his $11 million contract, and a future 1st round pick (probably would have to be mostly unprotected to get the Nets interested).

That would leave the Wolves with a line up of: D’Angelo Russell, Josh Okogie, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. The bench would look something like: Tyus Jones, Jarrett Culver, Keita Bates-Diop and then a couple of young guys or veterans like Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.

Is this a 50 win team in 2019? Absolutely not. However, the Wolves would have two superstars, which is the key to winning in the NBA. If you find superstars who can win big games. the rest of the team will fall into place.

Maybe Minnesota could flip Wiggins for guys like James Johnson and Dion Waiters with the Heat to add some depth and scoring. There might be some interest from a team that needs to take on salary while tanking and Wiggins can fit that bill.

If I were able to pull off the Russell and Wiggins trades, Minnesota would be set for the next five years to be a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. And I would no doubt be promoted from Assistant to the General Manager to simply Assistant General Manager. Let’s make it happen.

Minnesota Vikings Continue to Work Cap Magic

We were all told the same thing over and over again. The Minnesota Vikings are going to have to sacrifice the ability to re-sign some players in order to make this work. That was simply going to be the price that they would have to pay in order to get the guy they wanted.

On March 15th, 2018, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a deal that was unprecedented at the time. That deal was for three years with $84 million guaranteed, which made him the highest paid QB.

This deal was supposed to spark a period where Minnesota would have to let some key pieces walk away. Since then, the Vikings have made the following moves.

In 2018, the Vikings extended linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five year, $25 million guaranteed deal worth up to $50 million. They also extended both defensive end Danielle Hunter and receiver Stefon Diggs to five year deals worth $40 million guaranteed with the ability to get about $72 million.

In 2019, Minnesota continued locking down key pieces. After getting cold feet about joining the Jets (which is always the right decision), the Vikings locked down linebacker Anthony Barr to a five year deal with $33 million guaranteed, worth up to $67.5 million. In the same week, the Vikings renegotiated with defensive end Everson Griffen to get his salary down to $8 million for this year, creating more cap space.

More recently, the Vikings renegotiated with two more offensive weapons as well. They were able to rework Adam Thielen’s deal to better match his output, agreeing to a five year deal worth $33 million guaranteed along with a $64.2 million ceiling.

This week, the final piece was locked up as tight end Kyle Rudolph restructured his deal to extend him for four years, getting him $9.25 million guaranteed and a potential $36 million max.

This move was essential for the Vikings as their cap space for this season jumped from an impossible to work with $600,000 to over $4 million.

I’m not a salary capologist, so I’m not exactly sure how this was arranged or what this means for the team in future years. However, not a single key piece has been shown the door due to Kirk Cousins’ contract.

Now, you certainly could argue the quarterback was overpaid for his services. However, only a year and a half later, Cousins has fallen to the 5th highest paid player at his position.

Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan all make more than Kirk while Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck are all within $3 million annually.

The nature of the NFL is that as each year passes, each quarterback that needs to be signed will either break or come close to breaking the highest salary record. Just a few weeks ago Carson Wentz signed a four year deal with $107 million guaranteed.

All that is to say that each season Kirk’s cap number, although still probably higher than his skill level, becomes more reasonable and more comparable to similarly talented quarterbacks.

Although the salary cap finagling has maintained the roster, it has not given any flexibility to improve it, specifically on the offensive line. The Vikings are bringing back essentially the same roster of core guys who finished 8-7-1 last season and missed the playoffs.

Is the current roster talented enough to make a deep playoff run? Probably. Is Kirk the kind of quarterback that can lead this type of team? He has yet to show it in his career, so there isn’t a ton of evidence to be overly optimistic about.

But at a minimum, despite Kirk’s big cap number, the Vikings have been able to surround him with talented offensive weapons and a deep and elite defensive unit. I guess time will tell if Kirk knows how to use it.

 

Durant: A Misunderstood Superstar

A championship is something every athlete dreams about. For some of us, it ends at the high school level. For less of us, it might be an NCAA championship. For the fewest of us, a professional championship is the pinnacle of athletic success.

The Golden State Warriors found themselves down 3-1 in the NBA Finals this past Monday night. They faced a hostile environment in Toronto needing a win to stay alive.

The road to their third straight title has not been as easy as their past two. They’ve been tested many times over the years by the Thunder, Rockets and Cavaliers, but nothing can quite compare to the difficulty Golden State was facing in game 5 on Tuesday.

The Warriors needed to win three straight games with much of their roster ailing. Klay Thompson was still recovering from a hamstring injury and Kevon Looney was playing through a chest injury (and left the game early with a reaggravation), but superstar Kevin Durant was planning on returning after a month out with a calf injury.

This decision created quite a stir in the NBA community. Questions about the level of Durant’s health, his character and his commitment were floating around. Some questioned whether he was purposely sitting out to manage his health, which honestly wouldn’t even be that insane of a decision.

Durant was poised to enter the summer as a free agent. Expectations were that Durant would be able to sign a long term deal, likely with the Knicks, for hundreds of millions of dollars. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they were 100% healthy before risking this kind of deal?

After 11 points in 12 minutes of play, everything seemed to be going well for Durant and the Warriors until Kevin started to drive on the Raptors Serge Ibaka. After a step, Durant came up hobbled, dropped the ball and fell to the ground. He held his achilles while grimacing.

Teammates immediately went to console him, to help him and support him. Kevin limped off the floor with teammates holding him up and it was clear that something major was wrong. Raptors fans seemed to cheer Durant’s injury until Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and others motioned for the crowd to stop.

On Wednesday, Durant confirmed that he suffered a ruptured achilles and had a successful surgery.

In an attempt to help his teammates win a championship, Durant potentially lost his chance at not only deciding his future along with a lot of money, but his career may never be the same. The recovery statistics are not favorable for 30 year old professional athletes who tear their achilles and there is no guarantee that he returns to the level he was at before.

Durant deserved some flak for originally picking the Warriors. He left the Thunder after they were one game from the finals to join Golden State and it was fair that he was criticized. An alpha-dog joined a team that was already on the top.

However, Monday proved exactly the kind of player and person that Durant is. He chose to put his health, his contract and his future on the line when he wasn’t close to 100% healthy in an effort to be there for his teammates. Simply put, he put the team above himself in an attempt to win a championship. Luck just wasn’t on his side.

After the game, Warriors GM Bob Myers was almost in tears when he offered the following quote.

The people that questioned whether he wanted to get back and play were wrong. He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him.

You simply don’t cry over losing a player to injury unless they are genuine. I admittedly was tired of the Golden State dynasty and was cheering for the Raptors. But after watching the gutty win on Monday and their reaction for Durant, it’s impossible not to jump on the Warriors bandwagon.