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Taylor: Interim Coach Has to Sell Himself

May 06, 2019 - (0) comments

 

In an interview today, owner Glen Taylor said it will be up to new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas to decide if Ryan Saunders has the interim tag removed from his title as the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach.

Taylor is an admirer of Saunders but said he isn’t telling Rosas who should be the team’s head coach for next season. “He’s got to sit down with Ryan,” Taylor said following a news conference at Target Center where Rosas was introduced as the franchise’s new basketball boss.

Does Saunders have to sell himself? “Sure, he does,” Taylor said. “That’s part of his job, but I am positive Ryan knows what he wants to do, and he will do a good job. So we’ll see how it works out.”

Saunders, 33, is the NBA’s youngest head coach and was promoted to his interim status in January when Tom Thibodeau was fired. Although he had never been a head coach before, he impressed Taylor despite the team not making the playoffs.

“I think that Ryan did a great job based upon the circumstances that he was given,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to really measure him when you have so many of his guys that were injured and stuff.

“But I still watched how he substituted, brought players in, got the most out of some of our young guys and did some really positive things. I haven’t changed in my thinking, and now we’ll see what others think.”

Glen Taylor

Taylor said that during the interview process Rosas asked what he saw in Saunders. But Taylor didn’t try to prejudice the decision Rosas will need to make in the coming weeks about who his coach will be.

The Wolves missed the playoffs this spring after qualifying for the postseason in 2018 for the first time since 2004. Taylor believes in the personnel already in place. “I haven’t changed my mind. I think we have the talent.

“What he (Rosas) talked about is something I just really believe in too. We’ve got to develop our own players, our draft choices. We’ve got to get those guys to play better.

“I think that’s what he’s got to talk to the coach (about). What plays do you set up? What styles do you do to utilize the skills of your players? …

Taylor said the goal of building a world class organization is shared by Rosas who worked for 17 years in the successful Rockets organization and gained a variety of experiences including as executive vice president of basketball operations. The ultimate goal for the Wolves is an NBA title for an organization that began play in 1989 and has never reached the league finals. “I think we have selected a leader that can take us there,” Taylor said of the 40-year-old Rosas.

Worth Noting

Rosas’ wife Susana said the couple, who have been married almost 16 years, met in high school in Houston. “When we met he told me he wanted to be the president …(of a) team. We were 15 years old and I thought he was trying to impress me,” Susana said. “Lo and behold…here we are today. We’re very thankful and blessed.”

It’s a solid bet the Vikings and the metro area will host their first NFL Draft within seven to 10 years. Club officials are interested, but probably have to wait awhile for the NFL’s blessing after Minneapolis hosted the 2018 Super Bowl. The city of Nashville estimates more than 500,000 fans attended Draft activities last month.

While there is speculation the Vikings want to restructure tight end Kyle Rudolph’s contract to better the club’s payroll—or even trade  him—he does remain a superb pass catcher. He and rookie tight end Irv Smith could sometimes be on the field together. The Vikings might line up the athletic Smith in the slot while using two tight ends, and have Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the flanks.

Irv Smith

The 29-year-old Rudolph isn’t known as an elite blocker, but Smith was praised for that skill in college at Alabama. Smith said, “I don’t want to be classified as a receiving tight end. I want to be classified as a complete tight end.”

Kyle Kilgore, the rookie free agent defensive end trying out with the Vikings, describes his four years at Division III Bethel as the best of his life. He told Sports Headliners he was taught at Bethel that you either become a “horse,” or a “jackass.”

“That place is chock full of horses,” the East Ridge alum said. “It’s rich soil. I can say I’ve grown as a man in those four years. All the brothers that I have on that football team forcing me to be better every day. Kind of the coolest thing.”

Kilgore’s Bethel teammate, safety Dawson Brown, is a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons. He played high school football at Becker.

Brown and Kilgore have been training together since the Royals season ended at the East Metro location of ETS Performance. ETS is run by Ryan Englebert who trained Thielen after his senior year of college.

 

Wolves Roster Reshuffling Seems Likely

May 02, 2019 - (0) comments

 

Enjoy a Thursday notes column on Timberwolves, Twins, Gophers and Vikings newsmakers.

The hiring of new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas is likely to reshape the roster for next season but perhaps won’t dramatically change the coaching staff. Rosas is a disciple of analytics and three-point shooting advocate as practiced by the Houston Rockets for whom he has worked as a front office executive.

The Wolves attempted 2,357 three point shots last season, the fifth fewest of the NBA’s 30 teams, per Basketball-reference.com. The roster doesn’t have much in the way of three-point marksmen, although center Karl-Anthony Towns is among the better shooting big men in the league.

Tyus Jones

The expected emphasis on three-point shooting could impact decisions on free agent guards Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones. Neither is known for his three-point game and Jones has struggled with field goal accuracy.

The Rockets have been one of the NBA’s most successful teams in recent years and have done it with a foundation of three-point shooting. Last season the Rockets attempted the most three-point shots in the league (3,721) and were the only club with more three-point shots than two point attempts, per basketball-reference.com.

Interim head coach Ryan Saunders told Sports Headliners awhile ago he is interested in playing an up-tempo style. That seems in his favor as word is awaited on whether Rosas will make him the permanent coach. The Rockets try to get the basketball up the floor quickly and they look for open space to shoot three-pointers.

Saunders’ willingness to communicate and learn also is in his favor for staying on with the Wolves where owner Glen Taylor has expressed his liking for the league’s youngest coach. With Rosas’ input, the assistant coaching staff could certainly change.

Rosas’ hiring is a reminder of how absent this organization has been in making elite personnel moves since its inception 30 years ago. The franchise’s futility (one playoff appearance since 2004 and never a Western Conference championship) is tied to not having an extraordinary talent evaluator leading the basketball front office. While it’s no easy task to hire a talent-finding savant, it can be done—with the Golden State Warriors organization a showcase example.

The Warriors are the favorites to advance through the playoffs and win a fourth NBA title in five years. Their stars include forward-center Draymond Green who was a second round draft choice. Point guard Steph Curry, a perennial league MVP, was available to the Wolves in the 2009 NBA Draft but instead Minnesota chose Jonny Flynn who washed out early in his NBA Career.

The San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 consecutive years behind the leadership of general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich. Their cagey personnel moves include finding future hall of famers and international players Tony Parker (late first round) and Manu Ginobili (late second). They also prioritized Kawhi Leonard, making a trade to choose him in the middle of the first round. After Leonard became one of the top five players in the NBA he decided last year he wanted to move on. In a single offseason Buford and Popovich rebuilt the roster and starting lineup with no-names and surprisingly got the Spurs into this spring’s playoffs.

Wolves fans can only hope the new basketball boss will be special at recognizing talent that others undervalue, or perhaps don’t even recognize.

The Gophers’ Amir Coffey needs to impress at the NBA G League Elite Camp, a three-day tryout for NBA Draft hopefuls in Chicago May 12-14. Those who impress enough will be invited to the NBA Draft Combine (also in Chicago) May 14-19. The Gopher junior wing has until 5 p.m. on June 10 to withdraw his name for the June 20 NBA Draft and still retain eligibility to play for Minnesota next season.

The Twins, leading the AL Central with a 18-10 record, have defeated four former Cy Young pitchers this season, Jake Arrieta, Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander.

Jim Kaat will offer game analysis along with play-by-play partner Dick Bremer on the Fox Sports North telecasts of the Twins-Yankees weekend games in New York. Kaat’s insights have for years made him one of the best analysts ever to work big league baseball telecasts.

Twins general manager Thad Levine is impressed with the work of first-season pitching coach Wes Johnson who since last year has transitioned from the University of Arkansas to the major leagues. Levine refers to Johnson as a “tireless worker” who will partner with pitchers to find strategies and approaches that work.

Rob Fornasiere, the ex-assistant head coach for Gophers baseball who retired last year, misses the relationships he had. “One thing I don’t miss are the cold (spring) games,” he said.

Fornasiere has formed his own company with endeavors that include evaluations of other college baseball programs, mostly on the Division II and III levels.

Brandon Zylstra, the New London-Spicer alum who joined the Vikings as a wide receiver last year, gives free autographs from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 11 at HQ at Eden Prairie Center.

Next Monday is the deadline for reservations to attend the Thursday, May 9 CORES luncheon featuring Pete Bercich at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. The former Viking linebacker is a game analyst on radio for his former team, and he is also head football coach at Hill-Murray. For reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth, dotsethj@comcast.net.

Expectations are that the Vikings-Chiefs game will create extra buzz in Kansas City on November 3 because this is the 50th anniversary of the Vikings and Chiefs teams who advanced to the 1970 Super Bowl. That 23-7 Chiefs win was the last between the NFL and AFL.

Golden Gophers football historian Doug Addison points out it was 50 years ago this year that Judge Dickson had a prestigious White House Fellowship. Dickson, now retired from a long career as a lawyer for IBM, was a prominent halfback on Minnesota’s 1960 national championship team.

 

Twins GM Says Club in Test Mode

April 30, 2019 - (0) comments

 

The Minnesota Twins have an interesting schedule with home games going on now against the Houston Astros and starting on Friday in New York against the Yankees. Those two opponents are probably the best the Twins have played this season and are among the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series.

Twins general manager Thad Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey will be scrutinizing how their club plays in this seven-game stretch that started last night with a 1-0 Minnesota win against Houston. “I think this is a great test for our team,” Levine told Sports Headliners yesterday.

Falvey & Levine

The Twins earned one victory in three games against the Astros last week in Houston. Although the Twins won last night, they don’t have to come up with a winning record between now and next Monday to win Levine’s favor. “I think it’s how you play the game and how competitive we were in those games,” he said.

Levine will be looking at how the team responds not only on the field but in the clubhouse. He will talk to manager Rocco Baldelli and the coaches to get a “feel for the how team played.” He will also be evaluating individual player development in the two series.

While the GM said games against the Astros and Yankees won’t provide any “definitive conclusions” about the 2019 Twins, Levine will learn more about his 17-9 club that has won eight of its last 10 games. The Twins are among the surprise teams in the big leagues, although six of the wins have come against the woeful Baltimore Orioles.

The homer-happy Twins have started the season with momentum, particularly impressing with run-scoring. After last night’s 1-0 win and home run by Ehire Adrianza, Minnesota has 50 home runs this season—the most in franchise history through April 29.

Levine refers to home runs as the most “expeditious way to score” and the club’s front office was aggressive during the offseason in acquiring players who can hit with power. But the number that interests him the most is run differential. The Twins are a plus-28 against opponents and Levine said a club needs to be “at least in the 50 to 60 range” to end a season with over 90 wins and gain “playoff relevance.”

Falvey and Levine weren’t as active in the pitcher market during the offseason as they were in acquiring position players and DH specialist Nelson Cruz. However, the Twins did add closer Blake Parker who has been difficult for opponents to hit and already has saved six games for Minnesota. The front office also added starter Martin Perez who has won three games for the Twins.

While Levine is optimistic about his team, he looks at the 162-game schedule and knows there are 137 more games to be played. That’s a lot of baseball.

“I think on one side of the coin we are not drawing any conclusions,” he said. (“But) we are optimistic. We are encouraged by what we have seen. The reality is we have banked the wins right now. Every win counts the same. …”

Worth Noting

Minnesota native Matt Birk played center for 15 years in the NFL with the Vikings and Ravens. The former All-Pro said Vikings No. 1 draft choice Garrett Bradbury, the center from North Carolina State, held his own in college playing against Clemson’s famed defensive line that included three players drafted in the first round last week before Minnesota’s pick at No. 18 with Bradbury. “…Playing against that Clemson D-line, that’s probably as close as you can get to playing against an NFL front in college,” Birk told Sports Headliners.

Many positives have been written about Bradbury, but a concern of some observers is his relatively short arms, measuring 31 and ¾ inches. Arm length and extension are a factor in blocking pass rushers, but Birk isn’t one to go overboard regarding measureables.

Birk said, “Players come in all shapes and sizes. Everybody’s gotta kind of figure out their own style. He was obviously an effective player in college. At the end of the day, it’s can you block the guy you’re supposed to block? …”

Spring Lake Park alum and Blaine native E.J. Ejiya has signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent. The North Texas linebacker was second in program history in career tackles for loss (40.5). He is the school leader in single season tackles for loss (25.0 in 2018), and he was a first team USA All-Conference selection in 2018.

Former Gopher basketball guard Keith Young, part of the 1972 Big Ten championship team, has self-published a print-on-demand book: Minnesota’s Big Ten Champions, Losing Is Worth Than Death. The 1972 team was a surprise champion and overcame significant obstacles including after the infamous Minnesota-Ohio State brawl.

The Minnesota United ownership group paid a $100 million MLS expansion fee and began play in the soccer league in 2017. Now the MLS is asking for $200 million for future expansion franchises because of the fast rising interest in professional soccer in the United States.

By comparison, the Minnesota Wild NHL expansion franchise cost $80 million in 1997. The Minnesota Timberwolves NBA expansion club cost $32.5 million in the late 1980s.

Advance wagering begins Thursday at Canterbury Park on the 145th Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs. The most famous horse race in America is Saturday in Louisville, with post time at 5:50 p.m. CDT. Canterbury Park’s first two days of live racing will be Friday night and Saturday.

The Shakopee track’s 66-meet schedule will again be enhanced by promotions including non-wagering dog races in May (English Bulldogs), June (Basset Hounds), July (Wiener Dogs) and August (Corgis). Extreme Race Day featuring Ostrich and Camel races isn’t part of the promotional lineup this year.

The Gustavus Adolphus men’s tennis program hasn’t lost an MIAC regular season match since April, 1986. The Gusties have won 52 league titles including this year, and on Thursday will be in the conference’s playoffs against today’s (Tuesday) winner of the Macalester and Bethel match.

 

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