Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The Cooler, where it’s always a good idea to check your smoke alarm batteries every year. Let’s get to it:
In particular in that public setting at the Great Minnesota Get Together, Thibodeau revealed his mindset going into this season.
Basically, it’s this: The Wolves need to win at a higher rate and achieve more than they did last year in order to keep their core intact. And the path to doing that is keeping Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns healthy while hoping offseason additions help boost a woeful bench.
Worried as rumors continue to swirl about Butler and what he might do as a free agent after this season? Don’t, Thibodeau says, because none of those rumors are coming straight from Butler’s mouth. Instead, focus on this:
“The winning will take care of that,” Thibs said at the Fair.
This is the time of year to be optimistic, but it is also true that 365 days a year there is a need to be practical. So let’s break the Wolves season into three possible outcomes:
*They win, say, 55 games, get a top-four seed in the Western Conference and win a playoff series — and they look energized in doing so. Butler, who can sign an extension with the Wolves for more money than any other team can give him next offseason, is convinced by the combination of cash and belief in the future that he should make Minnesota his long-term home.
*They play at a pace pretty similar to last year’s and are on a trajectory to win around 45 games and grab one of the last playoff spots in the West, where they almost surely will lose again in the first round.
*Everything falls apart, the energy is bad and by the midpoint of the season it’s clear that this train is going nowhere good.
Outcome one is clearly the best-case scenario of the three. And for reasons Thibodeau outlined — the starters were actually quite good last year, and a rebuilt bench this year could help significantly — it’s plausible this happens.
But of the other two outcomes, I would argue that the worst is the middle ground. On a recent podcast, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski crystallizes the reason:
“Jimmy Butler in Minnesota. Who knows how it starts out this season there,” Wojnarowski said. “But they may have to look at doing something with him. If they don’t have a commitment with him do they have to look at doing something with him by the trade deadline? Do they risk losing him for nothing?”
If the Wolves fall apart early, the decision is easy: Deal Butler and try to get as much back as possible from a team convinced that it would have an inside track on re-signing him.
If the Wolves are hanging around the No. 7 or 8 seed in February, the decision is complicated: Keep pushing and hope for a strong finish and playoff run that sways Butler? Or risk a quick one-and-done (or missing the playoffs altogether) and possibly losing Butler for nothing?
Last year, it was important to break the 13-season playoff drought. The Wolves won 47 games, which was an achievement. That exact same season this year, though, would be the worst-case scenario.
*ESPN.com ran a piece on the biggest potential weaknesses for every NFL team, and not surprisingly this is their conclusion about the Vikings:
The worry: Kirk Cousins won’t be as adept as Case Keenum at covering for a position of weakness.
Exec unfiltered: “Their offensive line and specifically the tackle spots are really concerning. They will go as far as that will take them. It was interesting to watch their offensive line against Jacksonville’s defensive line in preseason. Kirk Cousins looked uncomfortable. Their tackles are just not starting-caliber tackles and that could bite them.”
*Among the many Arizona sports figures slated to be part of the memorial service for John McCain is Minnesota native and longtime Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald.