For a team as well known in the present for hyperbole and overselling as for its near dominance in the 1970s, the Minnesota Vikings have been surprisingly well-behaved in the 2008 off-season. The team's nearly complete level of off-season professionalism, marred only by the imbecilic behavior of left tackle Bryant McKinnie and a miraculously dunderheaded statement by defensive-end-by-default, Ray Edwards, leave the Vikings traveling in the rarified air occupied by the charmed Minnesota Twins.
And while that might seem as though it has little to do with the bottom line, as the Twins can well attest, professionalism begets professionalism begets opportunities. For the Vikings, who have weeded out several of the non-professional, lower IQ types in recent years, being linked to the Twins in any category other than matters of the purse string might well be as telling as the current progress of third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Delusional Much, Eh?
While the Vikings and the Twins either continue to show signs of professionalism or have signaled a turn in that direction, the same cannot necessarily be said of the Twin Cities' two other, ahem, professional sports franchises.
Minnesota Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough left the Wild community in collective dismay this week when he came clean regarding his vision of how to run a professional hockey team in the State of Hockey. Commenting on the team's off-season plans just hours before the stroke of free agency, Risebrough expressed his view that NHL players felt privileged to play in Minnesota.
When asked if by that he meant that he expected free agents to play for less in Minnesota, Risebrough was nearly as blunt. "We are one of the teams that players around the league say that they would like to play for--one of the handful of teams that has a chance to win it all," Risebrough said.
Apparently, Brian Rolston had a different view of the direction in which the Wild are moving. When asked whether the Wild matched the offer New Jersey had made to lure Rolston back to New Jersey, Risebrough said only that the Wild's offer was "competitive." When asked to explicate, Risebrough reiterated that the offer was "competitive."
If the Wild's offer was competitive, it is telling that Rolston left the Wild despite assurances of being a key player for the Wild going forward. Either Rolston really missed the New Jersey Turnpike or he thought less of the Wild than the Wild think of themselves.
And if Risebrough really did lowball Rolston, as Rolston's agent, Rolston, and even Risebrough seemed to intimate with his constant and embarrassing statements regarding Minnesota being the place that players look to as one of a handful of premier franchises in the NHL and how that should be factored into any offer that the Wild make to free agents, then Risebrough has, himself, made a strong argument against his own proposition. Add to that the fact that the Wild have made it beyond the first round of the playoffs only once in the team's history and look to be no better in 2008 than they were in 2007 and it ought to make Wild fans wonder about the direction of the Wild.
While Risebrough's dealings with Rolston set the tone for the Wild in free agency, Risebrough was far from finished in making foolish statements, saving some of his most obtuse comments for the past twenty-four hours.
When questioned regarding overtures to free agent Marian Hossa, Risebrough sounded as though he had done his best to sign the gifted winger but that his best was just slightly less than what the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings had to offer. "I spoke with Marian," Risebrough stated, "and we had some good discussions."
Asked what precipitated the discussions, Risebrough said that Wild right winger Marian Gaborik set the table, arranging for talks between his general manager and the free agent. While that might be true, it is difficult to fathom Risebrough's complete lack of intuitiveness or utter wealth of ignorance regarding Gaborik's willingness to assist him in signing Hossa.
Shortly after the Stanley Cup finals had concluded, Hossa's agent was asked whether Hossa might be interested in joining the Wild--a move that many analysts saw as a possibility during the stretch run of the 2007-2008 season. Hossa's agent replied quickly, "I would say not." Asked whether Hossa had had discussions with Gaborik, a friend of his, and whether those discussions had had any influence on Hossa's interest level in joining Minnesota, Hossa's agent replied simply, "Yes."
One would think that those incidents, alone, would be enough to shame Risebrough into hibernation for at least a few weeks, but they clearly were not. He had more yet to give.
When asked about the possibility of the Wild bringing back former Wild player and current free agent Andrew Burnette, a fan favorite whom the Wild let go three years ago believing that his skills did not align well with the league's new no-clutch rules, Risebrough said that it was a possibility and that "Brunette deserved the chance to wear the Wild uniform again."
How absolutely gracious.
When the Wild finally did re-claim the now 34-year-old Brunette (35 this Fall), Risebrough commented that it was not often that an organization "has an opportunity to correct a mistake."
The mistake was letting Brunette walk three seasons ago at the age of 31. Missing out on three productive seasons and signing the left winger to a three-year deal in what is likely the twilight of his career does not exactly make up for that mistake. In fact, it might well compound the initial mistake by suggesting a swap of the younger Rolston for Brunette. Fans won't be buying such front-office antics much longer, but the delusional front office might.
Too Many Punchlines
While Risebrough continues to accelerate the pace at which he is uningratiating himself to the Wild fan base, Timberwolves President and General Manager, Kevin McHale, longs for such respect. If the post-NBA draft response--both by the team and the handful of remaining Wolves' fans--is any indication, McHale has a long wait, and deservedly so.
Mistake after egregious mistake prior to this off-season aside, McHale continues to demonstrate why he, and not the slippery, dim-witted Isaiah Thomas truly deserves the moniker as worst NBA executive of the twenty-first century. While moving the high-profile O.J. Mayo for the lesser known Kevin Love only seems like the wrong move at this point, given McHale's track record there is little doubt that it will prove to be the wrong decision, in spades.
But if the Mayo trade itself did not make the few Wolves' fans nervous, comments from within the Wolves' organization ought to set all the bells and whistles ringing.
Prior to the draft, Wolves' disaster manager in training, Fred Hoiberg, offered the company line. "We really like Mayo," he commented, responding to a question about Mayo. "But you look at a guy like Love and you really, really like him," he added, unprompted.
Following the draft, Hoiberg stated that the Wolves got the player in Mayo that they coveted all along. When asked if that meant that he was with Minnesota to stay, Hoiberg replied, "He's here to stay. He's ours." Nobody even could have feigned greater jubilation.
Roughly five hours after Hoiberg put the organization's solid stamp of excitement and approval on drafting the USC star, Mayo was gone, traded for the rights to Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins. A clearly embarrassed Hoiberg attempted to put a good face on his previous night's exuberance stating that the trade "made sense" for Minnesota as it "relieved the team of some big contracts."
Hoiberg chose to focus on what Minnesota was relieving itself of, of course, rather than on what it was receiving in the deal. That was wise, because, aside from Love, the Wolves essentially received back in the deal what they gave up--minus Mayo. Like Antoine Walker, Miller is a veteran who can shoot but cannot play defense and arrives saddles with a healthy contract. Like Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner, Cardinal and Collins offer little other than salary cap matching to their respective teams.
That makes the Wolves' deal essentially a Mayo for Love deal. And if McHale likes the deal because, as he put it, he's getting "a big guy who can bang"--words McHale also famously once uttered about Rasho Nesterovich, Loren Woods, Michael Olowakandi, and Eddie Griffin, among others--it's tough to imagine a happy ending for the Wolves on this deal.
But, perhaps with the idea that they will be forced to defend this trade three years from now when Love is a journeyman and Mayo is lighting up the NBA, Wolves' head coach Randy Whitman already is churning out the alternative spin. "I really like this deal," the Wolves underachieving coach commented. "If you look at the breakdown of the salaries, we clear the books one year earlier than we would have of some pretty big salaries--at just the right time. There are going to be some good players on the market when this all finally plays out and we're going to be in pretty good shape to make a run at those players--guys like Lebron."
Sigh. I guess that's why the Wolves are where they are--near the bottom and falling.
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