1. What would you give up to get Chicago SG/SF Jimmy Butler, if it is even a possibility?
Nate Leer: The Wolves are certainly packaging the #7 pick in this scenario so the question is, “What else?” I would be willing to give up 1 or 2 of the middle aged assets the Wolves have along with the pick but not one of the young, high upside players. So PG Ricky Rubio, C Gorgui Dieng, F Nemanja Bjelica and lesser values in PG Tyus Jones and C Cole Aldrich are available. However, PG Kris Dunn and SG Zach LaVine would be tough to trade and G/F Andrew Wiggins as well as C Karl-Anthony Towns are untouchable. The Bulls could also sweeten their end of the deal by including their #16 pick and/or one of their young, athletic bigs. I am a huge Butler fan so would love to see him brought in but only at the right price.
Kras: I would agree with Nate Leer that there is a short list of players that I would not trade and everyone else would be very movable. Outside of Towns, Wiggins, Dunn and LaVine anyone could be looked at as someone to deal. Even with that said, if the Bulls were to come with the right offer, I would say that Dunn and LaVine could be considered. I think Butler is a guy who would come into Minnesota and help turn this club around. Having worked with HC Tom Thibodeau in the past, Butler knows what it takes to make his system work. Butler would look really good on the floor with some of these younger players and maybe even give them the potential to reach 40 wins.
2. Should the Wild make a play for Alexander Ovechkin?
Kras: As great as it would be to have a great player on the Wild like Ovechkin, I don’t think it would get either of them to a Stanley Cup any quicker. In order for the Wild to make a play for Ovechkin, they would have to give up far too much. I would imagine players such as Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle would be part of the deal to bring Ovechkin in and, if that is the case, then you are sending away some of the players that would be helpful to have around Ovechkin. Beyond that I don’t think that Wild have anything that the Washington Capitals don’t already have and they would be less motivated to make a deal that would move him. Ultimately I don’t think it is a move that will be explored by either side.
JJ Benz: I have to agree with Kras on this one. The Wild have a lot of good young talent coming through the system. However, it feels like this organization struggles to develop draft picks or it just takes longer than other organizations. In 2018, Ovechkin will be on his 10th year of a 13 year deal so it might not take as much as we think to acquire the veteran. I am pretty sure the Wild traded away this year’s first round pick in the Hanzel deal so that’s less ammo for a deal. I think the team needs a proven winner. Praise was suppose to be that guy but we got him on the decline. Alexander has disappeared during playoff time and the Wild already got that down pat
3. If the Vikings miss the playoffs this season, do you believe Mike Zimmer and even Rick Spielman’s jobs are in jeopardy?
Nate Leer: I think so, particularly Spielman’s job. Every draft seems to look good early but fizzles over time. He has neglected to draft OL early or often and has missed on the ones he has taken in the first 4 rounds. Matt Kalil was auite but needed to be better as one of the highest picks in team history. Spielman’s all or nothing approach to developing mediocre QB prospects has resulted in huge drop-offs, even from their average (Teddy Bridgewater) to well below (Christian Ponder) performances, when those QBs get hurt. Spielman has also been hit and miss on defensive players even while working with solid defensive head coaches including only hitting on Xavier Rhodes so far at CB despite taking plenty with early to mid round picks. Lastly, Spielman’s track record with WRs would look real bad without huge values in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen emerging. All in all, this is a make or break year for Spielman and maybe Zim.
Kras: I think Rick Spielman’s job is definitely on the line and because of that Mike Zimmer’s job may be on the line. If Spielman goes, a new GM would likely mean a new HC. Having said that, Zimmer has been battling a chronic eye problem that may also impact his ability to do his job moving forward. Beyond that, the draft picks, as Nate Leer mentioned, have not panned out. The injury to Teddy this past year makes the move up to get him look like another failed attempt at a franchise QB and that has to take its toll on ownership. If the Vikings have a winning season, I think it will be tough for them to part ways with Spielman and Co. However, if they finish with a less than 8-8 record, I think it is over.
1. What, if anything, can the NBA due about the lack of interest in the playoffs thus far?
Nate Leer: I am not sure there is much they can do outside of collective bargaining agreement to more heavily compensate players to stay in small markets and/or with struggling franchises. There are already great financial dividends that can be paid to players that stay with their teams. Maybe the answer is a different approach – make it easier to move expensive players to and group them together. Sure, that would create teams with no “stars” but a number of markets have shown that 1 or even 2 All-stars does not create a competitive team. Maybe it’s better to let mediocre teams quickly bottom out and acquire assets while better teams are able to add big time talent to their core stars. For instance, if the Knicks could have easily trade Melo last season, he could have gone to a team like Boston or Washington or Toronto. He wouldn’t have made any of them better than Cleveland but it would have been more interesting when they played each other. Or what if there were built in advantages for a team like the Pacers to send Paul George to the Clippers at the trade deadline. Would have been fun to watch!
Kras: I would agree that there is not much that can be done to stop what is already done and until they sit down at the table to bargain again this trend could continue. Big named players staying in the smaller markets and being more spread out throughout the NBA would help. However, would that stop Lebron from being in the Finals? And, if it weren’t for the recent run by Golden State, it would be the Spurs in their place in the West on an almost annual basis. The Finals is shaping up to be a good matchup and hopefully it lives up to the hype. I don’t think there will be any changes that result in better playoff basketball. It will be up to the players on teams other than the Warriors and the Cavaliers to step up and play a better game.
2. Should Knicks trade Kristaps Porzingis to Boston for the #1 pick?
Nate Leer: If the pick is the lead asset in a good package of players, yes. They should get 3 quality assets including the #1 and maybe more. Porzingis is a certified stud and would be the #1 pick in this draft even if he hadn’t already proven himself. SF Jaylen Brown, G Marcus Smart, Euro stash C Ante Zizic and the #1 pick seems like fair compensation for Porzingis, one of the top 5-10 assets in the league. The Knicks would be able to completely retool their backcourt, add athleticism and hopefully get a new star in the draft. If they could then flip Melo for a player such as Blake Griffin they could start to become a destination of choice for big free agents again. Meanwhile, the Celtics would get a dynamic big to go with their perimeter players and Al Horford to form a formidable squad.
Kras: I would say no, they shouldn’t trade him but he is likely to walk away from that New York mess after his rookie deal is up anyway. Assuming that, they should trade him and try and fleece a team for a couple players and some draft picks. In any deal they could swing for Porzingis they should try and get as may future 1st round picks as possible as the Knicks are not going anywhere anytime soon. The problems for the Knicks runs far deeper than the talent or lack thereof on the floor. Until that changes, I don’t believe it matters if they trade him or not. In the event they made some changes to the management in the organization, they might be able to convince Porzingis to stay and build around him. He is an absolute stud on the court and likely will be for years to come.
3. Which surprise first place MLB team (Twins, Rockies, Brewers or Orioles) is most likely to maintain that ranking through to the playoffs?
Nate Leer: All these teams lack proven, quality starting pitching depth but the Rockies have the best lineup and arguably the best bullpen. That makes them the best bet in my mind to win their division. The Dodgers are lurking but the dismal start for the Giants makes the NL West a 2 team race. The Twins have to contend with the Indians and the charging Tigers, the Brewers got the Cubs and Cards to deal with, and the Orioles have all kinds of competition for the top spot in the AL East. It will be interesting to see if the Rockies are willing to trade young assets for starting pitching help or, for that matter, if any of these teams will pay the price to land starting help. The Twins and Brewers definitely seem to be ahead of schedule in their rebuilding plans so they should show restraint in mortgaging the future for the present.
JJ Benz: Like Nate Leer, I also like the Rockies deep lineup, although I think the Orioles have the best chance of maintaining a first place team. The first reason I like the Orioles is because of manager Buck Showalter and his ability to get the most out of his players. Like the Rockies, the Orioles have a loaded bullpen and should get a major piece back from injury in closer Zach Britton. Manny Machado, the Orioles all world 3B man, is only hitting .225 and he should normalize as a career .281 hitter. Baltimore does play in arguably the toughest division in baseball but year after year they are at or near the top of the division. The final reason is, this Orioles team is the most experienced of the 4 teams and have been in the thick of playoff races which helps them come fall.