1. Did the Minnesota Timberwolves made the right move trading 3 assets for Jimmy Butler?
Kras: I think this Wolves team was in desperate need of some veteran talent and leadership and they got that with Jimmy Butler. A well documented Tom Thibodeau guy, Butler is a top 20 talent himself in the NBA and he joins an impressive core of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. I think this is the right move for this team and will ultimately determine Thibs’ legacy with the Timberwolves. The Wolves got rid of a guy who is coming off of a serious knee surgery, an unimpressive and aged rookie, and the 7th pick in the draft. Tha translates to Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and newly drafted Lauri Markkanen, three lottery picks in their own right. The Wolves got the best player in the trade in Butler and a quality developmental option in Creighton C Justin Patton. I like what the Wolves did and I am hoping like hell it works.
Nate Leer: Simply, yes. Nobody is a bigger fan of Lavine than I am but teams usually have to trade talent to get talent. While Lavine has a natural, super sweet shot and elite athleticism, he has been a liability at best on the defensive end. Butler, on the other hand, is one of the very best defenders in the NBA. The fact that none of the top tier players fell to 7 also makes the trade look better for the Wolves. The Wolves have a decent chunk of money left under the cap. A couple of good moves could make this team a legit playoff contender and maybe as high as a top 4 seed in the West. They need to add a knockdown shooter (JJ Reddick?) and some front court depth (Taj Gibson?). That said, they should not overcommit to any older players. If they have to overpay for 1 year, no problem. However, they need to resist the urge to give out a Joakim Noah type contract that handcuffs them into the future. This team is now poised to possibly contend for the right to get Duranted out of the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals. Let’s play!
2. Barring a complete collapse, has Paul Molitor done enough to warrant being the Twins manager beyond this season?
Kras: I believe he has. Before last season’s 100+ loss disaster Molitor guides the 2015 Twins team to a respectable 83-79. What happened last season was a complete collapse if the bats and the arms in both the bullpen and starting rotation. With relatively the same roster they seem to be much improved this season. All things considered, Miguel Sano is playing as well as one could have hoped for and Ervin Santana has been stellar for the most part. Those two things where both missing for most of last season. All in all, I believe Molly will be safe and will likely be the skipper for the future. If things go well for the Twins Molly could have a pretty sweet gig for the foreseeable future.
Nate Leer: I think so. Molitor has gotten the most out of many of the talented assets that the Twins stockpiled and I would like to see him get a chance to further develop those players. If the Twins can make it through the 2nd half of the season without a significant losing streak, Molitor will have earned an extended opportunity to guide the young talent coming to the Twin Cities over the next several years. If the team does fade as the season goes on, I suspect chief baseball officer Derek Falvey will want to bring in his own guy to manage. That said, Molitor’s cerebral approach and calm demeanor seem like good fits with a you team and management that values metrics. Here’s hoping Molly is around for the long term.
3. Do you approve of the moves made by the Wild through the expansion draft process? What could/should they have done different?
JJ Benz: l think the Wild and Chuck Fletcher did the right thing protecting the young blueliners. The organization is very deep up front with forwards throughout the system. Good blueliners are not that easy to come by, so Fletcher had to protect the position even though it cost 2 assets to do so. I am not sure if he could have done much better to protect the young core of talented blueliners.
Kras: I am not as big of a fan of them protecting the D-men like they did but I do see some value in having plenty of guys that play D. However, I think they need to move a couple of those options in a trade at some point because otherwise they are no further ahead in changing this team for the better. Erik Haula and Alex Tuch were decent piece to sacrifice to the expansion Golden Knights as they were not core pieces of the Wild. The loss of Haula hurts a bit in the way that they are now thin at the C position, again, as they historically have been. I think the best thing the Wild did, and I’m not even sure he was in any danger of being taken in the expansion draft anyway, was protecting Eric Staal. Staal had a fantastic season with the Wild last year and I believe his services will be necessary again for the Wild to match and surpass their success from last season. I think Chuck Fletcher sees value in the young D-men and that is why he is protecting them. Hopefully it pays off because this team needs it to in a bad way.
1. What NBA team do you feel improved the most through this year’s draft?
Kras: I feel the team that improved most through the draft this year was the Los Angeles Lakers. I think drafting Lonzo Ball to likely run the O for the Lakers could pay off for Magic and Co. Ball has all the passing ability in the world and was a fairly reliable college shooter albeit with a goofy release so there might be some growing pain with that. With Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, also quality young talent on the Lakers still growing and developing, I think the Lakers will be an interesting team to watch in the next 3-5 years. When you factor in the talent they already have with the possibility of adding Paul George and/or LeBron James, Lonzo Ball could be in position to have a great career for his hometown team.
Nate Leer: There were a number of big winners in the draft, in my estimation. The Suns getting Josh Jackson was a great value. They need this type of player and he should have been the #1 pick in my mind. The Magic were also winners by virtue of Jonathan Isaacs making it to them at #6. He seems to have the most upside of any big man in the draft. I would have taken him after only Jackson. As stated earlier, the Wolves were probably the biggest winners because they were able to trade out of the #7 pick, where I saw a big drop in talent, in the process of getting Jimmy Butler. All that being said, I think the Trailblazers may have gotten the biggest steal of the draft by acquiring #10 pick Zach Collins for the # 15 and #20 picks. Sure SacTown got 2 top 20 picks in a deep draft BUT they gave up the best talent outside of the top 6. I think Collins has the size, athleticism and skills to develop into a complete player and an impact one at that. Portland may have a player now that can balance with their strong backcourt, help on D by protecting the rim and not hurt the O because he can run, jump and shoot. Don’t be shocked if his development helps vault Portland into the top of the West.
2. What grade would you give the Las Vegas Golden Knights for their expansion draft and do you think the will be able to compete in year 1?
Kras: If I had to assign it a letter grade, I would have to give the Knights a B. It is tough to build your team from 3rd and 4th line guys from other teams. The Knights did have the advantage in that some teams wanted to protect some players and thus the Knights were able to pick up an extra prospect or 2 and a handful of draft picks both this year and in years to come. Although I am not a big fan myself, I did like the Marc Andre-Fleury pick for the team. Fleury has shown the ability to be a big game goalie and even if it doesn’t translate to wins for them, they will likely be able to get a pretty good haul from a team that is looking to make a deep playoff run. They also ended up with D Nate Schmidt, C Jonathan Marchessault, and LW James Neal. I think these guys are all nice pieces to help construct a team but I don’t think there is enough talent there for the Knights to be taken seriously, as a contender. It will likely be a couple years before they are competing in anything. In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch pro sports in Las Vegas.
JJ Benz: I agree with Kras on the fact that it will be tough for this team to compete in its first couple years of existence. Giving the franchise a letter grade is difficult without them playing a single game. However, I believe that the Golden Knights did a marvelous job picking from the players other teams didn’t want. James Neal and David Perron were both names I would have thought would be available. I think the franchise set up a nice base for the future in the NHL rookie draft in which they had the 6th,13th and15th picks. George McPhee, the Golden Knights GM, had to be sprinting to the podium when Cody Glass was still available with the 6th pick. Not only did they get one of the most physical Cs in the draft in Glass, they also selected a Swede named Erik Brannstrom who was considered the best D man in this class. So overall I feel they did a fabulous job collecting talent, now we will have to see how it comes all together.
3. With lots of young budding talent, who is the best hitter in the MLB right now?
Kras: There are a lot of talented hitters in both the AL and NL and because of that it is hard to pick just one guy as the best hitter. Trying not to put too much emphasis on past seasons, and just focus on more recent success, my answer is Jose Altuve. Altuve is currently 3rd in the AL batting race as it stands with a .324 average behind only Corey Dickerson and The Judge, Aaron Judge. Altuve has more of a proven track record and has shown that he can hit for long stretches of time and break out of any relative slump before it escalates too far. Altuve will be in the batting title conversation again this year and will be my pick to win the title in the AL once again.
Nate Leer: Kras makes a great choice in Altuve. I can’t argue with the pick at all. Instead, I will focus on the NL’s best hitter. In my opinion, that is Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. He flies under the radar because his team is not very good. However, no one is better at working pitchers for good pitches and driving the ball. The dude is really an unreal hitter with all the skills – plate discipline, bat speed, plate coverage, power, and so on. It is even more impressive that he has done a lot of the damage over his career without great protection in the lineup. Simply put, he is worth watching if you ever get the chance and there is not a better pure hitter in the sport.