Kevin Love is tired of the Wolves’ frequent losing (us, too)

Kevin Love says he is fed up with the Timberwolves’ persistent losing.

Funny, so are we.

Love, for all his other-worldly stats and rapid-fire ascension to the upper reaches of the NBA’s talent pyramid, seems like a bit of a whiner. During his four years with the Wolves, Love has complained about his playing time, Kurt Rambis’ offense, his lack of a supporting cast, his contract status, Al Jefferson and the frigid Minnesota winters.

Now, we’re not saying it’s surprising that Love is sick of losing. But in an interview with Yahoo! Sports — recapped on ESPN.com here — Love said, among other things:

“If I don’t make the playoffs next year, I don’t know what will happen.”

“We need to make some moves. We can’t just stand still. We have to make this happen.”

Two things: It’s not like prolific free agents are lining up with their resumes outside the Target Center, and the Wolves have done anything but “stand still” this summer. They’ve added Chase Budinger, and are close with Brandon Roy and Nicolas Batum, a pair of ex-Blazers who will be immediate upgrades at their respective positions.

Those additions might not be as sexy as roping in a Ray Allen, Dwight Howard or Steve Nash, but those upper-echelon players aren’t coming to the Twin Cities, not on their own free will, anyways. The Wolves clearly are building around their two cornerstones — Love and flashy point guard Ricky Rubio. They’re not about to make a big splash, but instead are poised to continue adding complementary parts — a sharpshooter here, a lock-down defender there.

So we’re not completely sure what Love expects. What we are sure of, though, is that a superstar of Love’s caliber shoulders part of the blame for the team’s struggles. Granted, he can’t do it alone, but if he’s to be paid like a franchise player, then he needs to instigate the turnaround.

Wild caravan swings by Duluth

Here’s an article I wrote for Tuesday’s News Tribune:

Say this for Duluth youngster Vinny Pitoscia: He’s not shy about his expectations for the Minnesota Wild in 2012-13, even after last year’s free-fall.

“They better win every game,” Pitoscia, 10, quipped Monday at the Heritage Sports Center, where the Wild kicked off the Northland leg of their summer caravan.

Pitoscia made his bold declaration moments after getting the autographs of Wild players Nate Prosser and Jason Zucker. He was leaving the Heritage Sports Center after attending a summer camp session led by Duluth East hockey coach Mike Randolph.

And Monday’s caravan couldn’t have come at a better time for Pitoscia, who spent much of the past week tearing up soggy hardwood floors with his 6-year-old brother, Jack, at the family’s Hunters Park home in the wake of last week’s flooding.

Hockey is a way of life for Pitoscia, whose father, Eric, played for Randolph on East’s 1995 state-championship team.

In addition to Prosser and Zucker, two up-and-comers, Wild radio personalities Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid were on hand to sign autographs and discuss the state of the team. The prevailing theme Monday was one of optimism.

The Wild boast a plethora of young talent, with high-profile prospects checkering their system, many of whom are expected to finally make their NHL debuts in 2012-13. Included in that bunch is 20-year-old phenom Mikael Granlund, a flashy forward with a knack for scoring goals.

Asked if he took any grief from fans frustrated by the team’s recent mediocrity, Zucker chuckled. “No, not really,” he said. “Honestly, they’re all looking forward to next season. (General manager) Chuck Fletcher’s done an outstanding job” stockpiling young talent.

While the most popular jersey Monday appeared to be that of Mikko Koivu, at least one young fan was thrilled to get Zucker’s autograph. Tyler Smith, 8, of Duluth said Zucker is his favorite Wild player, in part because Smith was at Xcel Energy Center for one of Zucker’s first games, a shootout win over the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in March. Zucker tallied two assists that night, solidifying Smith’s loyalty in the process.

Smith, who plays hockey in the Congdon Park program, was attending an open skate at Heritage. Before lacing up, though, he took a crack at the Wild-themed chuck-a-puck contest — think bean bag boards, but with fluffy hockey pucks — and produced ringers on two of this three tosses.

About 100 fans attended the hour-long caravan stop. As they waited patiently in line, conversation centered on the team’s chances in the upcoming season. Almost forgotten, it seemed, were the struggles of last winter.

The retooled Wild — with key offseason acquisitions Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi — led the NHL in points in mid-December, but injuries and a punchless offensive attack led to a second-half swoon. They missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
But the addition of Granlund and his highly touted rookie counterparts, along with the expected return to good health of Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Koivu, has fans and players alike anticipating a resurgence.

“I think we got a good team,” said Prosser, a 26-year-old defenseman and an Elk River, Minn., native. “We got a lot of young guys and a lot of guys got a lot of experience also, so it looks good. The future looks bright for the Wild, not only next year, but the years following.”

Vikes’ Harvin is upset, but nobody knows why

Percy Harvin, he of the unparalleled athleticism and what-will-he-do-next playmaking ability, is not a happy camper wherein his relationship with the Vikings is concerned.

However, the outstanding receiver isn’t saying what’s got him so worked up. Apparently, he’d rather everybody just guess — married men the world over are shaking their heads. Is it financial, meaning Harvin wants a revamped deal that better aligns with his on-field contributions? Is it an unease with quarterback Christian Ponder or a general dissatisfaction with the direction of the team’s offense? Does he hate the color purple? Is he upset that Joe Mauer is being out-homered by vagabond ballplayers and utility infielders?

What’s the deal, Percy?

Here’s what Harvin, who’s entering his fourth NFL season, told the Associated Press on Tuesday:

“I just put it this way, there’s a lot of different things that have to be sorted out,” Harvin said on the first day of a mandatory minicamp. “Just haven’t been really happy lately. We’ve got a couple of things to work on. I’m here in the classroom. We’ll go from there.”

“I don’t get into specifics,” Harvin added. “Just overall haven’t been really happy. But we (are) here, hopefully we can get things worked out and go from there.

“We’ve got a lot of time between then, hopefully a lot of conversations. It’s just a couple different issues. It’s hard to try to tell you guys without telling you guys. I just keep it as that.”

Umm, OK.

Clearly Harvin has the science of speaking without ever saying anything perfected.

For their part, the Vikings don’t sound overly concerned, with coach Leslie Frazier saying he believes healthy dialogue between the two can resolve any issues.

In an unrelated story, why are wide receivers always so mercurial (looking at you, Randy)?

Dizzying numbers, courtesy of R.A. Dickey

We discussed the improbable tale of R.A. Dickey last week in this very space, but after the 37-year-old soft-tosser produced his second consecutive one-hitter Monday night — a 5-0 win over Baltimore, which is managed by the man who prodded Dickey to experiment with a knuckleball, Buck Showalter — we need to roll out some dizzying factoids, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Dickey became the first major leaguer in 24 years to throw consecutive one-hitters.

• Dickey struck out a career-high 13 (Monday) and allowed only Wilson Betemit’s clean single in the fifth inning. He has not permitted an earned run in 42 2-3 innings, the second-longest stretch in club history behind Dwight Gooden’s streak of 49 innings in 1985.

• Dickey (11-1) walked two and became the first 11-game winner in the majors, befuddling Baltimore with knucklers that ranged from 66-81 mph in a game that took just 2 hours, 7 minutes.

• A longtime journeyman before joining the Mets in 2010, Dickey has won a career-best nine straight decisions and six consecutive starts. He is tied for the major league lead in ERA (2.00), strikeouts (103) and complete games (three).

• It was his fourth game this season with double-digit strikeouts, most in the majors, and the fifth of his career. The right-hander has an incredible 71 strikeouts and six walks in his last seven starts.

• The only active knuckleballer in the majors, Dickey has a 1.21 ERA and 88 strikeouts during his nine-game winning streak.

The Mets said Dickey has made five straight starts with no earned runs allowed and at least eight strikeouts, the longest streak in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

An odd time to hear the name Mason Raymond

Yours truly isn’t exactly hip with the current television lineup. I dabble in sitcoms, but we’re talking “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” so basically anything that was popular about a decade ago. I recently signed up for Netflix, a wonderful tool for wasting time and staring blankly at a computer screen for hours on end, and was instructed to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” from the beginning.

No problem.

So there I was lounging in bed this afternoon, watching the 11th episode of Season 3 when Robin, while talking of an office fling, mentioned a name that resonates with Minnesota Duluth hockey fans everywhere.

Her words: We can split a cab to work together, we always have a standing lunch date, and last night, at the hockey game, Curt got us into the locker room and I met Mason Raymond.

When the rest of the group responded with dead silence, Robin added: Left wing for the Vancouver Canucks!

Barney, always the jokester, replied: What’s the opposite of name-dropping?

Raymond, of course, is a former Bulldog (2005-07). He has 70 career goals in four NHL seasons. Plus one mention on a hit sitcom, though that is not listed on his official player bio.

That is all. Carry on.

Do you realize R.A. Dickey is among the best pitchers in baseball?

Updates have been infrequent around here lately, and we’re blaming that on two factors: last-minute training for Saturday’s Grandma’s Marathon and a shorthanded staff on the copy desk.

Still, we won’t make excuses … although we pretty much just did.

The premise for today’s rare post: R.A. Dickey.

R.A. Dickey, if you recall, pitched (almost exclusively) out of the bullpen for the Twins in 2009. He went 1-1 with a modest 4.62 ERA.

(Side note: 4.62 is hardly “modest” wherein earned-run averages are concerned. Instead, it tilts closer to “awful.” However, our standards obviously have been lowered given the recent struggles of Twins starters, many of whom would kill for a sub-5 ERA.)

Dickey has bounced around throughout his decade-long career. In fact, take a gander through the encyclopaedia, and you’ll see Dickey’s mug next to the word “journeyman.” That’s just the role he’s carved out for himself. Entering this season, his ERA was a shade north of 4, and his win-loss record in 10 MLB seasons was 41-50. How, then, do you explain these numbers: 10-1, 2.20?

That is Dickey’s 2012 record, followed by his make-you-look-twice ERA. To be fair, the knuckleballing right-hander has been pretty stinkin’ good since his departure from the Twins (aren’t they all?). He posted a 2.84 earned-run average in 2010, 3.24 in 2011. But this, his third season with the Mets, has been borderline unbelievable.

Dickey’s name is being thrown around in discussions of National League Cy Young candidates. He’s a leading contender to start the All-Star Game in mid-July. He’s the ace of a staff that has propelled the Mets into the thick of the NL East race — and said staff features a dazzling lefty by the name of Johan Santana.

Again, this is R.A. Dickey we’re talking about!

Now, if this were 2004, we’d all just write off this anomaly as a testament to the powers of science (think Roger Clemens “allegedly” benefiting from PEDs while winning a Cy Young at the age of, like, 64). But Dickey really wouldn’t benefit from a scientific boost, and those are much harder to come by these days. He’s a crafty knuckleballer, immune to the obsession with radar guns. Enhanced velocity — a presumed benefit of PEDs — wouldn’t matter a lick to Dickey, nor would being able to bounce back quicker following starts — another presumed benefit. Knuckleballers have rubber arms, where pitch counts and inning logs are rendered obsolete.

So, again, how the heck is R.A. Dickey, the guy with the goofy glasses and even goofier windup, one of the best pitchers on the planet?

We may never know, but we’ll sure enjoy watching those unpredictable knuckleballs flutter past flustered hitters so long as Dickey — R.A. Dickey! — keeps this thing going.

And, given that the current Twins rotation includes the names Diamond, Walters (on the DL, but still) Hendriks (Saturday’s likely starter), Blackburn and Liriano, we’ll probably weep a little bit.

Vikes’ Peterson sprinting toward recovery

All the good news coming out of Eden Prairie, Minn., these days — especially where one Adrian Peterson is concerned — leaves us with one conclusion:

It’s too good to be true.

All the kudos in the world to Peterson for rehabbing so diligently to bounce back from the devastating knee injury he suffered late last season against Washington. But, as these things go, too much good news can almost be a bad thing. Players work feverishly to put an injury behind them, often returning to their normal pre-injury pace much too soon.

Thus, as Peterson keeps making headlines for every hurdle he clears, we can’t help but think that there’s a sharp shot of reality looming right around the corner. We wouldn’t be surprised if the league’s best running back has a setback in the near future. He is religiously committed to being at full strength for the Vikings’ 2012 opener Sept. 9.

At the team’s headquarters this spring, he’s surprised coaches and trainers with his progress, and they’ve all admitted it’s been a chore to extinguish Peterson’s burning desire to run, cut and lift weights like the AP of old.

“I was having a heck of a time holding him back,” head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman told the Star Tribune recently.

At this point, we’d confidently guess Peterson will be in the backfield for Week 1 — setbacks or no setbacks — even though that’s an ultra-aggressive timetable to overcome ACL and MCL tears. Still, Peterson is kind of super-human, and his singular focus is to help his team open the season by beating Jacksonville.

More from the Star Tribune:

Which leads to the one question that seems to confound Peterson: What happens if Sept. 9 arrives and he is not ready to play?

“I don’t know how to answer that question,” Peterson said. “And I struggle to even entertain it. Because that’s not the way my mind is tuned in. I can’t let that negativity seep in. My mindset is that I will be there. I want to be playing. Forget what everyone else says.”

OK.

So Sept. 9 remains the goal until it’s no longer possible. Then, if need be, Peterson will readjust.

“No,” Peterson asserted. “The goal is the goal. And I’m going to accomplish it.”

Twins take HS outfielder Buxton No. 2 overall

The Twins selected Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton with the No. 2 overall pick in the MLB draft this evening.

From the Star Tribune:

The 6-foot-2 Buxton batted .513 for his high school team and also posted a 10-1 record as a pitcher. He hit three home runs for Appling High School, but opponents often pitched around him.

“Byron Buxton is the biggest game-changing player that I have seen in Georgia since (Royals outfielder) Jeff Francoeur,” said a rival high school coach, Josh Cole, in a news release after Buxton was named Gatorade’s Georgia Baseball Player of the Year.

The selection of Buxton was a bit surprising considering Houston passed on Stanford ace Mark Appel, widely considered the top prospect — though many scouts worry about his makeup, namely that he’s too nice. With the Twins short on pitching throughout their organization, it would have made sense for them to snatch up Appel. General manager Terry Ryan had said all along, however, that the team would take the best player available, regardless of position, and the Twins obviously had Buxton at the top of their wish list all along.

On a side note, it’s always tough to get excited about the MLB draft. Whereas players selected in the NFL draft have a chance to make an impact right away, baseball prospects overwhelmingly take four, five and six years to reach the big-league club — if they ever do.

Twins have a shot at respectability

In case you haven’t noticed — and judging by the attendance, you haven’t — the Twins have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb out of the cellar.

Aimless “Major League” references aside, the Twins have won five of their past six games while showing signs of honest-to-goodness competence. And if ever there was a chance to make a move, this is it. Consider the team’s upcoming slate:

• Three games at Kansas City (.431 winning percentage entering Sunday)
• Three games vs. the Cubs (.346)
• Three games vs. Philadelphia (.519)
• Three games vs. Milwaukee (.453)
• Three games at Pittsburgh (.500)
• Three games at Cincinnati (.569)

The Twins are 20-33 after beating Cleveland on Sunday. Let’s get aggressive and say they go 12-6 in these next 18 games, a daunting task, no doubt, but not impossible given their recent improvement and the annual success they enjoy in Interleague play. 12-6 would put the Twins at 32-39, which would give them a fighting chance to at least make the remainder of this season interesting.

Now, we’re not saying this is the likely outcome, but the way 2012 has unfolded thus far, we’ll take dashes of optimism wherever we can get them. And if wishful prognosticating happens to be one of those dashes, well so be it.

20th anniversary of Jordan’s magical marksmanship

Every so often, we’re blessed to watch an athlete craft a transcendent performance.

Twenty years ago today — June 3 — Michael Jordan delivered one of those performances. It came in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals when Jordan torched the Portland Trailblazers for six 3-pointers and 35 points in the first half, both playoff records. That game forever will be remembered for Jordan’s aw-shucks shoulder shrug toward the scorer’s table after he nailed his sixth 3 late in the second quarter.

Here’s a highlight video from that afternoon, courtesy of ESPN.com.