Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  Kevin Garnett is regarded as the all-time Minnesota Timberwolves’ best player. Forward Kevin Love, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, is having an outstanding season, averaging 25 points and 14 rebounds per game and played in his second NBA All-Star Game Sunday. Does Love have a chance to supplant Garnett as the No. 1 Timberwolves all-time player?

-Dorr: Yes, he does. Without looking at the numbers, Love seems to be as good as Garnett was at this time in Garnett’s career. Garnett was a very good player with the Wolves and managed to stay out of trouble while here, although he was known for being one of the NBA’s  big trash talkers, which seems to be a big part of that league. Love, at least to this point, conducts himself differently than did Garnett, something I like, although many people don’t care how someone acts – they just want to know if he or she can produce. Love will have to keep producing year after year to surpass Garnett but he seems to have the mentality to do that.

-Marxhausen: Kevin Love has been an absolute spark plug for the Timberwolves since he joined the team three years ago. In his first two seasons, Love was the hustle player on the court, making sure that he fought for every rebound and trying to get points any way he could. Only until this past season has Love looked comfortable enough to shoot the mid-range shot or even back up to hit a three-point shot. He was the first member of the Timberwolves organization to ever win the three-point challenge and all I could think of when he won against Kevin Durant last weekend were Charles Barkley’s remarks at the beginning of the challenge, stating he would only want Love in the paint and not behind the three-point line. Through his first three seasons, Love has averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds. Garnett did not have the same fortune as Love, only averaging 15.3 points and eight rebounds. Garnett put in his time and worked hard for 12 seasons trying to get the Timberwolves to the NBA finals, falling short in the 2003 Western Conference finals. If Love puts in the time and can help bring the Timberwolves relative success, then I can say he is well on his way to supplant Garnett.

-Larson:  There’s been a lot of love out there for Kevin Love this season. He’s been amazingly consistent and had big games against several of the NBA’s best teams. Other than stepping on an opposing player’s head and drawing a suspension earlier this season, he’s been a good soldier on and off the court. If he stays healthy and the team has some notable success, he has a great chance of becoming the Timberwolves’ most popular and best player.

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•Question:  St. Paul Pioneer Press sports columnist Charlie Walters reported last week that the Minnesota Twins will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their 2002 Central Division champions at the Target Field opener April 9 against the Los Angeles Angels. Several players from that team will be on hand for the event. Is that feat worthy of a celebration?

-Dorr: It’s in vogue in sports these days to have a celebration anytime there is an anniversary of a certain accomplishment. It’s probably a marketing ploy more than anything but it will also be a nostalgic time for some fans. Do you remember the outfield of Jacque Jones (27 homers), Torii Hunter (29) and Dustan Mohr, with David Ortiz (20) as the designated hitter? A.J. Pierzynski was the catcher, with Doug Mientkiewicz (10) at first, Luis Rivas at second, Cristian Guzman at short and Corey Koskie (15) at third. Remember that we thought we were set for the next decade with Rivas and Guzman up the middle. Both were gone a couple years later, despite the fact that Guzman led the league in triples in 2001, 2003 and 2004 (20, 14 and 14). Rick Reed, unbelievably, won 15 games and Kyle Lohse and Eric Milton each won 13. Eddie Guardado had 45 saves and Johan Santana got his baptism with 108 innings and showed real promise with a 2.99 ERA. It doesn’t seem like 10 years have gone by.

-Marxhausen: The 2002 season was so close to becoming the Twins’ year to make it back to the World Series. The thing about that team is that it had leaders at numerous positions and experience on the pitching mound. The likes of Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Johan Santana, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado made for a solid pitching staff. Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer comprised an impressive outfield. Corey Koskie (third base), Christian Guzman (shortstop), Luis Rivas (second base), Doug Mientkiewicz (first base) and A.J. Pierzynski (catcher) were solid. I grew up watching this team and I enjoyed watching every game I could. This was an exciting year and gave the Twins the best shot at making it back the World Series. I loved this team and I loved the way these players played together, but to have a celebration is absolutely pointless. Giving the idea that falling short of the ultimate goal is worth celebrating is misleading. The point of every season is to win the World Series. Winning the Central Division is only a stepping-stone to that ultimate goal and is not sending the right message.

-Larson:  I don’t think that a pro team should celebrate an accomplishment that fell well short of the ultimate goal – a World Series title. That said, many Twins fans will enjoy seeing these former players who comprised a very good team. And, maybe it will soften the blow of an Angels’ sweep in the series.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team was clubbed by Indiana 69-50 Sunday at Williams Arena. The Gophers slipped to a 5-11 Big Ten record and 17-12 overall mark. What’s been the biggest flaw of this team?

-Dorr: The loss to Michigan State last week, one in an ever-growing list of late-game failures this season, might have provided the answer. No one, it seems, is ready to step up late in the game. I’ve grown tired of hearing Big Ten announcers say how talented Rodney Williams is. He and Ralph Sampson each have a good game here and there but not often enough. Late in the Michigan State game Williams, with his team still leading, had a clear path to drive to the basket but passed the ball back outside. And a possession or two earlier he turned down a shot that ended up forcing a hurried shot as the shot clock expired. Those same announcers were praising Ralph Sampson for a great game but all he had was eight points. Since when does that qualify as a great game for a 6-11 senior center? Princeton High School’s Jared Berggren wasn’t afraid to take a big shot for Wisconsin Sunday afternoon and he scored 18 points to lead the Badgers to an upset win over Ohio State. Or maybe the answer  to the Gopher question is turnovers. Minnesota had three turnovers the first half and completely outplayed Michigan State for 35 minutes. But there were all kinds of turnovers, some unforced, in the those last five minutes. We’ve got to remember that the team has played without injured star Trevor Mbakwe and that it likely would have a better record with him. Still, there could have been so many more wins.

-Marxhausen:  The Gophers are doing better this season than I had assumed they would. Their overall record shows that they are fighting and had every intention of contending, but the competition of the Big Ten has added so many tallies in the loss column. The biggest flaw is that the team does not have a true leader to go to when the pressure is on. The biggest flaw is not having a leader and finisher on the team. Trevor Mbakwe was their leader and was a powerful presence in the paint. He led the team in points and rebounds before tearing his ACL last November. The Gophers and Tubby Smith have done what they could to put a shinning light on this season. There’s little chance of this team making the NCAA Tournament.

-Larson:  The Gophers were left without a leader when Trevor Mbakwe was lost for the season. No one has stepped up to take that role and the players, and coach, appear lost at crunch time. Another disappointing season at “The Barn.”

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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