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Quick Takes: Wolves were better without D-Lo, Fleck on Vols radar, Vikings losing DBs coach

D’Angelo Russell, Tyus Jones
Memphis Grizzlies’ Tyus Jones (21) looks on as Minnesota Timberwolves’ D’Angelo Russell (0) lays up a shot in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Minneapolis. The Grizzlies won 118-107. Russell scored 25 points. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Timberwolves looked like a better team without D’Angelo Russell on Saturday, P.J. Fleck’s name appears to be in the mix for the Tennessee football job and the Vikings’ search for assistant coaches has increased to three. Let’s examine each of these topics.

  • Item: D’Angelo Russell was held out of the Timberwolves’ victory over New Orleans on Saturday so he could rest in the second of back-to-back games. Coach Ryan Saunders is now saying the guard suffered a quadriceps injury on Friday in a loss to Atlanta and is unlikely to play in Monday night’s game at Golden State.
  • Reaction: Russell had played only 21 minutes in the Wolves’ 116-98 loss to the Hawks — it was Minnesota’s fourth consecutive loss and 11th in 12 games — so it seemed like an odd time to rest a max player, especially with Karl-Anthony Towns still sidelined because of COVID-19. It makes more sense now that we know Russell was banged up, but here’s where this gets interesting (or concerning if you’re the Wolves). The Wolves showed more spark on offense and defense with Russell on the bench in a 120-110 victory over the struggling Pelicans. Veteran point guard Ricky Rubio looked the best he has since returning to Minnesota in an offseason trade, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists and giving Saunders almost exactly what he wanted on the floor. The Wolves obtained Russell to pair him with Towns — the two have only played five games together since Russell was acquired from the Warriors last season — but Saunders and Co. also need Russell to be a winning player when Towns isn’t on the floor. So far that hasn’t been the case and that has to be a concern.
  • Item: John Brice of FootballScoop reported the Parker Executive Search firm has identified and vetted Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and Southern Methodist head coach Sonny Dykes for the Tennessee job. The Volunteers recently dismissed head coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine assistants and staff members for alleged recruiting violations. Those violations could result in serious punishment from the NCAA.
  • Reaction: The Gophers went 3-4 in the pandemic-shortened season, but it’s not surprising Fleck’s name would come up after he led the Gophers to an 11-2 finish and a victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl during the 2019 season. He was mentioned in connection with the Florida State job in November of that season, but shortly thereafter the University of Minnesota signed him to a seven-year contract. His buyout figure was $10 million for 2020 but is $4.5 million for 2021. One would figure that even with revenues impacted by the pandemic that Tennessee would be willing to pay that if the Vols really wanted the 40-year-old Fleck. Tennessee went 3-7 this season in the SEC so there is plenty of work to be done. One selling point would be the Vols are in the SEC East, meaning they aren’t in the same division with Alabama and Texas A&M. Fleck is 26-19 overall and 15-19 in the Big Ten in four seasons at Minnesota. The guess here is he stays put but if he’s able to pick up in 2021 where he left off in 2019, Fleck’s name will continue to surface when some of the bigger jobs in college football open up.
  • Item: Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones is expected to become the next defensive coordinator at LSU, according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.
  • Reaction: Jones, who replaced veteran coach Jerry Gray after last season, will be one and done with the Vikings as takes over for Bo Pelini at LSU. Coach Mike Zimmer, who prides himself on his ability to develop defensive backs, will have to find a replacement for a group of players who will continue to need plenty of tutelage. Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, selected in the first and third rounds, respectively, last April, just completed their rookie seasons and their growing pains likely aren’t done. There are other questions in the secondary, including the status of 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes as he attempts to return from a season-ending injury for the second consecutive year. Zimmer also is searching for an offensive coordinator to replace Gary Kubiak, who retired last week, and a special teams coordinator to replace Marwan Maalouf, whose contract was allowed to expire after the Vikings had a dreadful season in that area. The Vikings failed to bring in a veteran corner last season to try to stabilize the unit after the team’s three starters (Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes) departed, but this time Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman might realize the value that adding someone with experience can provide.