‘It doesn’t matter who’s playing’: How the Celtics’ low-profile moves kept them afloat

During a rare quiet moment amid the Boston Celtics’ summer of roster-turnover chaos, Danny Ainge stopped to study his new-look squad.

The Celtics had signed free-agent Gordon Hayward earlier that month, but Ainge still couldn’t shake a feeling that his team needed another ball handler with Isaiah Thomas’ lingering hip injury. (Ainge was unaware that almost at that exact moment, Kyrie Irving was asking the Cleveland Cavaliers to find the trade that would deliver him to Boston in August.)

What started with a megadeal sending two future Hall of Famers to Brooklyn has turned into a master class in roster reshaping. Four years, 20 trades and a blockbuster point guard swap later, Boston is back on the fast track to title contention.

While there’s plenty of up-and-coming offensive talent in which to invest up front — Tolvanen certainly qualifies — Nashville’s young backup goalie could also pay out rich fantasy dividends for years and years to come. Through 26 appearances (23 starts), the 22-year-old boasted a .925 save percentage and 2.45 goals-against average in his second real NHL season. At 35 years old, Rinne has one year remaining on his current contract. We’ll see what course the Preds choose to take after that.

Pelton: The Pelicans, who led the league by shooting an effective 58.0 percent in the first round (treating 3s as 1.5 field goals to account for their added value), will do no better than the league average of 52.1 percent against the Warriors in the second round.

Marks: Cleveland will lose to Toronto. Yes, I am betting against LeBron James. James’ string of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals will end in Toronto and start the rumor mill about his future six weeks before free agency. The first-round series versus Indiana taught us that despite James’ heroics, this Cleveland team has flaws that plagued it during the regular season.

Analysis: The big conferences dominate here, as you would expect. The exceptions are Roethlisberger (MAC), Smith (Mountain West) and Wentz (Missouri Valley). Wilson could actually count for both the Big Ten and the ACC, since he went to N.C. State before playing a year at Wisconsin.

Reggie McKenzie says he and Jon Gruden are on the same page in the draft

Who’s really calling the shots in the Raiders’ draft room, General Manager Reggie McKenzie or coach Jon Gruden? McKenzie says he doesn’t see it ever coming to a head.

Back to their playoff pedigree: The Capitals are perhaps the most unlikely team in the postseason to rally from an 3-0 hole, which would be the fifth time it’s been done in NHL history. Now, rallying from that deficit only to lose in a Game 7? That would fit much better in Washington’s endless parade of humbling postseason disasters.

Chris Peters, NHL prospects columnist: It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. I thought they’d put up a much better fight against the Boston Bruins, but no team has looked as dialed in as Boston during the early stages of this postseason. The Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak line appears near unstoppable at this point, with 20 points collectively through two games. If Toronto can’t stop the bleeding in Game 3, I wonder if the Leafs should even come out for Game 4.

Is it? James said. I’ve never lost a game in the first round before in my career?

But while he knows the narrative before Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on the struggles of Cleveland’s playoff newcomers, James isn’t worried.

I’m down 0-1 in the first round, he said. I was down 3-1 in the Finals. So, I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel the next couple days.

The Pacers are feeling confident after beating the Cavs for fourth time this season.

Indiana took control from the outset, opening a 21-point lead in the first quarter and pushing it to 23 in the third. The Cavs got within seven in the fourth, but Oladipo, once a role player who has blossomed into an All-Star in his first season with Indiana, hit a big 3-pointer and Bojan Bogdanovic helped put Cleveland away with a 3 to make it 88-71.

When the final horn sounded, the Pacers didn’t celebrate or run around the floor like they had accomplished anything special.

They calmly walked off, business as usual.

Vikings already have inquired about Marquette King

The Raiders released punter Marquette King on Friday afternoon. He might not need long to find a new home.

The Vikings already have inquired about King, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reports.

Vikings punter Ryan Quigley has a non-guaranteed $790,000 base salary for 2018.

Communication and inconsistency were the issues that led to the Patriots secondary’s rough start to 2017. McCourty joining his twin brother, free safety Devin, should accelerate his ability to get on the same page in the scheme. Jason’s on-the-ball playmaking also is a good complement to No. 1 corner Stephon Gilmore. Because the Patriots saved big on McCourty as opposed to what they would have had to pay for Butler, they were able to extend and give a raise to strong safety Patrick Chung.

Jason McCourty was the best possible solution to fill the Butler void in the short term.

“I think we’ll see it have a great effect on one element of this helmet [issue] in how we want the game to be played,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, via Mark Maske of the Washington Post. “I think you’ll still see the physicality. This is the one posture [that’s affected] — we’ll remove it.”

The league has acknowledged that their biggest challenge now will be one of communication, hitting the road to see all 32 teams with the presentation that illustrates what’s legal and what isn’t. While many players have reacted strongly, those involved in the conversations said there weren’t an overwhelming number of hits last year which would have qualified for an ejection.

Between the increasing number of concussions and the devastating Ryan Shazier injury, they knew something had to change, hence the new penalty which banned lowering your head to initiate contact with another player.flames_010

Why Ronald Acuna is totally worth the wait

There is one every season.

Sometimes it is in sync with traditional order. Sometimes it is a little off the beaten path. But every year, there is one prospect so close to the majors that we can preorder his jersey, yet so far away that we can stash him on the bench before deciding if he’s worth keeping or dropping for Rob Refsnyder.

If not for that result on Nov. 1, 2017, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. To come so close seems like it would be paralyzing. When pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, everything rolled back to zero. For the Dodgers to get back to the same moment will take months of work, work that they all but completed last year.

How do you recover from a near miss at that level How do you stop looking back, and return to the same levels of intensity and focus that marked last season

I almost think it would be harder to get back to the grind if we had won Game 7, said Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. This organization is still so hungry to get over that hump. We obviously got as close as you can without getting there. I think the hunger and motivation is very much there.

According to a report from TMZ, Boykin is expected to be charged with aggravated assault after his girlfriend Shabrika Bailey says he broke her jaw during a physical altercation last week.

Kemp showed up to camp in — you know the words — the best shape of his life. Except he really did, arriving in Arizona noticeably leaner. He moved better and put up good spring numbers. Lo and behold, Kemp started in left field on Opening Day, drawing a tremendous cheer from the home fans during introductions.

Like all the Dodgers, with the possible exception of Kershaw, Kemp is now just one of the guys, not the MVP-caliber star he was in his first L.A. stint. He’s older, wiser and perhaps a little more appreciative of what it means to don Dodger blue.

I was excited when I got traded here in the offseason, Kemp said. It was crazy. I had to work hard in the offseason and work to show them exactly the type of player I’m capable of being. I’m just happy to be back. It’s really exciting.

Cardinals reportedly sign former Giants OL Justin Pugh to $45M-plus deal

The Arizona Cardinals have agreed to a five-year deal with former New York Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

The deal will be worth over $45 million, per Rapoport.

Excitement builds around squads that make the biggest free-agent splashes, because it’s a sign they’re not willing to accept previous standings.

Those squads in need of the most improvement often use free agency as a buoy to plug numerous holes before the draft arrives. These organizations tend to be the biggest winners in free agency, because they accomplish the most in a short amount of time.

As English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier.'”

After two years of misery, a ray of hope shines upon the city of Cleveland and its love-hate relationship with the Browns. A 1-31 record over the last two seasons, including the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 campaign, officially became the franchise’s low point. Some might even say the organization’s current shell of an existence is worse than Art Modell’s betrayal.

That’s about the going rate for a young, respected cornerback on the open market. But the Titans are still taking a big risk, not only because Bill Belichick chose not to play Butler in the biggest game of the 2017 season, but also because Butler was average last year.

According to Pro Football Focus, Butler gave up a passer rating of 103.3 against his coverage in 2017. He’s also short and not incredibly fast, so Tennessee is banking on a scheme change and technique improvements helping its big-money cornerback bounce back from a forgettable contract season.

Butler’s track record suggests he’s a good, reliable player, but there are reasons to think his five-year deal could eventually bust.

Free-agent signings provide hope. Nothing is more important in a league that stresses parity and feeds off the notion of “any given Sunday.” patriots_112

How do you keep that kind of ego in the same room, on the same page together for nearly two decades without it unraveling?

The investigation will be conducted by Krutoy Law, a New York firm led by Evan Krutoy, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who had a stint as the acting bureau chief of the city’s sex crimes unit.

Anne Milgram, a former New Jersey attorney general whose law practice focuses on white-collar crime and government investigations, will be the lead investigator in consultation with Krutoy Law.

In the middle of it is Robert Kraft, the team’s owner, who inserted himself into the fray in a meeting with Belichick this season that ended with Kraft instructing his head coach to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, according to the report. In the end, Kraft will be tasked with trying to find a resolution between his coach and his quarterback, if finding any middle ground is even possible at this point.

In some ways it was inevitable, and it’s worth pointing out the fact that both Belichick and Brady were able to put their egos aside and get along for 17 seasons, seven Super Bowl appearances, and five wins. But nothing lasts forever.

The commercials are going to be depressing, and just in case you thought NBC wasn’t doubling down on the sadness when promoting this tragedy you can watch the commercial above and prepare for a parade of 30-second ads reminding you that after the game A FATHER DIES.

They’re also promoting it with “This is the episode …” and nothing more. Not “This is the episode where everything changes” or “This is the episode you’ve been waiting for” or anything like that. Just an open-ended promise and/or threat that you’re going to settle in for some good old-fashioned death television before you get ready for your Monday morning.

The quick version of it is this: Brady and Belichick are both “ruthless and proud self-made men, both secure though still unfinished in their legacies,” as described in the article. bears_139

Frank Gore needed 139 yards rushing for his second straight 1,000 yard season.

The Colts gave him a steady diet of carries, and when he limped off the field early in the fourth quarter after a short run, the fans gave him a rousing ovation. He returned later and finished with 24 carries for 100 yards.

But at age 34 and in the final year of his current contract, the Colts clearly wanted to give him a fond farewell — if he’s not back in Indy next season.

Texans: Receiver DeAndre Hopkins (calf) missed the first game of his NFL career, leaving four catches short of his second 100-reception season. Houston took another hit when receiver Will Fuller V departed with a left knee injury on the Texans’ first offensive series. Fuller did not return. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins left with a hamstring injury in the third quarter and did not return.

Colts: Indy played without right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (ankle). It lost safety Kenny Moore in the first half (concussion) and he did not return.

Those instant hand warmers we buy at gas stations are all over NFL locker rooms and sidelines during cold-weather games — and players will put them everywhere. Among the many ways they are used: Drop a couple inside your hand muff, tape them to the top of your feet (before putting on cleats), put them in your gloves and tape them inside the ear hole of the helmet. Back before players were required to wear leg pads, I saw guys put them in the thigh board slot of the game pants. They don’t last an entire game, so you have to keep grabbing new ones, but they provide a little relief.

So, if your team does need a new coach, who might it be? After canvassing league executives and others in the know — and consulting with ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen — we’ve compiled a loose list of some of the most likely candidates to land head-coaching jobs this offseason.lions_015

The Hornets had no legs left to challenge.

“I was just shocked because I didn’t know he went down,” 76ers rookie Ben Simmons said. “I just spoke with him and hopefully he’ll be all right.”

Asked if Covington will play Sunday against New Orleans, Brown said, “I can’t assume anything, but it would seem like he’s a no-go.”

Dykes was 13 when his dad, then a high school coach, asked his son what he wanted for his birthday. Enamored by the Pony Express of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, Dykes’ answer was tickets to an SMU game, so the two small-town West Texas natives made the trip to Lubbock.

Texas Tech had just pulled even on a field goal with 17 seconds left when Bobby Leach took a long lateral on the kickoff and ran untouched 91 yards up the sideline for a 34-27 win during SMU’s 11-0-1 season.

“We’ve got to learn to play under pressure,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “They got that goal there to go ahead and we got it back with five minutes left under pressure. A couple of giveaways, people sinking and you’ve got to play under pressure in this league. It’s a hard league.”

Kemba Walker scored 23 points and Dwight Howard had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the injury-riddled Hornets, who have lost seven of eight.

The Lakers led by one entering the fourth but went on a run midway through the quarter to push the margin to 15.

Clarkson beat Walker on a backdoor cut for a jam, Caldwell-Pope knocked down a 3-pointer and Julius Randle scored on a layup and drew a foul. Ingram’s tip-in off his own missed layup and Clarkson’s floater increased the Lakers’ lead to 14 with four minutes remaining.royals_010

The New Mexico Bowl is also the final game for Rams defensive coordinator Marty English before he retires.

Perhaps the strangest part to an already strange season for the Bulls is that Mirotic and Portis are actually playing very well together in their brief time on the floor. Mirotic, who has accepted Portis’ apology through the media, but up to this point hasn’t publicly revealed if he has spoken to Portis since the fight, seems to have found a rhythm with a player whom many observers thought he would never play with again.

Holliday said he anticipates the Stevens-Gallup connection to remain dangerous despite coaching staff shake-ups at Colorado State. The Rams lost offensive coordinator Will Friend, who is joining newly named head coach Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.

The Packers had no chance to make the playoffs over the 9-3 Saints had New Orleans fallen from first to third in the NFL’s toughest division. The Saints have a strong three-game advantage over the Packers, which includes a win at Lambeau in Week 7.

“We’re not getting off to a great start and it’s just playing its way all the way through to when we get late in games, and for whatever reason we try to turn it on,” George said. “It just seems we’re a completely different team that last four or five minutes, and that’s the way we’ve got to battle for 48 minutes.”

The Thunder have shown flashes of their potential; but their inconsistency, particularly on the offensive end as they try to sort out fitting Westbrook, George and Anthony together, has been the overarching issue.

Now that Mariota is healthy deep into a season, he needs to find another gear.

DeMarco Murray has slowed down the Titans’ traditional rushing attack, and they still seem reluctant in letting Derrick Henry get more chances. As well as Tennessee has lit up the scoreboard in some games, the maddening inconsistency has left a lot of untapped potential.

An overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday left Washington sitting 11th in the NFC playoff chase, meaning the Redskins need to jump over five teams in the final six weeks. On the plus side, starting with the Giants (a team they play twice), the Redskins won’t face a team that currently has a winning record the rest of the way.

“I feel like we have a lot of warriors on this team, guys who are winners and want to compete every single play,” tight end Vernon Davis told the Washington Post. “Weeks like thisreally test your character and test who you are as a man. How will you respond?”

I don’t think there is a player in the league who shoots the puck like him. I don’t think his wrist shot is the hardest or the release is the quickest, but it seems to be the most deceptive. Seeing something different is fun. Additionally, scoring 52 goals through one’s first 100 NHL games is a super-rare occurrence for a player of Matthews’ age. Alex Ovechkin is the only other player with more goals through his first 100 games in the last 20-plus years. Witnessing such a rare scoring talent certainly raises the entertainment value in a big way.

As for Darnold, the Trojans’ quarterback has a ways to go in the intermediate passing game, and he makes the bad mistake far too often. While that is understandable for a redshirt sophomore, it’s something scouts want to see him clean up.

But his ability to extend the play and keep his eyes down the field is second to none in the 2018 draft class, and the way hecomplete those passes when he has to is unmatched by any quarterback that is draft eligible for the next two years.nike_bills-087