The NBA Off-Season Fraternity Battle

ESPN’s corporate stronghold on the sports reporting business is growing stronger and stronger by the second, even with massive budget cuts, overall revenues taking a dive recently and lay-offs of SEVERAL high ranking “analysits”.  ESPN as a brand is still going strong, replacing the popular and (occassionally overly) well-paid talking heads with younger unknown talking hairdos almost regularly.

One of the NBA mainstayers is Tom Haberstroh, an extremely knowledgable NBA beat-writer who I would guess has a lot of phone numbers in his cell’s contact list.  He’s probably so cool.

But even the greats can falter at times, like Tyson against Buster Douglas or Lebron James against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan again, Tony Parker again, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry again, Klay Thompson again, Kevin Durant and of course Javale McGee.

The NBA preseason jibberish writing is of the fullest abundance currently, Mr. Haberstroh has briefly lost his way in an article posing the question of “Who’s the next Super Team?”.  After discussing the obvious (although not-probable) possibilitites: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers (big “IF” on this one) and San Antonio Spurs, the list became hilarious, ficticious and even more fleeting than Anthony Scaramucci.

Haberstroh writes:

Darkhorse: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have essentially cleared the decks for the future. By trading Jimmy Butler and officially hitting the reset button on the Tom Thibodeau era, Chicago has only about $23 million in guaranteed contracts in 2018 and another $16.4 million in non-guaranteed money. Zach LaVine has a free agent cap hold at nearly $10 million, but the expectation here is they’ll wait on extension talks until they see his recovery from a torn ACL. That would be the smart move.

The Bulls should have $52 million in cap space next summer and a big-time market to lure free agents, but unlike L.A. and San Antonio, Chicago lacks a magnetic star like Kawhi or Lonzo. Maybe Kris DunnLauri Markkanen or LaVine can prove us wrong, but we’re not betting on a star rising in Chicago anytime soon.

Runner-up: Phoenix Suns

Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough knows what it takes to get this done. The 36-year-old was an assistant GM under Danny Ainge when they brought in Garnett and Allen in 2007. The chest is full of assets in Phoenix. The Suns have four top-10 picks on the roster who aren’t even of drinking age yet: Devin Booker (20 years old), Josh Jackson (20), Dragan Bender (19) and Marquese Chriss (20).

Not only that, the Suns have the Heat’s 2018 first-rounder (protected Nos. 1-7) and their unprotected 2021 first-rounder to toss in a deal, in addition to their own first-round picks going forward. Assuming the Suns don’t attach any of those long-term prizes in a deal for Kyrie Irving, the Suns are set to be prime candidates for a superteam via trade.

There’s no doubt that the Suns will be lurking in case a disgruntled star makes noise next season. Like Boston, the Suns figure to keep a close eye on New Orleans, but Kristaps PorzingisBlake Griffin and Klay Thompson are all names to watch down the line.

Dark horse: Philadelphia 76ers

The process is starting to turn into results. By signing JJ Redick and Amir Johnson to big one-year deals, Bryan Colangelo sent a clear message: overspend now but retain flexibility later. Philadelphia is set up for the future with $48 million in cap space to spend in 2018 while retaining a core of Markelle FultzBen SimmonsDario SaricJoel Embiid and Robert Covington (the latter two’s free-agent cap holds are factored in here).

Even with a max contract for Embiid, the 76ers would have $50 million in cap space for 2019 to go after Klay Thompson or Kevin Love. Of course, with all the young talent, they could flip their bundle of assets for ready-made stars, a la the 2008 Celtics. Colangelo isn’t shy about fast-tracking a contender. Remember, in Phoenix, Colangelo in 2004 signed a 30-year-old Steve Nash to pair with a 21-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire and a 23-year-old Joe Johnson. And the rest is history.

The next ’14 Warriors: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have quietly built an offensive machine in Denver. Fact: After Nikola Jokic joined the starting lineup in Dec. 15, the Nuggets — not the KD edition of the Warriors, nor the LeBron-led Cavs — owned the NBA’s best offensive rating for the rest of the season (113.3 points pre 100 possessions). Yeah, that caught the rest of the NBA by surprise too.

And just like the Warriors, the Nuggets built an offensive juggernaut largely through the draft without needing a top-five pick. Like Draymond Green, Jokic was a gem found in the second round back in 2014. Talented guard Jamal Murray was the No. 7 selection in 2016, and Gary Harris was a sweet-shooting steal at No. 19 in 2014. Kenneth Faried was the No. 22 pick in 2011 during the Masai Ujiri regime.

Under the leadership of president Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas, the Nuggets have nailed their draft picks lately. And like Golden State a few years ago, they’ve begun adding from the outside. This summer, the Nuggets acquired their version of Andre Iguodala in Paul Millsap, a star team-first veteran who can anchor both sides of the floor.

And they may not be done. With some cap creativity, the Nuggets could have up to $45 million in cap space (good enough for a max player) to add to an already strong core of Millsap, Jokic, Murray and Harris. If Denver declines Jokic’s team option, he would join Harris in next summer’s restricted free-agent class, giving Denver more flexibility next summer.

So who would be the Nuggets’ KD? Don’t overlook Chris Paul as a target. Denver’s head honcho, Connelly, was the assistant GM in New Orleans in 2010 while Paul was there. And the Los Angeles Times reported that Denver was on Paul’s short list of planned free agency meetings this summer before Houston pried him away. No team may ever replicate the Warriors’ success through the draft, but Denver could have the best shot of anyone.

Runner-up: Milwaukee Bucks

This is another stud core built through the draft. Giannis AntetokounmpoJabari ParkerMalcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker were all Bucks’ selections, and only one (Parker) was a top-nine pick. (Milwaukee also traded for Khris Middleton after his rookie season in Detroit.) The Bucks have indeed hit the jackpot in the draft, but the Bucks’ “own the future” slogan could be soon running on fumes.

Look at the cap sheet and you’ll see that the Bucks in 2018 have $100 million in salary, just $2 million below the cap, thanks to some questionable long-term free agent signings in Mirza TeletovicMatthew Dellavedova and John Henson(an extension, technically). A tough question for the retooled front office will be whether to pay up for Parker after two ACL tears when he becomes a restricted free agent.

As of now, it seems as if the only way to build a superteam is from within. The Bucks could be a tax team next summer if Parker’s new contract commands a salary north of $20 million, limiting their options in free agency.

Still, if the core continues to develop like its has, the Bucks will be in prime position to take over the Eastern Conference when (if?) LeBron James heads West or begins to decline.

Dark horse: Sacramento Kings

Look, we can’t believe we’re mentioning Sacramento and Golden State in the same breath either. But the young core in Sacramento is tantalizing. Youngsters De’Aaron FoxBuddy HieldWillie Cauley-SteinSkal LabissiereJustin Jackson and Harry Giles represent a sky-high ceiling in Sacramento. With George HillZach Randolph and Vince Carter presenting some much-needed veteran infrastructure, the kids could bring trouble to the rest of the NBA in a few years.

We’re a long ways away from seeing if the Kings have something that resembles a playoff team, but the seeds have been planted. Look for the Kings to pounce in 2019 free agency with as much as $55 million in cap space with nine players under contract (all first- or second-round picks).

If they hit a couple home runs in the draft and manage the cap shrewdly, could they steal Klay Thompson in 2019? We like what’s brewing up the coast in Sacramento.

Even in Trump’s America, where an appointed communications director doesn’t last 10 days, I STILL never thought I’d see the words “Super Team” combined with Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and the real kicker: the Sacramento DAMNIT, NO Kings!

First to address the obvious:  No star worth his weight in gummy bears is purposefully going to Sacramento.  Sorry, it’s not happening.  In a league that’s built around multi-top tier players in order to compete, there’s just no shot at Sacramento luring a Golden God.  They’d have to build from within by drafting young talent, which I’ll admit openly: they’ve ve done well so far, on paper.  BUT in order to dethrone the Warriors, Spurs or future Lebron-Lakers 100% of the players drafted would have to come to fruition and contribute almost immediately.

Next up:  Ok, Chicago and Philly make a little more sense in a perfect, utopian basketball world where everything goes according to plan.  Chicago has a destination-pull for young talent as a city in general and now that they’ve parted ways with Jimmy Butler there is an opening for the alpha-dog position.  It makes sense that through a trade or free agency they could make a move in the next 2 years.  The same can be said for Philly, in addition to the amount of “potential” talent they already possess, not to mention the amount of cap space available.  Although, does anyone else get a Greg Oden-vibe about Joel Embiid?  Just sayin…

 

And lastly:  The Nuggets and Suns are both respectable mid-level franchises with pros and cons to playing in both locations.  Denver offers a great city life and a strong fanbase, as does Phoenix.  Both franchises have had mid-level success over the last 10 years, playoff appearances, some young talent, good moves and BAD moves by the front offices respecitvely.

From an objective viewpoint, all of these mentioned franchises (except Chicago and Philly) have relatively the same issues:  mid-level market, mid-level franchise with very little lure for big names and very little room for a strong playoff run due to road-blocks; The Spurs, The Warriors, The eventual Lebron to the Western Conference scenario, and not to mention The OKC Thunder.  Franchises like Denver, Phoenix and Sacramento are AT BEST a 5-seed in the West and more than likely eliminated in the first round.  Today’s NBA is the most robust version of AAU basketball we’ve ever seen, the top 10 players in the league have 99% of the pull when it comes to player movement and franchise-changing transactions.  This generation of superstar wants to be on the court with their high-level talented friends, and it takes 3 stars on a roster to even compete for the top spot in either conference.

Sidenote:  The Kyrie Irving situation in Cleveland.  I understand Kyrie’s desire to be “The Man”, but where and how is there any scenario that will be better than what he already has?  ANY team he goes to will have a lesser chance of making the NBA Finals!  Go ask Russell Westbrook how many “The Man” moments will make up for consistent first or second round exits in the playoffs for the next 5 years?  Winning is what matters, winning solves all problems.  And the major problem is that the NBA may as well be fraternity row right now, the biggest, richest house on campus (Golden State) has all the best parties, the most recognition and the most pledges knocking down the door to join.  Until Delta Delta Delta can figure out how to beat Alpha Beta at their own game, no one else stands a chance.

Annonymous NBA Front Office Executive:

When lovable nerds (name retracted) and (name retracted) embark on their freshman year at Adams College, little do they realize the dangers that await them. They are beset by taunting from the jocks of Alpha Beta fraternity, which only worsens when the jocks accidentally burn down their house and toss the freshmen out of the freshmen dorm. To make matters more problematic, (name retracted) develops a crush on pretty Betty Childs, popular sorority sister and quarterback’s girlfriend. Joined by the aptly named Booger and the violin-playing Poindexter, the nerds soon realize they must form their own fraternity in self-defense. Soon the tables are turned as the nerds employ high-tech warfare against the jocks…. but can they really succeed and make a difference?

 

 

The NBA Is A Shit-Show Right Now

As we approach the NBA All-Star break (Feb 17-19), it seems that just about everybody in the Eastern conference is ready to take a weekend off of work.  Tensions have been rising in Chicago, New York and even in Cleveland where the King is unhappy upon his thrown, peering down amongst his constituents with a scowl that would make bitch-face uneasy.

lebron-you-mad

The NBA’s drama all started to hit the fan when earlier this week, Chicago’s Dwayne Wade explained how his teammates completely sucked, while talking in a post-game interview that threw a wrench into the Bull’s bicycle spokes:

“I’m 35 years old, man,’’ Wade said. “I have three championships. It shouldn’t hurt me more than it hurts (teammates). They have to want it.”

–Dwayne Wade

Jimmy Butler chimed in:

“I believe in the guys in this locker room, yeah, but I also believe that we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times,” Jimmy Butler said after scoring just 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting one night after he played 56 minutes against the Pistons. “I know Fred is a laidback guy and I respect him for that, but when guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you gotta get on guys, myself included. You gotta do what you’re supposed to do when you’re out there playing basketball.

“We weren’t doing what were supposed to be doing, what we wrote on that board before the game. Nobody spoke up. I did, but probably not enough times. I think he has to hold everybody accountable, from the No. 1 player, all the way down. Everyone has to do their job.”

And apparently Rajon Rondo chimed in via instagram as well:

“My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

Chicago sounds like a dumpster fire right now, they’re 23-24 overall and spiraling out of control, Fred Hoiberg is on the hot seat.

****UPDATE: Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade will start the game tonight on the bench as a punishment.

The next big, weird, awkward happening is in the Big, Weird, Awkward Apple.  Carmelo Anthony is on the trading block, the latest rumor is a move to the LA Clippers for some combination of Jamaal Crawford (hasn’t he played for the Knicks like 4 times already?), J.J. Redick, and/or Austin Rivers.  My guess is that there will have to be a draft pick fixed into this move on both sides as well.  A Big-4 in LA could be forming with the likes of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony, a solid core that will fight for that 2nd seed in the Western conference for the foreseeable future.

In addition to the Melo-trade talks, Phil Jackson seems to have lost control of this franchise (assuming he ever had control).  Whatever the hell offense they were trying to put together has now been dismantled by ZERO ball movement (Melo), ZERO outside shooting, ZERO defense, while Head Coach/scapegoat Jeff Hornacek gives ZERO fucks anymore:

“I don’t think our guys aren’t trying. Maybe we’re just not capable of it. I don’t know,” Hornacek said. “That’s what we’re going to have to figure out. Maybe you have to play some of these other guys. We might have to mix the lineup up somehow.”

–Jeff Hornacek

If “playing some of these other guys” includes giving Johkim Noah more floor-tic, Phil should just fire Hornacek now and put him out of his misery.

Derrick Rose pulled a disappearing act a few weeks ago, it’s still relatively unexplained as to what really happened with that.  In addition, D-Rose is shooting way too much.  In the last 5 games – all losses – Rose has taken 21.2 shots a game.  In games where Rose plays and the Knicks win, he averages 13.6 FGA.  In losses he averages 17.7 FGA.

And finally, this week Lebron James aired his grievances in true Costanzian form by taking to the media to complain about his front office NOT going hard after Melo, or any other available superstar.  Despite spending more than any other NBA franchise this season, Lebron isn’t content.  The Cavs (30-14) are currently committed to $127.5 million in salaries and $27 million in luxury taxes for this season.  They’ve spent more than any other NBA team over the three-years since Lebron came back.  The most recent acquisition was sharp-shooter Kyle Korver, who has yet to fully mesh with the Cavs’ offensive flow.

While Lebron spoke about the younger, less experienced players like Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae on the Cavs roster:

“No disrespect to DeAndre and to Kay: You think we can rely on them to help us win a playoff game right now?” James said. “And it’s no disrespect to them. But it’s like, it’s not fair to them.”

–Lebron James

I can understand that Lebron wants to remain competitive, you can see he’s smart enough to realize that they’re chasing the Warriors after the Durant addition.  But going media first is always the wrong way to handle things.  Why does this keep happening?  The NBA is plagued by players who are reporting to the media first before handling issues internally, then they complain about the media being too on top of them.  The past two weeks seem particularly gossipy and complainy, maybe the NBA needs a quick break.  All-Star weekend can’t get here soon enough.

 

Ranking The Remaining Playoff QBs

We’ve reached the NFL’s Final Four (all rights reserved by the NCAA), only the toughest, meanest and most photogenic teams are left.  Well, except for the Steelers, they re-define “ugly football”.

This weekend the REAL playoffs begin, let’s be honest no one out there really believed in Houston, Las Vegas (Oakland), Kansas City the ghost of Seattle and/or the Jerry Jones disciples in Dallas.  The cream of the crop and the superstars always show-out in the playoffs, I’m talking about players and coaches combined.  The Pats are a pillar of consistency for the AFC championship game, the Tim Allen of the NFL, if you will permit me to obscurely reference (doesn’t it seem like he’s ALWAYS working??).  New England is in their 6th straight AFC championship game; death, taxes and Patriots in the AFC Championship game are the only absolutes in this life.  Good luck to you Steeler fans, don’t forget your live-streaming devices.

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots

In the NFC, we’ve got two incredibly hot (so hot right now) teams in what will be the Mad Max of an NFC Championship game.  Absolute chaos lead by pass-crazy, do everything yourself, not following any of society’s rules, Quarterbacks both vying for the sweat cream of a trip to the Superbowl.   Aaron Rodgers has been borderline videogame satus, throwing darts and strikes like he was Michael van Gerwen or Ravichandran Ashwin.  Extra points if you can tell me who either of those guys are, without clicking the links.

With the remaining gunslingers left in the NFL-Koi pond, the question naturally arises:  Who’s the best QB left in the playoffs, RIGHT NOW?

Obviously, these four passers are among the league leaders in just about every category.  One of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan is likely to win the AP’s MVP award this season, while Ben Roethlisberger isn’t far off from their 2016 standard.  Roethlisberger comes in as the 10th-best passer in the league by opponent-adjusted Total QBR, while Ryan, Brady and Rodgers each rank in the top four. The only top-four passer missing is Dak Prescott, who’s soul was imploded by Rodgers on Sunday.

So who ya got?  RIGHT NOW, leading your team the rest of the way?

Tom Brady:

tombrady

He’s Tom Brady.  12-time Pro Bowler, 4-time Superbowl Champ, 2-time Superbowl MVP.  And just to re-iterate the point, he’s TOM BRADY.   Over the last 5 games (Houston, Miami, New York Jets, Denver and Baltimore) Mr. Bundchen has gone 101 out of 168 for 1,371 yds and 11 TDs.  He’s had a QBR of 74.96 and the golden locks of an angel high on heavenly opiates.  He’s gone 5-0 against 3 of the NFL’s top 10 defenses to round out his yellow-brick road travels to the AFC Championship game.

Ben Roethlisberger:

bigben

Big Ben, the 5-time Pro Bowler and 2-time Superbowl champ has been his normal, scrambly, impossible to freaking tackle, water-buffalo with a rocket for an arm-self in 2016.  When Ben is healthy, he’s a Top 5 QB in the league.  He’s gone 5-0 to lead his Steel-curtain boys through the end of the regular season and make this AFC Championship run, beating Buffalo, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Miami and Kansas City.  Over the last 5 games, Big Ben has gone 95 out of 149 for 1,206 yds and 6 TDs.  His QBR is only at 58.9, but it goes along with 2 broken ankles, 3 lacerated pelvises, 6 cracked vertebrae and a scorching case of herpes.  Big Ben is an animal, the guy only needs one leg and a half an arm to make a back-shoulder throw to Antonio Brown for a 70-yard touchdown.

Matt Ryan:

mattryan

Matt Ryan has been on a tear this season, posting career highs in basically every offensive category and making a very strong push for MVP of the league, not to mention being just a really, really nice guy.  I mean look at him , doesn’t he seem like the kind of guy that’d hold the door open for an old lady, or stop traffic for a family of ducks?  In his last 5 games, his overall QBR has been a staggering 86.68, which leads the remaining playoff QBs.  He’s thrown for 14 TDs (tied with Rodgers) and 1,469 yds in the last 5 games, taking the Falcons through LA, SF, Carolina, New Orleans and Seattle to finish the regular season strong and procure a spot in the NFC Championship.  If it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers’ late game heroics and badly-acted but somehow still funny every time-State Farm commercials, EVERYONE would be talking about Matt Ryan’s MVP season in 2016.

Aaron Rodgers:

arodgers

Discount Double-Check has been damn near perfect over the last 5 games.  He’s raised his normal greatness to another level of ludicrous-greatness (we can’t stop, it’s too dangerous), and if he leads his injury-ridden Packers squad to the Superbowl then he’s solidified himself as the 2016 MVP and the biggest late-season hero in green since the Grinch gave the Whos from Whoville their presents back.  I’m not sure if it’s the luck of the Irish or if Aaron Rodgers has a deal with the devil, but he’s been on fire and seems unstoppable the rest of the way.   I’m not gonna give you any stats, cause Mr. Rodgers doesn’t need numbers to win games……nerd.

 

NFL Week 16: WTF Just Happened?

The NFL regular season is all but finished, with only the Wild Card spots left to be determined……..well, also seeding, general rankings, home field advantage and if Mike Tomlin will whoop Terrry Bradhsaw’s country-ass when he sees him this summer.  

The biggest news from the weekend:

  •  Buffalo said goodbye to the Rex Ryan Experiment, ending a reign of mediocre football sauteed in a Ryan Brothers whiskey sauce that even Patrick Hammer would be proud of.  (Now that’s what you call a sub-reference)
Rob & Rex Ryan at Easter

Rob & Rex Ryan at Easter

  • The Oakland Raiders woke up from the best dream any of them have had in 14 years, when Derek Carr broke in half.  There goes any Super Bowl hopes and dreams for 2016-17, Matt Mcgloin is NOT the guy, sorry to say.

 

  • The Playoff C.F. is C.F.-ed A.F. (so many teenager-abbreviations):

AFC

1. New England Patriots (13-2). The New York Jets weren’t even a speed bump on the Patriots’ road to the AFC playoffs. If they win or if the Raiders lose in Week 17, the Patriots will secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC field. The worst they can do is end up at No. 2.

2. Oakland Raiders (12-3). Oakland clinched its spot in Week 15. If the Raiders win at Denver or the Chiefs lose at San Diego in Week 17, the Raiders will be AFC West champions. Of course, the bigger issue right now for Oakland is that it is going to have to play its postseason games with Matt McGloin or Connor Cook at quarterback.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5). A brilliant Ben Roethlisberger comeback against the Ravens on Sunday night clinched the Steelers’ second division title in three years and eliminated Baltimore. Pittsburgh will host a playoff game on Jan. 7 or 8.

4. Houston Texans (9-6). When Cincinnati place-kicker Randy Bullock‘s attempt for a winning field goal sailed wide right on Saturday night, it made Houston champion of the AFC South for the second year in a row. The Texans’ Week 17 game in Nashville now has no relevance.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4). The Chiefs can still claim the AFC West, but they need to beat San Diego in Week 17 and hope the Raiders lose in Denver.

6. Miami Dolphins (10-5). After a 1-4 start, the Dolphins have won nine of their past 10 games. And Miami clinched a playoff spot with Denver’s loss to Kansas City on Sunday night.

Surging: Miami’s regular-season finale on Sunday is at home against the Patriots. That meeting offers the Dolphins a chance to show themselves — and the Patriots — that they can play with New England. In Week 2 at Foxborough — before Miami’s offensive line came together and Jay Ajayi emerged — Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots built a 31-3 lead on the Dolphins and held on to win 31-24.

Slipping: Houston’s AFC South rivals had rough outings on Sunday. The Tennessee Titans lost their quarterback, lost a game to the 3-12 Jacksonville Jaguars and lost a potential playoff spot. The Indianapolis Colts were defeated in Oakland and eliminated from postseason contention even before Houston played. The Texans took care of their own business in an ugly game on Saturday night, but they already had received some help in the form of disappointing performances from the two teams behind them.

Worth noting: The Steelers are a perennial playoff team, but it hasn’t been easy. This is only the second time they’ve won their division since 2010. Their 2014 team was a division champion as well.

NFC

1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2). Dallas has everything wrapped up that can be wrapped up — a division title, a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. When the Cowboys get back from Philadelphia on Sunday night, they won’t have to leave Texas again all season. (Super Bowl LI is in Houston.) The only question for the Cowboys is what to do about resting and/or protecting their players or keeping them fresh for January games.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5). With their win and the Buccaneers’ loss, the Falcons have clinched the NFC South. And thanks to Seattle’s loss, Atlanta has a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference and a first-round bye with a Week 17 home victory over the Saints.

3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1). They came all the way back and somehow still lost a home game to the Arizona Cardinals because of a missed extra point. Seattle is the NFC West champion, but it might have cost itself a chance at a first-round bye. As of now, the Seahawks would have to play three games (with at least one on the road) just to reach the Super Bowl.

4. Green Bay Packers (9-6). Green Bay is technically the NFC North leader at the moment. The Packers are tied with the Lions for first place but beat them head-to-head. The teams face off again in Week 17 at Detroit, and the winner will be division champ. The loser can still get in but would need help. Specifically, if the Packers lose, they would still be a wild-card team if Washington and the Buccaneers both lose. The Packers also could sneak in as a wild card if Washington loses and Green Bay clinches the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over Tampa. To do that, the Packers need any one of the following four teams to lose in Week 17: San Francisco, Tennessee, Indianapolis or Dallas. But the main point here is: win and the Packers are in as a division champ.

5. New York Giants (10-5). The Giants didn’t get it done on Thursday against the Eagles, but the Saints helped them out by beating the Buccaneers, which allowed the Giants to clinch a spot in the NFC field. The Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed no matter what. They cannot improve or weaken their seeding, and they will open the playoffs at the home field of whichever team finishes in the No. 4 spot.

6. Detroit Lions (9-6). This is the most fragile seeding in the whole picture. Having lost Monday night in Dallas, Detroit still has a chance to finish as NFC North champ and will do so if it beats Green Bay on Sunday night. If Detroit loses Sunday, the Lions would need a Washington loss to get them in as a wild card.

Surging: Washington might have cost itself a playoff berth with its home loss in Week 15 to the Carolina Panthers, but it rebounded nicely Saturday and still is in the race. If Washington beats the Giants on Sunday — assuming the Detroit-Green Bay tilt doesn’t end in a tie — Washington will get in as a wild-card team.

Slipping: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t eliminated, but a ton has to happen for them to get in. They need to win. They need Washington to tie. They need Green Bay to lose. And they need all four of the following teams to win their Week 17 games: San Francisco, Tennessee, Indianapolis and Dallas. Sounds like next year for Tampa.

Worth noting: The Minnesota Vikings (7-8) started the season 5-0 but were eliminated from playoff contention with Saturday’s loss in Green Bay. They traded their first-round pick to the Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater got hurt, and now they face an early and uncertain offseason.

  • The Cleveland Browns won a game, now they have to live up to expectations……hahahahahahah, wait, no.  A winning streak to end the season at 2-14 is the NFL equivalent of the “Tallest Midget” syndrome.

browns

 

Broncos’ Talib Is Gonna Beat Harry Douglas’ Ass This Summer

originally posted on deadspin.com


Aqib Talib Promises To Beat Harry Douglas’s Ass

Aqib Talib and the rest of the Broncos defense were furious with Titans receiver Harry Douglas after Douglas threw a cut-block right into Chris Harris Jr.’s right knee yesterday. Talib brawled with Douglas on the very next play, but that apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy his desire for revenge.

After the game, a still-fuming Talib stood in front of reporters and told them that he was going to beat Douglas up when he sees him in Atlanta. Broncos PR staff promptly ended the interview:

Talib wasn’t the only one who was still mad after the game. Harris Jr. called Douglas a “sorry receiver” during his postgame press conference, and said that Douglas should be fined for the hit. Defensive end Derek Wolfe claimed that the Titans’ offensive line was also playing dirty all game, and offered an invitation to Douglas:

Despite the anger and threats coming from the Broncos, Douglas maintained that his block on Harris Jr. was perfectly legal.  To Douglas’s credit, the block was technically legal: Harris Jr. wasn’t engaged with another blocker and was looking right at Douglas when the block came. That’s the kind of standard issue cut-block linemen and linebackers have to deal with all the time, but not something that cornerbacks normally out in space do. This is football, though, and technical legality doesn’t necessarily absolve a play from being dirty or dangerous.

NFL Week 1 Overreaction – Quick Week 2 Preview

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Football is finally back!  Coach Belichick is so excited he nearly knocked over his wife with a Brady/Gisele baby-making level pregame kiss.

The overreaction Tuesday morning was staggering, after week 1 of the NFL season every analyst and fan is more ready to boom or bust than a porn star who’s nominated for best actress in a multi-character scene award at the Stiffy’s.

Week 1 Most Impressive Win

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No Tom Brady?  No problem.  Traveling 2,600 miles to play an NFC Superbowl contender with an aggressive, scary defense?  No problem.  Jimmy Garoppolo starting for the first time in his career?  No problem.  No Gronk?  No problem.

Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 264 yards and a touchdown, leading the New England Patriots to a 23-21 victory over the favored Arizona Cardinals.

Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal with 41 seconds to play that would’ve given the Cards the game (ouch).  The “laces-out-Dan” came after Garoppolo directed the Patriots from their own 19 to the Arizona 15 to set up Stephen Gostkowski‘s 23-yard field goal for what proved to be the winner with 3:44 to play.

Why does it feel like the Pats are gonna go 3-1 or 4-0 without Brady and then cruise through the regular season?  It just feels like the hurricane is coming when they get healthy.

Week 1 Most Disappointing Loss

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My word the Rams looked terrible.  I’m forever convinced that whatever team is the focus of HBO’s Hard Knocks, is destined to have a terrible season similar to the “Madden Curse”.  The Rams offense looked like an unfolded lawn chair on Sunday.  Top 3 fantasy running back and Carl’s Junior burger rep, Todd Gurley, ran for 47 yds on 17 carries, while the “I guess he’s our starter” QB, Case Keenum tossed for 130 yds on 17-30 passing.  The Rams consumed a total of 10 first downs the entire game, and 185 total yards which ranks them 31st in the league (how is that NOT last place?  Oh yeah, Buffalo).  The 49ers are on the brink of full dumpster-fire status and yet the Rams are currently worse, I know it’s a long season but the inaugural return football to LA looks like any Nic Cage movie NOT titled “Raising Arizona” or “The Rock” or “Face Off”……..just BAD from the very first second.

  Week 1 Most Annoying Topic

Josh Norman NOT shadowing Antonio Brown, thus AB proceeding to torch the Redskins in video game-ish form going for 126 yards receiving and 2 TDs.  Seriously, Antonio Brown is more unguardable than Steph Curry would be if the defender was wearing ice skates.

Having said that, it’s mind-boggling that the Redskins DIDN’T put Norman on Brown the entire game.  There’s no answer that makes sense for that strategy.  “Don’t let the other guys beat us” strategies very rarely work, especially in the NFL when it comes to an offense that clicks harder than Adam Sandler with a remote control and a badly conceptualized comedy.

But at this point, I’ve heard enough.  Move on from Josh Norman and the Redskins, they don’t matter in the NFC anyway, it’s Carolina and Arizona’s conference to lose this season.

Week 2 (and future) Questions

  1. Is Denver real?  Can they keep the running game going and hide the fact that they really don’t have a QB?  Or will Simeon turn into a player?
  2. Will Carolina lose another game this season?
  3. What the hell is going on with Seattle?
  4. Oakland is scary folks, seriously.  Check them out.
  5. Pittsburgh’s offense may end up being the best in the NFL this season, can they do enough on defense and stay healthy enough to make another Superbowl run?  (I really like watching Big Ben play QB, don’t you?)

A Note To Every Basketball Player On Earth

As I’m still composing my “I’m sorry for doubting you Cleveland” article, I came across the most accurately written discussion piece about pick-up basketball that I’ve seen since I read the “White Men Can’t Jump” script.  PLEASE read this article:

How To Play Pickup Basketball Without Being A Pain In The Ass

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

For most of my adult life, I have managed to play basketball two or three times a week. I do this because it is significantly more fun than, say, spending a joyless half-hour on a worn treadmill in some windowless YMCA basement, and at 29, my knee still has yet to explode like poor Shaun Livingston’s. But like every Millennial with an overpriced graduate degree, I have also moved around plenty, logging stints in five major cities (or four, depending on how you feel about Boston) over the past ten years. This means that I am very familiar with the feeling of showing up to a court full of total strangers, high tops in hand, and hoping for the best.

Joining an informal pickup game, by definition, should not be complicated. Yet doing so is often much more difficult than any social interaction should be among purportedly functional adults. At every new spot, one must figure out the pecking order and learn to take in stride the deafening screams of the token player-coach who, for some reason, really wants his team to switch to zone. The dynamic is not much different from being the new kid in school, but with more testosterone-laden shouting matches and wily, older gentlemen who set screens with their astonishingly bony elbows sticking straight out.

If this happens to you, fear not. (Finding a new game, I mean. You should be afraid of geriatric elbows.) Here are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to help you navigate court politics without having everyone hate you and openly refer to you as “Fuckin’ New Guy” until you sigh resignedly and decide to give squash a try after all.

DO interact like a normal human being. Day one. You stride into the gym, purposefully meeting every wayward glance with a hard-eyed stare. Time to show what I’m about, you mutter under Gatorade-laced breath, cranking up the volume on your earbuds and sticking out your jaw because it looks intimidating when Kobe does it. It’s about to go down, you vow as you start shadow-boxing in the far corner of the gym and occasionally rapping along to the most violent lines from “Hit ‘Em Up.”

Yes, even well past the age at which it is acceptable to treat Ball As Life, some bros still feel that their on-court interactions are one continuous referendum on whether they possess the killer instinct. Do not be one of those people. Pretend you are at Thanksgiving dinner with your significant other’s family, but with less nervous sweating. Smile. Use full sentences, and consider (gasp) introducing yourself. As in any other social situation, first impressions are everything. Don’t let Kobe Face ruin yours.

DON’T talk shit. If you insist on doing so in an unfamiliar setting, I personally guarantee that one of three things will happen:

  1. The target of your barbs turns out to be really, really good, and vows to make you look really, really bad, now and forevermore, amen.
  2. You unwittingly pick someone that all the regulars like. They telepathically unite against you, and ten minutes later the meatiest one lays you out with a moving screen that would make Kevin Garnett wince.
  3. Your nemesis turns out to be your direct supervisor at the new office, and you start desperately filling out a Peace Corps application that same day.

Friendly reminder that you are an adult. You have a family (possibly), a job (hopefully), and student loans to pay (definitely, until you are dead). You are not playing for a title, a contract, or anything else that could possibly justify deciding to tell a stranger, to his face, that he is a weak, soft [insert deeply offensive noun of your choice]. Don’t do it.

DO ask for a rules primer. Find out how the game is scored, which lines are out-of-bounds, how jump balls work, and the like. Someone on your team will probably fill you in, in part to make you feel welcome but mostly to ensure that you don’t turn the ball over because you forgot which lines to mind. But if no one speaks up, ask. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to err on the side of caution, jogging up and down the middle of the court between the three-point arcs like Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace. Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace was fun, but not good. Don’t be Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace.

DON’T call a bunch of fouls. Look, if someone Draymonds you, say something, assuming you’re physically able to make sounds other than a low, inhuman moan. But otherwise, smile, resolve to finish next time, and keep running. People will note and appreciate that you do not feel a compulsive need to stop the game with every bump, real or imagined. Plus, once they like playing with you, they won’t get nearly as upset when you’re tired and jog up and down the court like Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace.

DO guard who you’re told to guard. Did your teammates match you up with some dude wearing New Balances and cargo shorts? Are they flagrantly disrespecting your ability check anyone, anytime? Before you start angrily mouthing 2Pac lyrics again, remember that no one here knows you from Anthony Bennett, so no one expects anything of you, either. This is not disrespect. It’s insurance against you being, well, Anthony Bennett.

Taking this personally and insisting on guarding whoever you think you should guard is a very bad plan. At best, you’ll do fine, but because your teammates tried to help and you angrily waved them off, you’re a dick. Worst case, they know something you don’t, New Balances Guy torches you all afternoon, and you’re still a dick. So take it easy. If you indeed go all Kawhi on this chump, you’ll be shuffled to a better matchup soon enough, and before long it will be you telling the new people what to do.

DON’T lose perspective. Here is a true story. After months of trying, I finally scored an invite to a certain pickup game—shoutout YMCA National Capital, rest in peace—which its members quietly organized by email and zealously guarded to keep numbers low and headcases out. They scored by twos and threes (the correct way) to thirty, so with the day’s last game tied at 27, both teams naturally forgot that two-point shots existed. Finally, a guy on the other team launched the game-winner, but while squaring up he put his foot on the line. As the shot floated in mid-air, I called it—“Two!”—like an idiot. The ball sailed through the hoop, both teams began exchanging high-fives and, horrified, I tried to melt silently into the hardwood.

This plan did not work. “SOMEONE SAID ‘TWO.’ NEW GUY?” Dammit. The result of this game did not matter one bit, to me or to anyone else. But once pointed out, I couldn’t disavow the call, or I was a liar, which is the only thing worse than a toe-watcher. So I meekly copped to it and hoped that the universe would correct my mistake. Alas, my teammate promptly hit the actual game-winner. (His feet were well behind the arc.) We won, but EVERYONE was mad at me: the other team, because I took away their game, and my team, because they had to play with Dumbass New Guy Who Messed Up The Run. You won’t believe this, but I was not added to the listserv that morning.

Vince Lombardi (among others) famously observed that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. But Lombardi probably said this because if he didn’t win, he would get fired. No matter what happens, you still have to go to your office and file TPS reports when the game is over. So give the benefit of the doubt to hustle plays, ignore the occasional foot shuffle, and don’t wipe out a cool, fun sequence because you were so carefully scrutinizing toe placement. Everyone will have a better time if you let stuff go.

DO go beyond basketball. Assuming no one acts like a sociopath, on-court chemistry leads to off-court friendships, too. At each game of which I’ve been a part, the regulars do things like get together for drinks, look after each other’s kids, help with job searches, and go in on a thoughtful gift each time another player gets married. At this VERY post-Hoop Dreams stage of your basketball career, this is what actually matters.

So yes, the politics can be hilarious and inane. But navigating them is just a silly hoop (sorry) through which you have to jump, and becoming part of a genuinely meaningful community on the other side is well worth it. Good luck out there, don’t sleep on New Balances Guy, and save me a spot for next.

Boston Celtics’ Guard Isaiah Thomas Wrote A Letter

I had just gotten ejected. We’re on the road playing the Lakers at Staples Center — my first game in a Celtics uniform — and I had picked up two technicals. Automatic ejection. I walked down the tunnel and into the locker room, still in uniform, still sweating, still hot about that last call I got T’d up over, and I saw one of the strength coaches sitting in the locker room watching the game. He looked up at me and smiled.

“Man … the Celtics fans are gonna love you.”

I was thinking people were gonna be mad about this. My team debut and I get ejected? That’s not a great first impression.

“What are you talking about? They’re gonna love me?”

“Oh, yeah. Your first game, you score 21 points and you get ejected? Boston loves that type of stuff.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was the new guy. I didn’t know anything about Boston or its fans.

I thought this dude was crazy.

Three days later — six days after the trade that sent me from the Suns to the Celtics — I played my first game at TD Garden. It was surreal. I mean, walking through the halls at the Garden in that Celtics jersey, seeing all the pictures of the Bill Russells and the Larry Birds, getting into the warmup line and looking up into the rafters at all the banners — there’s just so much history. And the arena fills up so fast before a game, faster than I had seen anywhere else. Like these fans can’t wait to watch their Celtics play.

It was only my third game with the team, so I was coming off the bench. And when I subbed in for the first time and stepped onto the parquet, I felt this burst of electricity fill the building. When I stood up to walk onto the court the whole crowd stood up with me — and they went crazy. It was my first time on the floor at the Garden, and they gave me a standing ovation like I had been a Celtic my whole life.

That was my introduction to Boston fans.

I thought, Man, these fans do love me …

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Photograph By Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images

The craziest part was that less than a week before I first took the floor at the Garden, I was in Phoenix sitting at the back of the Suns’ team bus waiting for the 2015 trade deadline to pass. We were about to head to the airport to take off for a road game, but the bus was waiting for the trade deadline to pass so that we didn’t take anybody with us who had to stay back and get ready to ship off to their new team.

Everybody knew that Goran Dragic was going to get traded — his name had been thrown around in rumors for weeks. And sure enough, a few minutes before the deadline, one of the assistant coaches came walking up the aisle to break the news.

Goran had been traded to the Heat.

So Goran grabbed his stuff, dapped everybody up and hugged a few guys. We all wished him luck, and he got off the bus.

The rest of us looked around the bus at each other, thinking, O.K. That’s done. This is the team it’s gonna be now. Let’s rock with this group.

I started thinking about the expanded role I would have as we went down the stretch and tried to make the playoffs. With Goran gone, I was the second point guard. More minutes meant more opportunities for me to show what I was about.

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Photograph By Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

But five minutes after the deadline passed, the bus still hadn’t moved. We thought the bus was waiting for the deadline, so we were wondering what the holdup was. Brandan Wright was sitting a couple of seats in front of me, looking at his phone, and he turned back and looked at me.

“I.T. … you just got traded.”

“Nuh-uh. The deadline passed, bro. What are you talking about?”

He showed me the notification on his phone.

ISAIAH THOMAS TRADED TO CELTICS FOR MARCUS THORNTON AND A 2016 FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK

Dang …

I couldn’t believe it.

I looked up and saw the assistant coach walking back up the aisle.

“I.T. … they just traded you.”

I held up Brandan’s phone.

“Yeah, that’s what they just said.”

I guess the trade was in the works right up until the deadline, so the news didn’t get out until a few minutes after. But it was a done deal.

I was shocked.

I grabbed my stuff, dapped everybody up and hugged a few guys. They all wished me luck, and I got off the bus.

Everything was happening so fast. I hadn’t even expected to get traded, and now I had to go meet with the Suns’ front office. I had to pack up my locker and get my family set up.

And I also had to stop at a store on the way to the airport and get some clothes. It was February, and the weather in Boston was crazy — like, worst-winter-in-Massachusetts-history crazy — and I was coming from the desert. I didn’t even have a winter coat. So I picked up a big North Face jacket and a couple of beanies before I jumped on a plane to Boston to take my physical.

When I got off the plane, it was snowing. It was so cold. That jacket-beanie combo saved me.

I passed my physical that night, and while the Celtics were in Sacramento playing the Kings, I watched the game with Danny Ainge in his office — just me and the GM. We talked about the team, about the trade, about me. And he said something to me I couldn’t believe.

“Isaiah … the way you play the game of basketball, you could be a Celtics legend.”

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Photograph By WINSLOW TOWNSON/USA TODAY SPORTS

A Celtics legend? I thought he was crazy — like he was just caught up in the excitement and hype of making a big trade.

But then I Skyped with coach Brad Stevens later that night, and not only was he hyped about the trade, he was hyped about me. He said he didn’t want me to adapt to the rest of the team. He wanted the rest of the team to adapt to me. He said he wanted me to play my game and be the best Isaiah Thomas I could be.

I had never heard anything like that from a coach in my professional career. These guys weren’t just hyped about a big trade. They genuinely believed in me. And I could tell that they believed in every guy in that locker room. That’s why they brought us here.

That’s when it hit me: This was the opportunity I had always wanted. The one I had worked my whole life for. And I was going to do everything I could to take advantage of it.

The transition was kind of difficult because for the rest of that season we basically played every other day. We only had back-to-back days off one time, so we never really had time to practice, which meant I didn’t have time to learn Brad Stevens’s system. So when I came into the game off the bench, we basically just played off the pick-and-roll. It was almost like streetball. I was just out there playing, trying to make plays and get comfortable with my new teammates.

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Photograph By Elise Amendola/AP images

I was learning a lot, but I think I learned the most about my teammates — and the city of Boston — in the playoff series against the Cavaliers.

I know, I know. We got swept. Our season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, believe me. But a lot of good came from that series. It was an experience that our team needed, because in three of the four games, we had a chance to win in the final minutes. But we didn’t know how to win. Not in the playoffs, at least. They’re just different than the regular season. When people say that in the playoffs every play counts and every possession is crucial, they’re not kidding. It sounds cliché, and it is, but you can’t really understand what it means until you’re in position to close out a playoff game — and you get out-executed in the final minutes. You start thinking back to all the little things you could have done differently to change the outcome of the game. An extra pass here, better shot selection there — it all adds up. And against a great team like the Cavs, those little things will kill you.

I was proud of the mindset we had coming out of that series. We lost, but we gained confidence. We came out of it thinking, O.K. That’s what it takes to win a playoff series. Now we know.

I also came out of that series knowing exactly what it means to play in Boston.

I’ll admit, it took us a while to find the silver linings in getting swept. We still lost four straight, and that’s tough to stomach. But when we were walking off the court at the Garden after Game 4, something happened that I had never seen before, anywhere.

The Boston fans got on their feet and started chanting, “Let’s go, Celtics!

They gave their team, who had just been swept, a standing ovation.

At that moment, I knew that this city was like no other. Even though the season was over, it felt like we were starting something.

And it’s carried over into this season, too. We don’t have the best record, but we’re always moving forward and getting better. There have been times this season when we’ve shown that we can compete with the best teams in the league — and win.

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Photograph By Tony Dejak/AP Images

I look back at our game against the Warriors a couple of weeks ago. That was like a playoff game, both in the way it felt and in the way we approached it. It was a nationally televised game, so we knew everybody was watching. We were coming off back-to-back losses and fighting for playoff position so we badly needed a win, and the Warriors were riding a 54-game home winning streak.

We wanted to be the team to knock them off.

And we knew we could. Remember, we took them to double-overtime back in December when they were still undefeated. We knew we could beat them.

So when we won, a lot of people were surprised. But for us, we felt validated.

Now, as we go into the playoffs, we know that we’re capable of beating the defending champs in their house, which is one of the toughest arenas in the NBA in which to play.

The next step is taking what we’ve learned and putting it all together for a seven-game series.

***

Right after I got traded to Boston, I got a text from Isiah Thomas — the older one. It said, “This is the best thing that will ever happen to your career.”

I didn’t really know what he meant by that. So I called him up, and he broke it down for me.

“Now you’re gonna experience what real basketball is like, what real fans are like, what a real organization is like,” he said. “And they’re gonna fall in love with you more than any place you’ve ever been.”

Honestly, I still didn’t know what he meant. Playing in Boston is just one of those things you can’t prepare yourself for. You can’t understand it until you experience it.

Now I get it.

Playing in Boston has changed my career. I’ve never been able to play with this kind of freedom, and because of that I’ve never played with more confidence.

And the fans have welcomed me with open arms, too.

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Photograph By MARK L. BAER/USA TODAY SPORTS

I’m a little guy — I’m only five-foot-eight — so unless you’re a huge basketball fan, you’re probably not going to recognize me around town. I’m not like Jared Sullinger ducking into the doorway of a restaurant. I blend in.

At least that’s what it was like everywhere else I played. Here in Boston, though, people recognize me everywhere I go. They ask me for my picture or my autograph. They know my kids. It’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced, and I love every minute of it.

My parents come to games at the Garden sometimes, and every time they do, they say, “Do you see how many number 4 jerseys there are in the crowd?”

I do.

And I appreciate the love, Boston.

I appreciate that fact that above all else, you have embraced me for me. The same way Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens embraced me. For being Isaiah Thomas.

Older Isiah was right. Being in Boston has been the best thing that could have ever happened to my career. I can honestly say I feel blessed to be a part of this city and this organization.

They say if you win a championship in Boston, you’ll be loved forever.

And I want every guy on this team to experience that.