Bucs make huge splash in free agency

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Bucs make huge splash in free agency

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Greg Schiano glanced to his left where the three newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were seated and smiled broadly. All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, two-time Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and well-regarded cornerback Eric Wright comprise the biggest one-day free agent haul in franchise history and figure to play key roles in whether the first-year coach makes a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL. "I think they're a perfect fit ... for what we want to do," Schiano said. Schiano noted that Nicks is a punishing blocker who will help the running game, Jackson is a proven deep threat who'll make the passing attack better and Wright is a much-needed addition for a defense that must improve if the Bucs are to rebound from a 4-12 finish that included 10 consecutive losses to end last season. Barely 14 hours after making a splash by signing Jackson to a five-year 55.55 million contract Tuesday, general manager Mark Dominik closed five-year deals Wednesday with Nicks, one of the key blockers for Drew Brees on the Saints' record-setting offense, and Wright, who's coming off a solid season with the Lions. Nicks received a 47.5 million deal that the four-year veteran called "humbling." Wright, who matched his career high with four interceptions for Detroit last season, got a 37.5 million package -- meaning Dominik negotiated deals totaling more than 140 million in one day after not spending much at all on other team's free agents the past two years. And it appears the spending spree -- the Bucs entered free agency more than 42 million under the league salary cap -- is done. "Our eyes are turned toward the draft," where Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick and will seek to address other needs, Dominik said. "We've made our mark," the general manager added, "for what we wanted to accomplish." Jackson gives the Bucs the legitimate No. 1 pass catcher they've lacked since Keyshawn Johnson helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl title 10 years ago. The three-time 1,000-yard receiver had 37 TD receptions in seven seasons with the Chargers and provides a deep threat for young quarterback Josh Freeman. Jackson's contract, which will pay the receiver 13 million in each of his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, was done in all 5's in honor of Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5. The 29-year-old was excited to be available after earning nearly 11 million in 2011, when San Diego put franchise tag on him. He missed most of 2010 in a salary dispute. Like Nicks and Wright, Jackson said money was the only lure to Tampa Bay. Each of them like the nucleus of young talent the Bucs have assembled since deciding to rebuild with youth after the 2008 season. Former coach Raheem Morris led the team to a surprising 10-6 record, narrowly missing the playoffs two years ago. The team took a step backward last season, when Freeman threw 22 interceptions (compared to just six in 2010) and Tampa Bay's defense set a franchise record for most points allowed. "They have the tools here to do big things," Jackson said. "I'm just looking to do my part." Nicks made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans that past two seasons and is considered one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He's also excited that Schiano's blueprint for success revolves around what the coach hopes will be a productive running game that'll take some of the pressure off Freeman. The Saints led the NFL in total offense and threw for more yards than any club in league history last season. No disrespect for what his old team approach, but he is looking forward to opening holes for the run-oriented attack that Schiano expects to open things up for Freeman and the passing game. "We were pass first, pass second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth," Nicks said, adding that it will be "interesting" facing his old team twice a year in the NFC South. Wright, a five-year veteran, was with the Lions last season after spending four years in Cleveland. With Ronde Barber's future with the Bucs up in the air after 15 seasons and Aqib Talib confronting a legal matter off the field, the Bucs felt it was essential to pursue a proven cornerback in free agency. Jackson, who during last year's lockout was one of 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady V. NFL antitrust suit filed against club owners, said he doesn't anticipate the size of his contract creating pressure for him to be anyone other than the same type of player that made him one of the most attractive players available in free agency. Nicks and Wright expect to blend in well, too, although they know all eyes will be on them and Jackson. "We're not the big three like the Miami Heat," Nicks said, smiling. "But hey ..."

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

BRIGHTON, Mass – While both Kevan Miller and Colin Miller were missing from Bruins practice on Saturday morning, both injured Bruins defensemen could be rejoining the team soon.

Colin Miller skated on his own prior to Saturday’s team practice at Warrior Ice Arena for the second or third time since suffering a lower body injury in the win over the St. Louis Blues. Claude Julien said his presence on the ice was proof that the puck-moving defenseman is “definitely on the mend”, and could be nearing a return to practice soon with Sunday marking the sixth straight game that he’ll have missed.

Kevan Miller is out with a concussion suffered last weekend in the win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and the B’s current three-game losing streak has coincided with his absence from the lineup.

Julien said Miller has actually been away from the team for the last couple of days while dealing with a virus, and that his recovery from the concussion symptoms was good prior to being knocked down by the illness.

“Kevan was actually feeling really well and then he got hit by a virus that’s kept him in bed for the last two days,” said Julien. “It’s nothing to do with his original injury. There was a possibility he could have been ready very soon, but that’s set him back a bit.”

Both are obviously out for Sunday’s matinee against the Penguins, but a return to practice at some point next week seems like a good bet for both players. Here are the line combos and defense pairings from Saturday’s practice with the Bruins focusing on getting a good result in Pittsburgh with the hockey club on a “mom’s trip” with 22 of the players’ mothers traveling with the team to and from the game:

Marchand-Bergeron-Vatrano

Schaller-Krejci-Pastrnak

Spooner-Nash-Backes/Hayes

Blidh/Beleskey-Moore-Czarnik

 

Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-Liles

 

Rask

McIntyre

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

BOSTON – Conventional NBA wisdom tells you that getting out to score in transition is a good thing, usually serving as easy points scored, which is what every team wants, right?
 
But bundles of transition points have been nothing but trouble for the Celtics this season.
 
They are coming off a game against the New York Knicks in which they scored 22 fast-break points, which was their second-best showing this season. But the final score, a 117-106 loss, wasn’t all that unusual from what has happened this season when their transition game has generated a decent amount of scoring.
 
Boston has a 2-6 record this season when they score 16 or more fast-break points. On the nights when Boston’s fast-break offense generates 10 or fewer points?
 
They’re 11-5.
 
While there are several possible reasons why this is, here’s what you have to remember.
 
The Celtics are a ball-movement, 3-point shooting team.
 
Often that means they’ll pass up potential shots in transition, to instead work the ball around from one side of the floor to the other, until they get what they deem is the best shot to take (usually it’s a lightly contested to wide open 3-pointer).
 
The Celtics average 329.6 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.8). Not surprisingly, that has led to them ranking among the league’s leaders in assists (24.9, third in the NBA).
 
And that has led to Boston being ranked among the top-3 in several other key passing statistics, such as secondary assists (7.1, 2nd in the NBA); potential assists (49.5, 2nd); and assists points created (60.8, 3rd);
 
Here are a few more stats to crunch on, courtesy of CSN Associate Producer Andy Levine.
 
PAINT BY NUMBERS: When the Celtics score 40 percent or less of their points in the paint, they are 19-5 this season. When Boston gets 40 percent or more of its points in the paint, they are just 7-11.
 
BROWN IN THE FOURTH: Jaylen Brown has been among the better rookies this season, especially in the fourth quarter. Among rookies who played in at least 20 games in the fourth quarter, Brown is second in fourth quarter shooting at 54.9 percent. With those same standards, he’s sixth in shooting 3’s in the fourth at 38.5 percent.
 
CROWDER BOUNCES BACK: The past four games has seemingly brought out the best in Crowder. In that span, he has averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range. Crowder’s 3-point shooting of late has elevated him to seventh in the league while connecting on 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts (minimum 150 attempts).

OUCH! It has not been a smooth start for Evan Turner with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Turner’s plus/minus is -234, which is the fourth-worst plus/minus in the NBA.