Celtics following the trend of smaller lineups

920323.jpg

Celtics following the trend of smaller lineups

MIAMI The NBA has a different look and feel about it these days.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the many teams that are getting a big boost out of small lineups -- the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat included.

When the two face each other in the season opener on Tuesday night, both will unveil lineups that continue a league-wide trend that steers further and further away from traditional five-man lineups.

"It's going to continue to change," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "There's no longer, 'You gotta put a center on the floor. You gotta put a power forward.' You're going to put your best five on the floor and usually your best five offensive guys on the floor."

The position that has been most impacted by this change in philosophy, is the center position. And the reason is obvious. There just aren't that many good ones, and so teams try to make due with power forwards who can also play center.

Kevin Garnett has spent most of his career at power forward, but he is now Boston's starting center. While he still may play some at power forward, the bulk of his's minutes will be at center.

Ditto for Miami's Chris Bosh who like Garnett, is a slender power forward that has been converted into a center.

But don't think for a minute that because of the position change, these players spend most of their time around the basket.

In fact, Garnett and Bosh are part of a new generation of NBA big men who have the ability to stretch defenses with their perimeter shooting in addition to being able to score around the basket.

Rivers doesn't see teams going back to the days of having a true center with any kind of consistency for one reason.

Most NBA centers aren't exceptional. Aside from Philadelphia's Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard, a case could be made that there's not another dominant center in the league.

Don't think for a minute that will stop teams from continuing to look.

"Trust me, every coach would love to have a dominant center," Rivers said. "There's no doubt about that. If there are none, then why just throw one out there?"

Miami's Shane Battier has spent the bulk of his NBA career playing small forward as well as some at shooting guard. But with the Heat, the 6-foot-8 Battier is being asked to learn how to play the power forward position as well.

"It's a lot more, 'Get your players on the court and make plays,' " Battier said. "What position is LeBron? Really? He's a little bit of everything. He's one of the few guys you can craft a whole system around."

Or in the case of Boston's Jeff Green, a case could be made that having such versatility allows a player to fit into whatever system they are asked to play in.

"We're hybrids; that's how I define guys like myself," said Green who will play at least two or three different positions for the C's this season. "We're a rare commodity so everybody is looking all over the place for us."

Small not only benefits versatile bigs like James and Green, but also combination guards like Jason Terry who often finds himself in the game with another sort-of, kind-of, but-not-really-big-man like Green who is at his best when running the floor.

"This league is all about matchups," Terry said. "Coaches are always looking for that matchup to exploit, to take advantage of. Having smaller lineups allows your best playmakers to play more, do what they do best."

And that could be a good thing -- a very good thing -- for the Celtics this season.

"What I like about our team, against the big teams we can go big," said Rivers who mentioned Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Chris Wilcox as legitimate options at the center position.

"Against teams that go small, that's dangerous. If you go small against us, you may be playing into our hands. This year's group, our small lineups are pretty lethal."

Curran: Do Bledsoe's recollections give insight to Brady's state of mind?

Curran: Do Bledsoe's recollections give insight to Brady's state of mind?

Drew Bledsoe’s being asked to reminisce a lot this fall. And not exactly about fuzzy, feel-good topics that warm the heart.

MORE ON BRADY: So what's he been up to during his suspension? | McCourty; Notion Brady is a 'system' QB is absurd

Instead, it’s reminiscing about 2001, the year his heart got lacerated and he was replaced for good by Tom Brady, who went on to win a Super Bowl. Or about 2006 when -- as Cowboys quarterback -- he got yanked in favor or Tony Romo and never got back in.

This being the 15th anniversary of SB36 has caused Bledsoe’s phone to ring. And the Brady-Jimmy Garoppolo-Jacoby Brissett dance early this season has brought to the fore discussion of the Brady succession plan, especially now that it appears both players aren’t going to be disasters. How is this situation similar to the one in 2001? Meanwhile, the emergence of Dak Prescott in Dallas puts the oft-injured Romo in more immediate peril of losing his job.

In the past few days, Bledsoe’s opened up to both Albert Breer of MMQB and Michael Silver of NFL Media about the emotions of getting bumped and -- with Breer especially --– the depth he goes into discussing the situation and his emotions then and now are kind of moving.

If you think you’ve heard it all before -- and I believed I had -- you probably haven’t.  The seriousness of Bledsoe’s 2001 injury was not exaggerated, as he explains in an anecdote. He acknowledges feeling entitled to a degree and admits to being bitter about the way he’s recalled.

“One thing I do bristle at a little bit is, I feel like there’s too much of me and Wally Pipp (the Yankees first baseman famously replaced by Lou Gehrig who never got his job back and birthed the verb “Pipped” for anyone who missed a day and got replaced),” Bledsoe told Breer. “I was the single-season passing leader for three organizations when I left. Unfortunately, Tommy’s been so damn good that people sometimes forget I had a pretty nice career.”

Speaking with Silver regarding Romo-Prescott, Bledsoe plumbed his experience with Brady and Bill Belichick in 2001.

"When you're young in the league -- when you're young in life -- you think you're 10-foot tall and bulletproof," said Bledsoe. "You think nobody can ever replace you, and that you're gonna be the guy forever. Eventually, you learn the lesson that it's a replacement business. Sometimes that hits you right between the eyes, which is what happened to me with [Tom] Brady, and again with Tony.

"It happens to all of us. I don't know if it's the time for Tony, but it's something that every quarterback has to confront."

In less than a week, Brady -- the best quarterback in NFL history in the minds of many -- will be back from his suspension. He will have seen in a month’s time that the NFL train rolls along without him and that, while he could never be cloned, he can be capably replaced.

Brady, because of the way he ascended to the job and the friends he’s seen get taken behind the barn in New England, has always been open about understanding he could be replaced. But now he’s got concrete evidence.

Said Bledsoe: "In our heart of hearts, we all want to feel indispensible. We all want to believe, 'There's no way the team can succeed without me.' Then you see the team going on, and winning with a young guy playing the position, and playing it well, and you do some soul searching . . . and you start to think, 'Maybe the team's gonna make that decision to move on.'

"You always want the team to do well, but it's hard. It can be [awkward]. Tommy and I are still good friends, and I text with Romo once in awhile . . . but it's hard to love 'em if they've got your job and you want it back."

Please read both.

Report: Marchand agrees to eight-year extension with Bruins

Report: Marchand agrees to eight-year extension with Bruins

The Bruins took care of their biggest priority today as they reached agreement with Brad Marchand on an eight-year contract extension, according to several reports.

PROFILE: Joe Haggerty's preseason look at Brad Marchand

Elliotte Friedman reports Marchand has agreed to an eight year, $49 million extension ($6.125 million per season) that will effectively allow him to finish his career in Boston.

It was felt the Bruins would have been playing with fire if they allowed Marchand -- a 37-goal scorer last year -- to start the season unsigned, especially after he ripped up the World Cup of Hockey competition on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby. Bruins president Cam Neely told CSN a couple of weeks ago that Boston was aiming to get the deal done with Marchand prior to the start of the regular season. In fact, they managed to get it done before the start of even the preseason.

Marchand has consistently said that he wants to finish out his career with the Bruins, who drafted and developed him and with whom he turned into an elite player in the last couple of years. He’s clearly taking a hometown discount to stick with Boston.

This is what Marchand said to CSN on breakup day last April:

“I obviously love being a part of this organization, this city and this team, and I don’t think this team is done having some good runs. I would love to be a part of this organization for the rest of my career, but the reality is when you look around the league that it doesn’t happen for many guys. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”

Well, the time came and Marchand put his money where his sometimes big mouth usually is. The Bruins agitator easily could have demanded a yearly salary of $7 million-plus in free agency.

Credit to Don Sweeney and Neely for closing the deal with Marchand, and ticking one very important thing off their checklist that will help make the Bruins great again.