From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots gave Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez a new, five-year contract on Monday.The deal is worth 40 million, according to reports, and comes just months after the team locked up another All-Pro tight end, Rob Gronkowski, through 2019.Hernandez's deal with the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32) will run through 2018, and his base salaries of 545,000 and 570,000 for the next two seasons, respectively, will remain intact.The 22-year-old former standout at the University of Florida wasn't available for comment during the team's player availability Monday. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the situation."We wouldn't have done it if we weren't happy with it," he said. "I'm glad it worked out."Hernandez had 910 yards receiving last season and seven touchdowns as the Patriots won the AFC before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. In two seasons, he has 124 catches, 1,473 yards and 13 scores. He's also carried the ball eight times for 92 yards.Hernandez is expected to sign the contract no later than Tuesday, and the Patriots will close the preseason at the Giants on Wednesday. After signing the deal, the tight end will donate 50,000 to the Myra Kraft Foundation, a charitable organization honoring the late wife of New England owner Bob Kraft.At 6-foot-1, and 245 pounds, Hernandez last season experienced a dramatic boost in production from his rookie campaign, often proving difficult to cover. He is expected to play an even wider role in the offense this season. The former fourth-round draft pick has frequently lined up at tight end, receiver and even running back during training camp.In last season's playoffs, Hernandez ripped off a 43-yard run during a victory over the Denver Broncos, and finished the game with five carries for 61 yards as well as four catches for 55 yards."Aaron's improved a lot. He's worked hard, he's improved a lot in all phases of the game -- the passing game, the running game, protection and his overall versatility. He's doing a good job for us," Belichick said. "He's a hard guy to cover. We've had a lot of trouble covering him defensively."Like the 23-year-old Gronkowski, Hernandez's rookie contract wasn't set to expire until after the 2013 season, but the talented tandem of tight ends will now remain in New England throughout their prime, forming perhaps the most productive pair in recent memory.After posting one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end last year, when he recorded 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns, Gronkowski was rewarded with the richest deal for a tight end in NFL annals. He agreed in June to a six-year, 53 million extension.Hernandez's contract actually averages more the first four years than Gronkowski's deal and offers more in true guaranteed money. Gronkowski was promised 12 million up front and another 5 million if he was still on the roster in 2015."They're two different types of tight ends, Rob being the bigger body type. But they both are very good at what they do," New England tight end Daniel Fells said. "They push you to get better every single day. When you have two talented guys in your room, you want to try to raise the bar yourself, and it makes me get better."And what has he learned from them so far this preseason?"That I've got a lot of work to do," Fells joked.Hernandez's deal casts a larger shadow over the possibility of a long-term contract for Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. After a stellar season in which he led the league with 122 receptions -- 22 more than the next highest total -- Welker, who finished with 1,569 yards, was unable to come to terms on an extension this offseason. Instead, he signed a 9.5 million franchise tender in May."It's good for him. Definitely happy for him," Welker said of Hernandez. "He's a great player and (has) done a lot of great things for us. (It's) good to have him here."Welker, 31, was asked to compare his situation to that of Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, another productive fan favorite vying for a long-term extension, but who instead signed a one-year deal prior to this season."I think it's a little bit different with the sports and everything and how everything comes together," Welker said. "But at the same time, I'm under contract and I played out my last deal and I'll play out this one and we'll see where we're at."Regardless of his future with the Patriots, Welker should once again benefit from lining up beside Hernandez and Gronkowski."You can do different things," he said. "You can line up in some bigger people-type sets and in some more spread out-type sets. And with the way they can do different things, I think it really helps us in running and passing the ball."
Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.
But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.
Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.
And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.
Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.
But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.
The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6).
And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.
“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”
Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.
Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.
“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”
And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.
Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.
Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.
“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”
The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.
Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.
Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.
“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”
And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.
“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”
And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.
“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.
Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.
Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.
Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.
Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.
Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.