Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday

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Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

The Pats weren't playing on Sunday, so here are three random thoughts that occupied my brain instead:

MORE ON V-MART

There are still 2 12 months before pitchers and catchers report to the geographical paradise that is Fort Myers, Florida, but if you're a Red Sox fan there's already reason to feel a little jaded.

It's not that Victor Martinez is the first big free agent to ever bolt town. It's just that on most other occasions, there was a decent enough excuse as to why. Pedro was on the downside of his career. Damon got a sizable offer from the Yankees. Jason Bay from the big-market Mets. But with Martinez, the Sox just let him get away for a reasonable price to the Detroit Tigers. Boston's not used to losing guys like that. But in this case, that's the reality.

Many say that the deeper reality is that the Sox never wanted Martinez to begin with. That concerns over his age, defense and durability were so pressing that the organization didn't deem him worthy of a long-term deal. And maybe they had a point. But theres no denying that five years ago, the Sox would have re-signed Martinez in a second. At any other point in the reign of this ownership group, they would have brought him back.

The potential problems, and concerns over how the deal could affect the team four years down the road still would have existed, but all that would have mattered is that Martinez makes them better now; that without him there's a huge hole in the lineup. Money wouldn't have been an issue. Years three and four on that contract would have been a small price to pay for all that he gave them in years one and two.

You want to list all the reasons why V-Mart is a risky signing? Where was that logic back in 2006? You dont think the Sox could have poked a few holes in their own decision to give J.D. Drew 14 million a year until hes 35? Or Julio Lugo 9 million a year until hes 34? Where were the excuses then?

They were buried under the ownership's insatiable desire to bring a winner to Boston. To win at all costs. And turn the Sox into the powerhouse brand that they are today. Back then, the excuses and drawbacks were just a necessary casualty of success. But obviously, that's not the case anymore.

Maybe Drew and Lugo are the reason. Maybe some of the big-time busts of the last few years caused the front office to pull back a little; not be quite as reckless with their spending. Or maybe cash that used to be fair game for the Sox is now wrapped up in other New England Sports Ventures . . . um, ventures. On Wednesday afternoon, Tom Werner will officially take over as chairman of the Liverpool soccer club the little 480 million investment the NESV made last month. How can that not affect what the Red Sox spend on free agents?

I'm not saying ownership doesn't care about the Sox anymore. When you have a second kid, it doesnt mean that you love your first one any less. But the second kid does limit how much time, energy and money you can spend on No. 1. And I don't see how that won't be the case with NESV, the Sox and Liverpool.

Of course, it's still early in the offseason, and there's plenty that the Sox could do over the next two months to spin this negative vibe out of town. Next week they could sign Carl Crawford, trade for Adrian Gonzalez and make every one who doubts them look sillier than the Wayans Bros.

But there's something about the way that VMart departed thats left a stain on the franchise. Even if they did hypothetically get Crawford and Gonzalez, why not keep Martinez, too? It's 12.5 million a year, and you're the Sox! That's supposed to be a sure thing.

But, whatever the reason, its not like that anymore, it and might take some time for the Nation to adjust.

DELONTE GOES DOWN
Delonte West's broken wrist is disappointing on so many levels. It's disappointing because of what it means for the Celtics on the court, and Delonte off the court. It's disappointing because you know how important it was for him to be out there, and how hard he worked and how much he went through for his dream of playing again to become a reality. Anytime you see one of the Celtics lying flat on the parquet, clutching his wrist and screaming like he just sat on a nail, you're going to feel for him. But with Delonte, it was worse. It's almost been a week, but I still can't think about it without instinctively shaking my head. It's a just a shame that it had to happen.

But at the same time, I'm not surprised that it did.

One of the Wests greatest qualities is his competitiveness; how hard he plays; how badly he wants to win pretty fantastic qualities for an athlete to have, regardless of the sport. But if there's a drawback to West's ultra-competitive nature, it sometimes translates into him acting recklessly on the court. It translates into plays like the one from last Wednesday, where West left the floor and soared towards the hoop with little control of his body or concern over what would happen when he hit the floor. The way West throws himself at the hoop, it's like he half-expects the court to turn into a pool of Sprite upon landing. Or more likely, he just doesnt think about what will happen next because hes too focused on scoring the hoop and helping the team.

Im not sure how you can ever really criticize someone for thinking or acting that way. Its every ownercoachfan's dream to have a guy like that. But at some point, Delonte needs to understand that self-conservation isnt a sign of weaknesses. That taking the intensity down a couple notches in certain situations is more beneficial to the team than playing every possession like it's in the last two minutes of Game 7.

LONG DECEMBER
At this point, most people have bought into the Patriots' hype. It's pretty obvious that their 9-2 record is far from a fluke. The Pats are a legitimately good team, and given the current state of the NFL, there's no reason why they cant win another Super Bowl. Who ever imagined we'd be saying that two months ago? It happened so quickly, but it most definitely happened. The Pats have turned the corner.

But as they turn that corner, they'll come face-to-face with the longest and roughest stretch of their season. Four games that will let us know, for sure, how much faith to place in possibility of Ring No. 4.

December football isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be the biggest test of the season, and a month that helps us determine which contenders are for real. But after the events of Week 12, the Pats' December slate looks more taxing than ever.

We already knew they'd have their hands full at home down the stretch. They host the Jets next Monday, and then the Packers two weeks later on the 19th. Both are top three teams in their conference. Both have dangerous, explosive and game-changing defenses. The Jets have one of the league's most powerful rushing attacks. The Packers are one of the most prolific passing games. Both teams know what it's like to play in the cold, as well. The New England winter's not intimidating anyone over there. Those two home games were already circled as two of the season's most significant. But after Sunday's games, the Pats' two road games have taken on new meaning.

December 12 at Chicago

Well, I'm officially impressed. How about you? For the longest time I thought about this game, and the Bears' inconsistent season, and the idea of Bill Belichick vs. Jay Cutler, and never really worried. I figured it would be a tough game, but that the Pats would find a way to win. And while that's certainly not out of the question, the Bears proved in their win over the red hot Eagles that theyre for real. Especially at home.

Right now, Chicago has the second-best record in the NFC. Better than the Giants, Eagles and Packers. And thats the caliber team the Pats need to expect now. They can still win, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did. It was just a little less stressful when you could count on Cutler throwing seven interceptions, being sacked five times . . . and then playing even worse in the second half.

December 26 at Buffalo

Steve Johnson blamed God for the Bills losing on Sunday, but not even He is that cruel. The Bills had three or four different fantastic chances to close out their upset of the Steelers. But it just wasnt meant to be. Literally, Johnson thinks.

But despite Johnson's big drop, and the Bills Big 'L', you can see that they've figured something out in Buffalo. In Ryan Fitzpatrick they have a quarterback who will make plays and keep them in games, and their defense is just tough enough to hold their ground against the more physical teams in the league.

They're still the Bills, but a few weeks ago you would've looked at that last game in December as more as a piece-of-cake postseason tuneup. But after Buffalos two straight wins and one "impressive" loss nothings easy.

Definitely not in December.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

OFFSEASON

Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

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Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.

“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.

Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively. 

The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.

In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.

While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.

“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”

We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.

However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.

Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.

And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.

“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”

And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.

“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”

Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.

In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.

“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”

Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.

“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”

Ah yes, the process.

If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.

Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.

Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.

“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN