Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

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Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

ATLANTA There's rarely a day that passes where there isn't a story out there about an NBA player beefing with his head coach, having a run-in with a teammate or some other knuckle-head like act being committed.

For years, Atlanta's Josh Smith was among the players you could lump into that category.

But this season, the 27-year-old is showing the kind of growth and maturity on and off the court that has helped elevate the Hawks' status and his stature as a leader.

Smith comes into tonight's game against the Celtics averaging 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.45 steals. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with all those numbers, the 6-foot-9 Smith is also averaging 2.31 blocks per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

He is the only player in the top-10 blocked shots leaders who is under 6-10.

"Numbers-wise, he's an all-star," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "From what I know, he just seems like he's been a leader, a positive influence on the team. No emotional hijacks, he's been phenomenal for their team."

Smith evolving into a leader is in some ways similar to that of Boston's Rajon Rondo, Smith's former teammate at Oak Hill Academy.

"I think we still forget he (Smith) was young when he came to the league," said Rivers, referring to Smith being 18 years old when the Hawks drafted the Georgia native with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. "It takes time. Not only the basketball part, but your maturity and your leadership and all that. So it looks like he's getting it."

And while Rivers agrees that there are similarities in the maturation of Smith and Rondo, he's convinced that the road Rondo has had to go has been tougher.

"Rondo's the point guard of the team, a team that has not just Hall of Famers, but HALL OF FAMERS!" Rivers said. "You're talking about Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and (former Celtic) Ray (Allen) and you're the guy that has to tell them, 'no you can't have the ball this time.' That's hard for someone, anyone. I just think it's a little different. But in a lot of ways it's the same with their youth."

Bruins should've signed "entry level" players over Kevan Miller

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Bruins should've signed "entry level" players over Kevan Miller

Fred Toucher and Joe Haggerty disagree about the new deal the Boston Bruins gave Kevan Miller and got in a heated debate Wednesday morning on Toucher & Rich.

Haggerty says the Bruins would be better off with "players on entry level deals" over Miller for the money he'll received.

Miller signed a four-year deal worth $10 million on Monday.

As for Toucher? Watch the video above for his response. Then comment below with your thoughts on the deal.

Freeney, who expressed interest in joining Pats, taking physical for Bengals

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Freeney, who expressed interest in joining Pats, taking physical for Bengals

Dwight Freeney, who expressed a modicum of interest last week in joining the Patriots, is being checked out on Wednesday by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 36-year-old pass rusher, who had an eight-sack season with the Cardinals last year, is in Cincy for a physical, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter

The Patriots kicked the tires on Freeney back in 2013 before Freeney spent two seasons with the Chargers. He was with Arizona for just one season and has expressed that his first choice is to return to the Cardinals. 

Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

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Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

Peter Chiarelli may be long gone from Causeway Street, but his spirit lives on. 

If someone can explain to me the Bruins' fascination with bottom-of-the-roster veterans with average talent, then I'd love to hear it. I used to think it was the problem of Chiarelli, the B's former general manager. But now I have to wonder if it's just in the water down there. And current GM Don Sweeney is chugging it.

I have no other explanation for the team's decision to sign defenseman Kevan Miller to a four-year (four!) extension worth $10 million yesterday. Miller is a nice role piece. But how that translates to four guaranteed years when he will turn 29 early next season and the Bruins have massive holes throughout their roster is beyond me. 

What's more, the B's already have nearly the identical player in Adam McQuaid, who is roughly the same age, same size, same shot (right), same injury history (poor) and plays the same role (bottom pairing, right side). McQuaid is a little less skilled than Miller, so of course, using Bruins logic, he makes a little more ($2.75 million). But McQuaid also got four years when he re-signed prior to last season.

Certainly, contracts worth $2-3 million annually aren't going to ruin your cap in a vacuum. But start adding them up you see how the Bruins got into trouble in the first place. Combine McQuaid and Miller's hits and you have $5.25 million of valuable space chewed up against the cap. Basically, that's the price of a solid, top-4 defenseman, which the Bruins need ten times more than a depth piece.

Scary. The Bruins currently don't have a No. 1 or a No. 2 defensemen. (Sorry, Bruins writers, Zdeno Chara belongs on a second pairing right now.) Yet they have decided to lock themselves up with a pair of No. 6 guys who basically duplicate each other. Again, why do the B's continue to overpay the bottom of the depth chart when the top is so lousy?

It's one thing for Chiarelli to overcommit to the likes of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Dan Paille, Greg Campbell, Dennis Seidenberg, etc. Those guys at least helped you win a Cup and get to another final. From an emotional standpoint, you can explain those mistakes. But Miller? He's been a part of one of the worst defense corps in the league the last few years. He's been on a team that has failed to make the playoffs two consecutive seasons. How do you fall in love with that guy?

Please don't tell me that Miller would have gotten that contract on the open market. I mean, it's true; he probably would have. But what does that matter? Does that mean it's a good deal? Just because Colorado was willing to pay Carl Soderberg just under $5 million a season, does that mean the B's should have paid the middling centerman that money last year? Of course not. Use your head. Just because someone else gets stupid doesn't mean you have to.

You shudder to think what's coming next. Loui Eriksson is still out there as a pending free agent. Ditto for Torey Krug. On a good team, the former is a third liner and the latter is another third-pairing guy. Neither have been good enough to lift the B's above the playoff line the last two years despite playing prominent roles. Both are about to get overpaid on the market . . . unless the B's step in first and insist on being the team that gets stupid and overcommits first.

Given what we've seen with Miller, how can anyone be confident that the B's will be smart enough to pass? My confidence level on this is somewhere around 0.0.

Which is exactly how much cap space the B's will have left with this approach.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.