Through four games, issues apparent for Celtics

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Through four games, issues apparent for Celtics

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are riding a two-game winning streak, no longer have a losing record and finally got some energy from what has been an anemic-looking bench.

But things are far from rosy on this team.

As much as the two victories helped get them get off the snide, they also highlighted just how far away this team is now, from being the title contender that they look like on paper.

For this team, it all begins with the starters.

Even though the Celtics boost three all-stars, it means nothing if the two guys around them don't fit in well.

Courtney Lee has done a so-so job at shooting guard. But like the rest of the team, he has to become a more consistent player at both ends of the floor.

Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger have split time at the power forward slot with Bass' two starts ending with the C's losing both games while Sullinger's two starts netted a pair of wins.

Ironically, in the two Boston victories - especially Wednesday's overtime win over Washington - Bass was actually the better player when coming off the bench.

Do not be shocked if Doc Rivers decides to ride out Sullinger with the first group for a little while longer.

From there you move on to the bench which has been underwhelming most of this still-young season.

In fact, Wednesday's 100-94 overtime win was easily their best game thus far.

Jason Terry made it a goal for the C's second unit to outscore opponents every game this season.

At this point, if they can outscore one opponent's second unit, that would be progress.

While this group does have the kind of firepower a Celtics second unit hasn't had in years, this is still a team that's rooted in strong defensive play.

And it's not a total shock that a second unit that's loaded with "professional scorers," has been up and down in terms of latching on to the C's defensive principles and executing them consistently.

This group should improve in time, especially if you keep Bass as a reserve.

That said, there are a still a few other issues that have to be worked out in the coming weeks and months for Boston to come close to reaching the immense potential that this team possesses.

DEFENSE CONSISTENCY

Of course that is to a large degree tied into the various new pieces meshing with those more well-versed on Doc Rivers' defensive system.

The most glaring challenge the Celtics have now comes in terms of Kevin Garnett getting help defensively.

Not only when he leaves the game and takes a rest, but also when he's on the floor.

Washington's Kevin Seraphin was a throw-back of sorts big man who gave Garnett problems in both games against the Wizards this year. Not surprisingly, Garnett did a much better job on him when the two teams met on Wednesday, in comparison to their first matchup last Saturday.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that with a player like Seraphin, Garnett needed help from time to time.

And when Garnett was out of the game, the C's interior defense got progressively worst.

There isn't a single player on this roster who can enter a game and provide the defensive presence that Garnett does. But the C's have to find someone who can at least provide some force in the middle so that the lane doesn't become a turnstile for dribble-penetrating opponents.

During the preseason, it looked as though Darko Milicic might have been that guy. But a wrist injury slowed him down, and small ball has kept him even more buried on the bench.

Wilcox is another option, but he's not really a shot-blocker. Plus he's still trying to regain his strength after missing most of last season. Jason Collins is a smart big man who understands how to play the game, but his lack of foot speed and agility on the floor will make it hard for him to provide the kind of steady defensive presence the C's have been lacking most nights when Rivers turns to his bench.

JEFF GREEN

It's hard not to find yourself rooting for Green when you consider his across-the-board skills and all that he has gone through this past year.

But putting sentimentality aside, he's not getting it done.

The attacking, aggressive brand of basketball we saw in Europe and state-side during the preseason, is nowhere to be found.

Now the level of competition certainly plays a role. His body getting used to the rigors of the NBA after a year off, will undoubtedly take some time for him to get up to speed.

But that should not take away from his aggression; not to the extent that we have seen so little of thus far.

It's not all that complicated.

Green has to start playing better.

Period.

BACKUP BIG MAN CONCERNS

Doc Rivers doesn't seem all that worried about his perimeter guys defensively, and with good reason.

He's going to get Avery Bradley back next month.

But there is still a bit of a void in the frontcourt with this team even with the three-headed monster of Chris Wilcox, Darko Miliicic and Jason Collins.

Of the three, Wilcox has the best shot of helping them, provided he can continue to get his body right and his conditioning up to par after missing most of last season following heart surgery.

He was arguably the biggest game-changer for the Celtics in their win over Washington on Wednesday, tallying six points in less than four minutes in helping Boston close out the third quarter with a 10-2 run.

That kind of immediate impact production has to become more consistent from Boston's backup big men.

With the C's so committed to going small more often, playing time for the team's big men has to be maximized.

That's exactly what Wilcox did on Wednesday.

Can he or one of Boston's other bigs do it consistently?

That remains to be seen.

"This is a process," said C's guard Jason Terry. "For us, it's about playing 48 minutes of Celtics basketball. (Wednesday night) we played in spurts, we played in stretches. That's not going to be good enough for us."

Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

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Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

Monday may have marked a low point in the relationship between the NFL and its on-field employees.

The fight between the league and its best player of the past two decades was in the headlines again. Tom Brady, tied to the NFL’s bumper and dragged around for almost 500 days, had his NFLPA legal team baring its teeth again in the Deflategate mess. The eye-gouging and hair-pulling in that imbroglio over a puff of air allegedly being removed from footballs has cost the league and the PA about $25M so far.

Meanwhile, NFLPA President Eric Winston was saying the league "cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it involves players.” That comment flowed from a Congressional report alleging the NFL tried to exert influence over who would conduct studies regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the condition that’s been blamed for a myriad of former players winding up addled, incapacitated or dead.

I say “may have marked” because the relationship between the two sides has cratered so frequently over the past two years, it’s hard to know exactly what the low point has been. Or how much lower it can go.

And, with the 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement only half done, there is ample opportunity for things to get worse. Because, really, why would they get better?

With the NFL’s owners safe knowing that their emperor/puppet/human shield is still in place to take the hits and do their dirty work, there’s seemingly no groundswell among that group to relieve Roger Goodell of his duties. Despite reports of growing owner discontent over Deflategate, the Ray Rice investigation, and an appeal of a case in which the league was found to have withheld $100M from players, there is no Sword of Damocles dangling over the league to cut ties with Goodell.

He was able to oversee the league’s re-entry in Los Angeles (though that “triumph” was fraught with owner acrimony), is going to get a game played in China, keeps edging closer to getting a franchise based in Europe and may even land one in Las Vegas, has enhanced the league’s reach on social media (the announcement of some games being aired on Twitter) and keeps making billions hand over fist.

Goodell’s presence won’t be an impediment to a new labor deal getting done for another five years. By then, when the issues of Goodell’s role in player discipline, drug testing and his relationship with the union come to the fore, the owners might feel compelled to cut him loose after 15 seasons in charge.

But even then, the league’s owners will be in the business of pointing out to the players how good they’ve had it under the current CBA. The league’s salary cap structure – decried as a disaster in the first years of the deal – has seen the cap grow from $120M in 2011 to $155M this year. Players’ practice time and the wear and tear on their bodies has been reduced thanks to the new limits on contact enacted. Benefits are better. Retired players are getting better care. Players have more off-field marketing opportunities with companies that want to affix themselves to the most popular sport in the United States.

As bad as the headlines have been for Goodell, in five years (or probably fewer since negotiations on a new CBA will begin in 2020) who will remember the disaster that’s been Deflategate? How inspired will players be to miss games and paychecks for the satisfaction of knowing Goodell can’t be his own arbitrator anymore?

To sum it up, Goodell’s dark disciplinary reign may well continue unabated for a few more seasons. But as long as the league rains money on its players through the end of this decade, the clock isn’t ticking on Goodell and the owners in the form of labor strife.

Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

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Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the Dan Patrick Show -- hosted by Ross Tucker on Monday -- to discuss the petition that was eventually filed to the Second Circuit requesting a rehearing for Tom Brady's case. 

During the discussion, Smith insisted that Brady made a settlement offer long ago that might've resolved things. But because the NFL wanted more, a deal was never struck. Now here we are, almost 500 days since the AFC Championship Game in January of 2015, and Deflategate is still a living, breathing thing. 

"Tom's a standup guy," Smith said. "And I think he made a settlement offer to resolve this. The league chose not to take it, and that's where we are . . . I don't want to go into details, but it was an incredibly generous offer to resolve this. The league asked for something that no man should agree to do."

Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran explained on Monday's episode of Quick Slants that Brady was willing to accept a one-game suspension for a lack of cooperation at the outset of the investigation. But the league was looking for a face to take the blame, Curran explained. 

Both Jim McNally and John Jastremski were willing to take the heat off of Brady, but Brady insisted that he would not throw anyone else under the bus because he believed that there was no wrongdoing on his part or anyone else's when it came to the preparation of game footballs. 

With no one offered up to shoulder the blame, the NFL declined to agree to any proposal from Brady's camp. At that point, it would have been almost impossible to predict that this case would one day be only a step or two from getting the US Supreme Court involved. 

Yet here we are.