Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

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Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics started the season 0-3, there was doubt.

When the Celtics lost five straight in January, and then again the next month, there was doubt.

When the Celtics suffered injuries, looked tired closing out games, and battled with inconsistency, there was doubt.

The notion of the Celtics winning the Atlantic Division this season didnt seem like the most plausible outcome at points during this season. But to the Celtics, there was no doubting their ability to claim the title they have held since the 2007-08 season.

And after clinching the division on Wednesday night following a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic, they let it be known.

You guys called us old, over, said Kevin Garnett. I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers (scans group of reporters with his eyes). Its a pity. Obviously you dont know what drives us. We thank yall for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under us.

The Celtics headed into the All-Star Break with a 15-17 record. Since then, they are 22-9 while facing multiple injuries and setbacks. They improved to 37-26 on Wednesday with three games left in the regular season.

Garnett points to chemistry and confidence in one another as the key to this success in the second half. He noted it is a process that doesnt happen overnight, and with less than two weeks before the playoffs, it has happened in time.

One of the hardest things Ive always said in this league is to create chemistry, he said. I knew at some point we all, as a unit, would get a rhythm and ride that rhythm out. I think thats what youve seen since the All-Star break. Weve come back, refreshed, focused.

Like I said, havent had a lot of practice time to implement a system of schemes, but we do have a core here and what youve seen up until this point to obviously come to a point to where weve won the division is not only confidence, but believing in that system and believing in that rhythm and riding that rhythm out.

Like Ive always said since Ive been here, you can rewind the tapes right now. Different outfit, no scarf, same frames, that in order to build chemistry, its a process. You just dont do that in one or two days. And were a very confident team, Ive always said that. We never lack that. To be able to come and win your division is a huge thing. All those things combined is what you got today.

The Celtics are on the same page on and off the court. Prior to Garnetts postgame interview, Keyon Dooling echoed the same sentiments of being counted out by the critics.

Everybody pretty much wrote us off, talking about how old we were, how washed up we were, Dooling said. We all, internally, never bought into that. Obviously coming out of a condensed season when theres a lockout and from a conditioning standpoint, we werent were we wanted to be earlier in the season. But we know as we continue to get healthy, continue to round ourselves out into shape, we will be here at the end.

With that confidence is also focus. The Celtics goals are far bigger than the Atlantic Division. All the banners in the rafters represent the ultimate title and serve as constant reminders of the task at hand.

Im not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that, said Paul Pierce. I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. Its a good accomplishment, I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess its just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''