C's need mental toughness to bounce back

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C's need mental toughness to bounce back

DETROIT Over time, it's a given that an NBA player's physical skills will deteriorate or at the very least, they become less of an impact player.

But what about mental toughness?

You would think that it's one of those intangibles that never changes. Once you're mentally tough, always mentally tough, right? Well, that theory is being put to the test by the Boston Celtics now.

During the Big Three era, much has changed with the team - but not their mental toughness.

They've had some bumps along the way that certainly tried both the patience of the players and Danny Ainge, the team's president of basketball operations. But this season, that mental toughness is being challenged in ways we haven't seen before with this group. It's not just fans and the media who wonder just how mentally tough the C's are these days.

Following a blowout loss at Toronto, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked about whether Boston's game the night before - an overtime home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers - may have factored into them being soundly defeated by the Raptors.

"If they want to use the (loss to the Lakers), then we are not mentally tough enough to be a winner," Rivers said at the time. "If you're tough, if you're tough, you come in and grind this one out and win it, too. If you're not, then you use last night as an excuse."

Similar concerns were raised following Boston's most recent setback, an 89-80 loss at Chicago on Thursday. In that game, Rivers talked about how his team seemed to allow missed shots to affect their effort levels.

"We don't show it often, but I thought the missed shots really affected our energy," Rivers said. "I could see it. That's unusual for us. When we miss shots, that usually doesn't bother us at all. A lot of guys got frustrated with the shots they missed."

More than the missed shots, the Celtics (15-14) seem to be letting the slew of missed opportunities in games, impact the way they play throughout the night. And that has led to some pretty uninspiring play down the stretch - a time when mentally tough teams, usually take over.

"We had great shots, they just didn't fall for us," Paul Pierce said following the Bulls loss. "At times, we made the extra pass and then it gets frustrating. You get the looks that you want, that don't fall. I had a couple looks I normally knock down. I know Ray (Allen) had some good opportunities. (Rajon) Rondo, the same. And then come down and play defense, 22, 23-seconds, and don't get the rebound. It saps the energy at some point in the game."

But the bottom line with it all, is winning. Because the C's aren't doing that - they've lost two in a row and four of their last five - it raises more questions about whether Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, should stand pat, tinker or blow the damn thing up!

Of course, the high number of injuries suffered by the Celtics has certainly made it a lot tougher for the Celtics front-office to evaluate who should potentially be on the move via trade.

Then there's the possibility that new blood may not help, or potentially make things worst than they are now.

One of the more recent cautionary tales about breaking off a core piece from a team with a championship pedigree, can be seen in the C's opponent on Sunday, Detroit.

Trading away one of the Big Four could set the C's back in a similar fashion to what the Pistons experienced when they decided to trade former NBA Finals MVP and former Celtic Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, just after the 2008-2009 season had started.

The Pistons, a perennial power with Billups, made the playoffs that year as an eighth seed and haven't been back to the postseason since.

Despite their struggles, they still have the unshakable faith of Doc Rivers. When it comes to optimism, there are few who remain as upbeat - even in the midst of beatdowns - as Rivers.

But this season is, well, different.

And while Rivers remains steadfast in his belief that the best days for the C's this year are still ahead of him, he too finds it difficult to stomach at times his team's inconsistent play.

"It's been a frustrating year," Rivers said recently. "We just gotta keep fighting through this maze."

That's an appropriate description of this season for the Celtics, one in which no one - not the players, coaches or front-office - truly have a feel for how it'll ultimately end.

Will they get to the finish line and be rewarded, or will they continue to make progress, run into a wall, and find themselves still in search of the right path toward success?

"It's gonna turn OK," Rivers said. "I really do believe that."

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.