Garnett, Celtics focusing on upcoming season

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Garnett, Celtics focusing on upcoming season

WALTHAM The last go-around for the Big Three. The window closing.

Spin it how you want, but there's a pretty good chance Kevin Garnett has heard some incarnation of it over the past few seasons.

And like a 5-foot-9 guard trying to score over him in the lane, Garnett rejected the question emphatically.

"Next question," he said.

Even though he's 35 years old and has spent nearly half his life in the NBA, the future is something Garnett doesn't give much thought to right now.

He's more consumed with the Celtics season opener against New York on Christmas Day. And once he unwraps a few presents after the game, he'll turn his attention to the next item on the Celtics' docket at Miami on Tuesday.

"I've been getting that question throughout the whole year," said Garnett, who truthfully, has been getting that question for the last two or three years. "I don't anticipate the future, because things are not set in stone. I'm not a person to go back on my word, so I don't know."

For Garnett, the idea of entertaining life beyond this truncated 66-game schedule is a dead issue.

"I'm not even going to give it any air," he said. "Because whatever this year presents itself to be, it would be just that. And the next year, everybody will come back and make a decision."

That doesn't mean he's completely oblivious to the reality that this may very well be his last go-around with this current core group which includes himself, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

"I'm cherishing a lot more not knowing what the future is," he said. "I'm embracing younger guys a little more; younger guys that want to work, embrace our culture and what we do here."

Following Thursday's practice, Garnett was barking out instructions to rookies Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson, both looking on intently.

Garnett has a well-earned reputation for tuning out rookies that don't work hard, don't listen, or both.

When asked if the two rookie big men were listening to Garnett's words of advice, coach Doc Rivers, grinning, said, "Clearly."

"All you have to do is watch," he added, "and see that he's still talking to them. The answer is yes."

Garnett has also been a major influence on Rondo.

Rondo will be the first to acknowledge that early on his career with the Big Three, he and Garnett butted heads a lot.

"I got into it with a lot of people my first couple years," Rondo said. "But we rely on each other. Kevin is one of my best friends on the team right now. Kendrick Perkins left, and I think it kind of made us closer. Kevin and I talk a lot lately, we're trying to stay on the same page. Both working on our attitudes for the better of the team. And me just growing up as a leader, he's been one of my mentors."

And that mentoring begins with Garnett's ability to lead both verbally and by example.

"Kevin is a great leader. If you want a leader, you want a guy like Kevin on your team, on your side," Rondo said. "He works hard. He does by it by his play, not necessarily his talk. He does a lot of talking too, but he backs it up. He's a future Hall of Famer. He's done a lot in this league. For having him as a mentor, a leader, whatever you want to call it, he's a great addition to anyone's team."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.