Stiemsma: Minnesota 'was a better fit for this season'

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Stiemsma: Minnesota 'was a better fit for this season'

BOSTON -- Greg Stiemsma sat comfortably at his locker while music blared out of his teammates headphones from across the room.
Long as I stay hustling I'm gon shine Just waiting on that moment Waiting on my moment
The DJ Drama song was fitting in Stiemsma's return to Boston, the city where he established himself in the NBA at the age of 26 after years of playing overseas and questioning not when, but if, he would get his shot in the pros.
"This time last year I was in Sioux Falls still hoping to sneak a way in the NBA," said Stiemsma. "I guess patience paid off."
Minutes earlier, the big man lay on the trainers table next to Kevin Love while a sizable pack of media members anxiously gathered nearby. One reporter joked Love must have thought the crowd was for him. Not at the TD Garden.
Wednesday was Stiemsma's first trip back to Beantown since his rookie year in which he made a name for himself in only 55 games. He averaged 2.9 points and 3.2 rebounds, while drawing attention with 1.6 blocks. By the end of the season, Doc Rivers was calling his name as Kevin Garnett's backup center.
This summer was different than years past. Rather than considering which country to move to, Stiemsma was on the receiving end of interest from several NBA teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers. The Celtics made Stiemsma, a restricted free agent, a qualifying offer, but he knew if he did not stay on the team there would not be hard feelings. Stiemsma understood the Celtics were also exploring their options and was appreciative for the opportunity they gave him in the first place.
"I got a call from Danny (Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge) when free agency opened up and he kind of wished me best of luck, a good season kind of talk," Stiemsma recalled. "I thanked him for this opportunity and I think from then on we kind of knew that if things weren't going to work out, we kind of knew why. I think it was a mutual respect thing where he was calling to -- I feel that was a good phone call for me to get to know what was coming up."
Stiemsma signed a two-year deal with the Timberwolves, a decision brought him closer to his hometown of Randolph, Wisconsin and also gave him more money and years than the Celtics offered.
"I just felt like it was a better fit for this season," he said. "The way Minnesota's team was starting to build up, I felt it would be a great fit here. Nothing against what I had in Boston last year. I'm very grateful for that opportunity, but I just thought it was a better fit here."
Stiemsma kept in touch with Avery Bradley, Sasha Pavlovic, and his former lockermate, Ray Allen, during the summer. Allen offered him advice during the free agency process and for a long NBA career.
"Be a voice in the locker room," Stiemsma recounted. "Be vocal on the floor. Be part of it. The more you get along with the guys, the more you can adapt on the floor."
Now in his second season, Stiemsma is incorporating the words of wisdom he learned from all of his veteran teammates on the Celtics into his daily approach. Be professional. Stay even keeled. Take the season one game at a time.
"When you have examples like KG (Kevin Garnett) and Paul (Pierce) and Ray, those guys are the best of the best as far as I'm concerned," Stiemsma said.
Stiemsma is averaging 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 12.9 minutes per game this season. The pain that hampered him last season in both feet has subsided and he is able to play without feeling the effects of plantar fasciitis in his left foot and a bone bruise in his right. This summer he did not run until training camp, focusing on weight training instead.
"I've come too far to let something small keep me off the court," he said of the foot injuries. "So I was going to do whatever it takes, play through whatever pain, to try to keep me out there. There were a few games when it was just tough to get up and down the floor. The next mornings were even worse, those first few steps out of bed, the first hour in the morning when everything was just stiff and tight. When I first bruised my right foot, my left one was still a little sore and I felt like an old man in the morning hobbling to the bathroom. But that's part of this business, part of his nature. If you're a big guy, you're going to have injuries."
With a fierce determination, Stiemsma also continues to spread the message of accomplishing goals to others. After battling depression during his college years at the University of Wisconsin, he is involved in helping those in the same situation.
"I learned a lot and keep learning," he said. "It's still always a process but I'm feeling good. Big picture, life is good. I can't really complain about making a dream come true. I remind myself of that if there are those down days and enjoy the highs when they come."
Wednesday night was one of those highs. Stiemsma was welcomed in the visitors locker room like a player who had given it his all, persevered through the pain, and showed hard work really does pay off.
"I felt like I deserved to be in this league and this was the place that agreed with me and gave me my shot," he said of the Celtics. "There's nothing but love for this city and the organization."

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.