Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan

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Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

I don't know much about hockey.

I didn't grow up playing it. The Bruins were awful for most of my childhood, so I was never inspired to follow it. My high school didn't even have a team, so there was never a reason to care.

That apathys extended into adulthood, and will probably stick around until I die.

Ahh, thats uplifting stuff.

I dont have anything against the sport itself. And not counting people from Montreal, I have nothing against those who love it. Its just that personally, hockey doesnt affect me like basketball, football and baseball do. And it never will.

But Im from Boston, so every year around this time, I hop on the bandwagon, watch most of the games and root like hell for the Bruins. Maybe that makes me a fair-weather fan. Okay, fine. It definitely makes me a fair-weather fan. But whatever, Ill never claim to be anything else.

Watching hockey is a humbling experience, though.

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode The Parking Space"? Its the one where George pulls into a spot at the same time as that character Mike (in another episode, hes the guy who wont pay Jerry for winning the Reggie Miller bet), and they spend the show arguing over who should get it. Anyway, theres a scene at the beginning where Elaine accuses George of being a bad driver, and he goes off:

Nobody drives like me! he says. Nobody! I'm doing things in this car, you have no idea they're going on!

Thats what I feel like watching hockey. I know that there are things going on that I have no idea about. That there are strategies, techniques and side stories unfolding that are completely over my head. When I watch the Bruins, I feel like Im my mom at a Patriots game. I cheer when they score but have no idea how they did. The only difference is that afterward I dont yell at myself for not wearing a jacket. Honey, its freezing! Did you ever even get that flu shot?!

Okay, sorry. But its a strange feeling. Its just not an easy follow. When theres a big hit or a flashy goal (or any goal), Im right there screaming along with Jack Edwards, but otherwise Im lost. My mind wanders, and I spend most of the game wondering about things like how badly it would hurt to take a slap shot to the face, or how many saves Id be able to make in a shootout or how funny it would be if the Bruins traded for that guy with the last name Semin. It's definitely different.

So, just to tie a bow around the message Ive beaten into the ground these last few hundred words: When it comes to the Bruins, Im clueless.

But heading into Thursday nights game in Montreal, there was one thing that even a hockey-atric fan like myself could understand:

Michael Ryder was a bum.

He was useless. He had no business being on the ice, and if the Bruins lost, his presence would be a major factor. I got this from the experts. From everyone on the web, TV and radio. Basically, since the start of this series, anyone who had anything to say about the Bruins, believed that Ryder was either a problem or THE problem.

Everyone was calling for his head.

Obviously, everyone was wrong.

Thats not a personal attack on the anti-Ryder camp, because it was a belief that was held across the board. Still, everyone was wrong. His performance last night was proof that he did serve a purpose. It was validation for Claude Julien stubbornly leaving Ryder in the line-up.

It was also, in a way, a metaphor for the entire Bruins franchise.

It was indicative of everything Boston goes through every year with this team.

Succeeding when everyones counted you out? Failing when they believe the most?

Its called Bruins.

If its the playoffs, you never know what youre going to get. Actually, you do. Its going to be the exact opposite of what you think you know. They do it every year, finding different ways to surprise and disappoint you along the way.

Is anyone entirely sure what theyll do next? Can you ever be completely confident in what you believe? No way. All you can do is sit back, think about slap shots, shootouts and guys named Semin, and expect the unexpected. Because thats always whats on the way.

Ryder showed it on Thursday night, coming back from the dead and helping the Bruins officially do the same.

For now.

But then again, what do I know?

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Ainge: Tatum was always the Celtics' top choice

Ainge: Tatum was always the Celtics' top choice

BOSTON --  For the past couple of years, Jayson Tatum has been a big-time talent.
 
As a high schooler, he was among the nation’s best. In his lone season at Duke, the 29-year-old established himself as one of college basketball’s top players.
 
And just like that, he’s off to the latest and greatest basketball challenge of them all -- the NBA, after the Boston Celtics selected him with the third overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
 
The Celtics had the top overall pick, but traded it to Philadelphia for the No. 3 selection and a future first-round pick.
 
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, made it clear that had they not struck a deal to move down a couple spots, they would have selected Tatum with the number one overall pick.

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“It was a great compliment,” Tatum said via conference call after the draft. “I’m excited Danny Ainge thinks that highly of me.”
 
Said Ainge: “We like his size, length, shooting, intelligence, character. There’s a lot to like about Jayson. He’s going to be a terrific player.”
 
Coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments.
 
“He’s a really skilled player, really talented scorer,” Stevens said. “Great kid, great work ethic. We’re excited to have him aboard.”
 
And Tatum comes in having been told lots of positives about Brad Stevens from his college coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
 
“He had nothing but great things to say about [Stevens],” Tatum said. “I got that impression when I met him for the first time.”
 
During his visit with the Celtics, Tatum said he watched film of Boston’s offense with Stevens in addition to some film of when he played at Duke.
 
Tatum understands there will be a learning curve of sorts when it comes into the NBA.
 
But his growth must also come about physically, too.
 
He arrived at Duke weighing less than 200 pounds, but the 6-foot-8 wing player has gained about 10 pounds since then.
 
Aware that he needs to add additional weight, Tatum isn’t overly concerned about that right now.
 
“I’m just 19,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure my body’s going to continue to fill out and see where I get; a comfortable playing weight.”
 
He has identified three areas of his game that need to be strengthened at the next level: Consistency on defense, getting stronger and consistency shooting the ball.
 
And as a Celtic, Tatum has quickly picked up on one of the seldom-talked about but vital aspects of being a Celtic: A disdain for the Los Angeles Lakers.
 
That might be a little tricky at first for Tatum, who grew up a Kobe Bryant fan.
 
“It makes it easier that Kobe doesn’t play anymore,” Tatum said. “Kobe was always my favorite player. I guess I just rooted for them because he was on there.

"But I’m a Celtics fan now.”

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night deal

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night deal

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since Tom Thibodeau took over in Minnesota last summer, a reunion with Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler seemed destined to happen.

For the coach that desperately wanted a defensive-minded veteran to set the tone for a talented young roster, and for the player who only truly realized what he had in that hard-driving leader after he was gone.

"It's been something that over a prolonged period of time there have been different moments where he's had to consider it and think about it," Butler's agent, Bernie Lee, told The Associated Press. "In some ways it feels like it was spoken into reality."

In the blockbuster move of draft night, the Bulls traded Butler and the 16th overall pick Thursday night to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick as the Wolves try to finally put an end to a 13-year playoff drought.

The trade brings together Butler and Wolves coach and president Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls for five seasons before being fired in 2015. Thibodeau helped Butler become an All-NBA performer and earn a $95 million contract and Butler helped Thibodeau instill the brass-knuckle mentality into those Bulls teams.

"The longer you are with somebody, the more deposits you have with each other, the trust is there," Thibodeau said. "You're not afraid to tell them the truth. So I think I know him well. I know the things that are important to him. I know he wants to win. And he wants to win big."

Now they're together again, trying to lead a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2004.

"It's one of those moments where the excitement of tonight has to carry forward to the work that has to come," Lee said. "And if it does, it will really be a beautiful thing to see."

The Wolves paid a big price: Besides surrendering the lottery pick, they gave up a rising star in LaVine, who is coming off of a torn ACL and Dunn, last year's No. 5 overall pick. They were among the youngest teams in the league last season, cast as a team that could be a force once all of their pups grew up.

After a disappointing first season overseeing the operation, Thibodeau grabbed a fully grown pit bull to toughen the team up.

Butler played for Thibodeau for four seasons in Chicago, developing from an unheralded, late-first round draft pick into a perennial All-Star. The two strong-willed workaholics clashed on occasion during their time together and Butler said during the Olympics in Rio last summer that it was "love-hate" relationship.

But he also acknowledged that his appreciation for Thibodeau's hard-driving style increased as time went on, especially when the Bulls struggled in their first season under the more player-friendly Fred Hoiberg.

"They've come by their relationship honestly," Lee said. "They worked through a period to where they really came to learn what the other is about. ... They have a basis to work from, but things have changed and they've changed and adapted. They will take the starting point that they have, but they have to build on it."

The Wolves drafted Arizona sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls at No. 7 and the Bulls took Creighton forward Justin Patton at No. 16 for the Wolves. Patton is a 6-foot-11 forward who was the Big East freshman of the year after averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds last season.

When Thibodeau was hired as team president and coach last summer, he quickly set his sights on bringing Butler to Minnesota. The two sides engaged on serious discussions on draft night last year, but couldn't close it.

LaVine was having a breakout third season in the league when he tore the ACL in his left knee in February. His rehabilitation has gone well, but the injury certainly complicated the Wolves' re-engaging Chicago on Butler. Adding to the difficulty was Dunn's underwhelming first year in Minnesota, which diminished his trade value.

With all that in play, the Wolves were forced to also offer up the No. 7 pick this season to push the deal over the top. But they did receive Chicago's first-round pick in return. The move, and the package they assembled to make it, signal an organization that is desperate to start winning.

Butler averaged career highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5) in his sixth season. He is also one of the league's top defenders, an absolute necessity for a young team that finished 26th in the league in defensive efficiency last season. He will turn 28 in September, right in the middle of his prime for a team in need of veteran leadership.

"The most important thing to me are the things he does every day, the way he practices, the things that he does in meetings, the way he prepares before a game, the things that he does for recovery," Thibodeau said. "He'll show our players a lot of the things that he's learned along the way."

The move also represents the first significant steps toward an overhaul for the Bulls. Despite a spirited effort, the Bulls were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Wade opted in for the final year of his contract, but that isn't stopping Chicago from pivoting to a new, younger nucleus that includes LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen and Denzel Valentine.

Now that Butler is gone, the 35-year-old Wade could become a buyout candidate as the Bulls go into rebuilding mode.