Varitek, Wakefield honored with first pitch at Opening Day

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Varitek, Wakefield honored with first pitch at Opening Day

BOSTON Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, who have 32 Red Sox seasons between them, were back on the field for the home opener Friday afternoon. This time, though, it was an honorary capacity, throwing out the ceremonial first pitches before the game against the Rays. Jim Rice and Dwight Evans caught for Wakefield and Varitek.

Wakefield and Varitek entered from left field, behind the huge American flag that draped the Wall.

It was very emotional for both of us standing behind the flag and reminiscing of our time together and trying to get the walk over with as fast as possible to get off the field, Wakefield said. Its a special day, it really is. Spending this much time with this guy and being able to share it with him today, throwing out the first pitch for the home opener was pretty special.

The pair, who announced their retirements during spring training, have not yet had a chance to fully reflect on their lengthy careers. But, in the short time theyve had, theyve managed to look back.

I have, said Wakefield. The greatest feedback I think I can get on my decision is from my kids. Im seeing such a drastic change with me being around more with them. That was the most important thing to me, is never regretting not being there for them. Now that Im home full-time with them, its a special time, the right time.

I cant follow that, Varitek said. I dont know if its going to all sink in, yet. I think getting through different stages, like that was the first time I was around the field was in spring training for the announcement and stuff. It bit a little bit and I got excited in a different way. On Opening Day, that was the first time Ive sat down and watched every pitch. Its an adjustment along those lines, but the opportunities werent here and there wasnt much more I could do because I think making that decision to stay here was the right thing to do, to retire here. My family, my kids, thats a definite bonus, too.

Among the moments that will stand out for both, of course, are the 2004 and 2007 World Series.

People ask me all the time what the best World Series win? Wakefield said. I have to say 04. For many reasons, but the history leading up to 2004 and the way it happened, coming back from three games to nothing against New York in the ALCS and getting into the World Series against St. Louis was a World Series in itself, for us, as players. Then, to go win it again in 2007 with a different group of guys was very special, too. We had a new core with Pedroia, Ellsbury and Pap, a whole different generation of players came in and we were able to win a World Series championship with those guys, too. Both of them are very special, but I think 2004 is the most special for me.

2007 was as exhausting as 04, Varitek said. Getting the first one was huge, but it was huge for a Nation, it was huge for an organization, but I was probably more exhausted at the end of07 even more than 04. There was a lot more work involved. It was a different mix of pitches. We had a veteran staff in 04. We had totally different dynamics in 07. It was easy. We had to come from behind and do those things, but in 07 I was flat exhausted.

Varitek is expected to take a job with the organization. What that is, though, remains to be defined.

Were still talking, he said. Ive had some things that have kept me busy at home, family stuff. So work in progress, theres a lot of newness, a lot of things going on but continuing to talk and trying to figure out if there can be help. But in between I keep my lines of communication open with bullpencatching coach Gary Tuck and my catchers and my pitchers and stuff.

Being given the honor of throwing out the first pitch helps them see their place in Red Sox history.

Its special, Wakefield said. More so now because Tek and I were the type of players I think, and Im speaking on your behalf, you never look back, youre always looking forward and trying to prepare for your next start or his next game or whatever. So never really had a chance to reflect on your career. And now that we both retired and being asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch here on Opening Day and be part of the 100-year history next week and all that stuff, it kind of hits you like, 'Wow, did all that stuff reallyhappen?' And standing behind the flag and listening to the guys introduce us was pretty emotional but yet very fulfilling of a career that Ive been very blessed to have and to wear this uniform for as long as I did.

I dont think as a player that its hard to really reflect, Varitek said. I think its still new. I spent the time training and trying to get myself ready, and to turn back and all of a sudden just stop and look at your whole career, I dont think Ive had time to do that. I think its were so fortunate for what weve been able to do, you spend a lot of the time, its surreal. Like today, youre honored to be able to be here and its a blur. Alls I remember is the back of a flag, a white tent and the next thing you now were on the mound. But thats how things, because hes totally right, you push to the next step, the next level. What happened today really does not matter tomorrow. So to reflect, I think thatll take time but be appreciative of asking us to do this is huge.

Isaiah Thomas recruits Blake Griffin on Instagram

Isaiah Thomas recruits Blake Griffin on Instagram

No eye emojis needed. Isaiah Thomas just went for it. 

Following news that Chris Paul will leave the Clippers for the Rockets, SLAM Magazine posted a picture of the seemingly disbanding Clippers. Thomas commented on the photo with, "Helluva run. Now Blake come on over to Boston lol." 

The Celtics are believed to be a contender to sign Griffin in free agency, though it was reported Tuesday that the team's priority this offseason is to sign Utah's Gordon Hayward and then trade for Indiana's Paul George. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that if the Celtics do not land Hayward, they would set their sights on Griffin. 

A five-time All-Star, the 28-year-old Griffin opted out of his contract last week. 

Knicks fire Phil Jackson after three ugly seasons

Knicks fire Phil Jackson after three ugly seasons

NEW YORK - Phil Jackson wanted to trade Carmelo Anthony and wouldn't rule out dealing Kristaps Porzingis.

Turns out, Jackson is the one leaving.

Jackson is out as New York Knicks president after he oversaw one of the worst eras in team history, with the team saying in a statement Wednesday that they had "mutually agreed to part company."

Days after Jackson reiterated his desire to move Anthony and said he would listen to deals for Porzingis, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan reversed course and cut ties with Jackson with two years remaining on his contract.

"After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction," Dolan said. "Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched."

But his work as a first-time executive was awful. The winner of an NBA-record 11 championships as coach, Jackson couldn't engineer one playoff berth while running the Knicks. The team was 80-166 in his three full seasons, including a franchise-worst 17-65 in 2014-15.

His departure was quickly welcomed by Knicks fans such as film director Spike Lee, who posted a picture of himself on Instagram in a celebratory pose after it was first reported by The Vertical.

The move comes less than a week after Jackson led the Knicks through the NBA draft and on the eve of free agency that opens Saturday. Dolan said he would not be involved in the operation of the team, adding that general manager Steve Mills would run the day-to-day business in the short term and that former Toronto executive Tim Leiweke would advise him and help develop a plan going forward.
Jackson was a Hall of Fame coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, delivering titles with some of the game's biggest stars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He also played for the Knicks when they won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

He was welcomed back to the organization with a $60 million contract to huge fanfare in March 2014, but it soon became clear the transition would be a poor one. His first coaching hire, Derek Fisher, lasted just one-plus seasons, and Jackson's trades and free agency moves also failed to improve the team.

"I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren't able to do that," Jackson said. "New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best - today and always."

The turbulence he created off the court may have led to his departure more than the Knicks' record on it.

Jackson publicly talked about moving without Anthony - angering the National Basketball Players Association - though the All-Star forward has two years left on the five-year, $124 million deal that Jackson gave him shortly after taking the job. Anthony has a no-trade clause and has said he wants to stay in New York, and the stalemate that hung over the team for much of last season threatened to linger throughout the summer.

Then Jackson said before the draft that he was listening to offers for Porzingis, the 21-year-old forward from Latvia whom he drafted with the No. 4 pick in 2015 in one of his few successful moves.

Jackson believed the Knicks would compete for a playoff berth last season after he traded for Derrick Rose, signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee and hired Jeff Hornacek to coach. But after a solid start, they quickly spiraled toward their familiar position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and finished 31-51.

Despite all that, Dolan said during an ESPN Radio interview in February that he would allow Jackson to finish his contract, and the sides picked up the mutual two-year option on Jackson's contract.

But the instability involving Anthony and Porzingis threatened to damage the team's ability to lure free agents and may have spurred Dolan's decision. Though he had been intent on keeping Jackson, the dysfunction within the franchise showed no sign of ending even as Jackson, 71, largely stayed out of sight.

He never spoke to the media last season after vowing openness upon taking the job and refused to provide Anthony with the communication he sought.

"It's like a total train wreck," tennis great and Knicks fan John McEnroe told The Associated Press last week.

"I mean, he's known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he's not talking to anybody," McEnroe said of Jackson. "So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails."

There was also incessant debate about Jackson's insistence that the team employ the triangle offense, which potential incoming players were schooled on during the run-up to last week's draft. The Knicks wound up taking 18-year-old French point guard Frank Ntilikina, who spoke highly of the triangle and Jackson's belief in the scheme.

"I think I can definitely fit with this system," Ntilikina said on draft night.

Not even a week later, the triangle is probably gone, and the Knicks will start anew.

Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, will be a free agent. Noah - whom Jackson gave a puzzling four-year, $72 million contract last summer - will start the season by finishing out a 20-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first season in New York, shooting just 44 percent from the foul line.
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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

© 2017 by The Associated Press