LAST YEAR at this time, things were looking up for the Boston Celtics.
Having come close to reaching the NBA Finals without the injured Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, they were to be the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference to try and slay the powerful Warriors.
Here we are a year later, and the whole thing is being rebuilt on the fly.
With the Red Sox playing baseball across the pond, free agency starts in the NBA tonight. Irving, who has become the most vilified star in Boston sports history, is all but out the door. Al Horford is apparently going with him. Hayward spent a year trying to regain his previous form after his horrific injury, and we have no idea what the Celtics will look like in 2019-20.
The money is there. Kemba Walker may be on his way. The Celtics may be in the middle of a three-way deal that brings big man Clint Capela to Boston to team with Walker. Terry Rozier would have to be renounced to sign Walker …
Prior to all this excitement, there were reports of dysfunction on last year’s team with Irving apparently in the middle of it all. Like many Boston athletes through the years, Irving leaves as a hated individual. But this seems like so much more.
Says Team President Danny Ainge: “I think it just makes life more enjoyable when everybody is humble, hard-working, and will play any role they have to to help the team succeed. You do have to have a certain amount of talent to win, as we all know, but good people makes coming to work more fun.”
More Irving: There was a report that the Celtics had 100 basketballs out to be signed by the players for charity – and Irving didn’t sign them. However, on Twitter, a fan said he purchased one of the balls and Irving’s John Hancock was on the ball.
Does Kyrie wind up in New York? Los Angeles? Does someone else join him? Stay tuned.
The Bruins don’t have a lot of cap flexibility when free agency starts in that league Monday. But that doesn’t mean the Stanley Cup runner-up won’t be busy.
Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are restricted free agents who aren’t going anywhere. GM Don Sweeney said, “We don’t have a timeline for that, but they’ll be playing for Boston at some point and time prior to Dec. 1 and that’s the only deadline we face, and we’ve been at it for awhile with those guys. As far as July 1, we’ll be adding some players for sure.”
The future of David Backes (buyout?) is one of the things on the Bruins agenda.
”We’ve been in the interview period, so we’ve had a lot of discussions and some planning,” Sweeney said. “We’ll be adding some players, for sure, come July 1.”
A look around
It’s Sunday, which has us traveling around the wide world of sports.
…Fact: The Red Sox gave a qualifying offer to Craig Kimbrel, even though they knew he wasn’t going to take it. Fact: The Red Sox were not going to go six years and $100 million on the closer, especially after a shaky postseason. That said, Sox President Dave Dombrowski is still under the gun and has to go out and get a pitcher. “We’ve had a solid season but not a great season by any means,” Dombrowski says, insisting his bullpen has “been one of the better bullpens actually.” Interesting.
…I just received my review copy of “If These Walls Could Talk; Stories from the Boston Red Sox Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box” by Jerry Remy and my late friend Nick Cafardo. This is more than just a Sox book as Remy opens up on his life’s struggles, including his son. “The cancer, the anxiety, the depression – nothing compares to this,” Remy writes. “It’s so hard to write this: my son Jared brutally murdered his fiancé, Jennifer Martel, on August 15, 2013.”
There’s fun Red Sox stuff in the book, which concludes with Remy’s tribute to Nick, who passed away during spring training.
…Honors: Dave Stewart, Eric Davis, Fred McGriff and Dave Parker enter the Negro Leagues Museum’s Hall of Fame this week; and former Bruins Reggie Leach and ex-Expos reliever Claude Raymond are receiving the Order of Canada.
…Dombrowski on the London games: “It almost has a playoff type atmosphere here before the games are taking place.”
…Jay Bruce, now with the Phillies, is the first player since 2003 to chalk up 20 RBIs for two teams before the All-Star break. The last one? Shea Hillenbrand, with the 2003 Red Sox and Diamondbacks.
…The NBA appears to be entering the era of coaches’ challenges, with a coach getting one per game, providing he has a timeout he can call for the review.
…Red Sox and Yankees players are getting $60,000 apiece for the London series, while the Sox are getting some $7 million from MLB for giving up two home games.
…Kevin Durant says he will talk with four teams – the Warriors, Clippers, Knicks and Nets – in free agency. The Warriors, ready to get by for a season without them, are aiming to keep both injured stars, Durant and Klay Thompson, via max deals, and Thompson’s new deal was actually reported Saturday.
…If you can believe it, NFL analyst Chris Simms has Patriots QB Tom Brady ranked as the ninth-best quarterback currently in the NFL, just behind Cam Newton. Aaron Rodgers and Pat Mahomes are 1-2.
…Stephon Marbury, a hero over in China, was named coach of the Beijing Royal Fighters of the Chinese Basketball Association.
…Dominican welterweight Carlos Adames wore a David Ortiz-themed robe into the ring and a Big Papi Sox jersey after winning Friday night. “I want to dedicate this fight to Big Papi David Ortiz,” Adames, 18-0, said “I’m Dominican, he’s Dominican. We love each other. No matter what happens, if there’s violence, we stand together. I represent the Dominican Republic with a lot of pride and anybody who steps into the ring with this Dominican fighter is going to go out.”
…The NBA is thinking of reducing its schedule to avoid players sitting out for rest. One column called for a 58-game slate but that sounds a bit drastic.
…CC Sabathia has advice for Mookie Betts with big money and free agency only a year-plus away. “Just to stay the course. It ain’t really nothing you can do but just play hard and be yourself,” Sabathia says. “You’ve just got to wait it out. It sucks. You should be getting paid now. I mean, you’re getting paid but you should be getting paid more. You’ve just got to stay the course, man. It sucks being a free agent. I was talking about it with Manny (Ramirez), it’s not fun. It’s a part of the game.” The big lefty added: “You know you’re going to get a job. You just don’t know where. And then you have your family and everybody’s moving. It’s just a lot of moving parts and different (expletive) that you want to get settled in. We’re so creatures of habit, you get comfortable in what you do. That might all change with free agency. It’s just unsettling a little bit.”
…Joe Namath, to Howard Stern, on Brady: “Tom is the best. I’ve been asked that question for many year — and Johnny (Unitas) was my hero, Otto Graham was great, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh .... But, meantime, Tom has been challenged more in recent history certainly with huge games than anyone that I can recollect and he stepped up every time.”
…Outfielder Jarren Duran will represent the Red Sox at next Sunday’s Futures Game in Cleveland. Duran, 22, has struggled at Double-A Portland.
…Sergei Zubov? Guy Carbonneau? Vaclav Nedomansky? These three are the new Hockey Hall of Famers. Sorry, only Hayley Wickenheiser is worthy –- and somewhere Harold Baines is smiling.
…NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley on his war of words with Toronto’s Marcus Stroman: “When you get into how a player emotionally responds to stuff, you have to be careful. This is a day and age when baseball, they want to promote that sort of thing you know, and let the kids play. And there’s a lot of emotion in this game and everybody handles it a different way.”
Stroman, a New York kid, would welcome a trade to the Yankees, saying, “I’m from New York and I’m a New York boy. That kind of says everything for itself. I love pitching (at Yankee Stadium). New York is like the mecca of the world. I love excitement, the bright lights, competition, I love pressure. I always loved pitching here. I haven’t necessarily pitched well. I always enjoyed it. Yankee lineups are brutal. They are kind of hard to navigate. I love the spotlight. The bigger the moment, that’s what I kind of wanted it to be.”
…From the great Bill Chuck (@BillyBall): “London gimmicks: Groundskeepers will dance to “Y.M.C.A.” Fans will sing “Sweet Caroline.” “The Freeze” will chase down some fans. There will be a mascot race between Freddie Mercury, Winston Churchill, King Henry VIII, and the Loch Ness Monster. RedSox will use their bullpen.”
…Roberto Luongo has ended his long NHL career and should be headed for the Hall of Fame. But Bruins fans will always remember the way he laid an egg in the 2011 Final. From @ETD51 on Twitter: “Should the Bruins retire Roberto Luongo’s number?”
…The Brewers sent Travis Shaw, batting .164 with six homers and 13 RBIs, to the minors this week.
…Hey … breakdancing is an Olympic sport. About darn time!!!
…Thescore.com has Rozier listed among the top five restricted free agents, with the prediction: “The Celtics won’t land Walker, and will instead retain Rozier, a longtime Danny Ainge favorite.”
…From our pal Chris Smith of MassLive: “The flight to London is 3,269 miles. The Red Sox then travel 3,547 miles to Toronto for a three games next week (Tuesday-Thursday). They then fly 230.9 miles to Detroit for a three-game series before the All-Star Break. 11½ days in 3 different cities, 3 different countries.”
…Welcome back to the Big East, UConn! There is something very right about that.
…Steven Wright, back with the Red Sox after his 80-game suspension (and ineligible for the postseason), says he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong (sorry, we’ve heard this before). “With it being such a low amount, it can come from a lot of different things,” Wright said. “But it falls on me. I wasn’t as careful as I should be.”
…Column buddy Larry Rosoff has an idea for two new NBA awards: the John Havlicek for gentlemanly conduct – and the Shaun Livingston Award for battling through adversity.
…From Hall of Famer Jayson Stark the other day: “As of this morning, HALF the teams in baseball are on pace to break their all-time franchise HR records. And the Angels are within one HR of making it 16 of 30! It’s the baseball!”
…With a clear nod to black players not being property, NBA commish Adam Silver says owners are now referred to as governors in league releases. “I don’t want to overreact to the term, because as I’ve said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word, owner” Silver said. “But we moved away from that term years ago at the league. We call our team owners ‘governor’ of the team and ‘alternate governor.’ “I think it makes sense. As I said, I don’t want to overreact. You’ll find the word throughout memos over the past decade in the NBA. But I’m sensitive to it and I think teams are moving away from the term (and) will stick with using ‘governor.’”
…Why is MLB in London? The NBA is on television in more than 200 countries. It’s called marketing, folks.
…Classy move: the Yankees have honored the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Uprising (at a gay bar in Greenwich Village) with a plaque in Monument Park.
…The Rockets, reacting to Kawhi Leonard being named MVP, took to Twitter to declare their own James Harden the actual winner. “Congrats to the new MVP, but we respectfully disagree,” the team said in a three-part thread.
…We give you Celtics draftee Grant Williams on comparisons to the great Leonard: “I don’t know if I would be able to emulate Kawhi just yet,” Williams said with a laugh. “He’s a top three player in the league. I love watching him play because of how he defends, how versatile he is and his mid-range game.”
…Don’t know about you, but I loved seeing both teams in their home whites in London.
…Finally, Brady, in a selfie with Peyton Manning: “Spoiler alert... we were friends this whole time. Always great to see you Peyton!”
Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.