49ers

Bobby Valentine is one-and-done in Boston

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Bobby Valentine is one-and-done in Boston

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- The Boston Red Sox thought Bobby Valentine would restore order to a coddled clubhouse that disintegrated during the 2011 pennant race.Instead, he only caused more problems.The brash and supremely confident manager was fired on Thursday, the day after the finale of a season beset with internal sniping and far too many losses. Valentine went 69-93 in his only year in Boston, the ballclub's worst in almost 50 years."I understand this decision," Valentine said in a statement released by the team. "This year in Boston has been an incredible experience for me, but I am as disappointed in the results as are ownership and the great fans of Red Sox Nation. ... I'm sure next year will be a turnaround year."A baseball savant who won the NL pennant with the New York Mets and won it all in Japan, Valentine was brought in after two-time World Series champion Terry Francona lost control of the clubhouse during an unprecedented September collapse.But the players who took advantage of Francona's hands-off approach to gorge on fried chicken and beer during games bristled at Valentine's abrasive style.More importantly, they didn't win for him, either."We felt it was the right decision for that team at that time," general manager Ben Cherington said on Thursday in an interview at Fenway Park. "It hasn't worked out, because the season has been a great disappointment. That's not on Bobby Valentine; that's on all of us. We felt that in order to move forward and have a fresh start, we need to start anew in the manager's office."Under Valentine, the Red Sox started 4-10 and didn't break .500 until after Memorial Day. By August, when the contenders were setting their playoff roster, the Red Sox knew they would not be among them and traded several of their best players -- and biggest salaries -- to the Los Angeles Dodgers.Without Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox will save 250 million in future salaries and have a chance to rebuild over the winter.But that will be too late for Valentine."We have gratitude for him, respect for him and affection for him, and we're not going to get into what his inabilities were, what his issues were," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "I just don't think it's fair."Cherington, who replaced Theo Epstein last offseason, will lead the search for a new manager. The team's top target is current Toronto manager and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who has a year left on his deal with the Blue Jays.Cherington said he has thought about potential successors but declined to comment on specific individuals. He said he is looking for someone "who can establish a culture in the clubhouse that allows players to perform, and sets a standard.""And we need to find a person that can bring some stability to that office," Cherington said. "When we hired Bobby, the roster was fairly mature and we felt, mistakenly, in retrospect, that we had a chance to win and the team was ready to win. We're now at a different point. We're trying to build the next good Red Sox team, so it's a little bit different."A year after a 7-20 September cost the Red Sox a chance at the postseason, the club went 7-22 in September and October to close its worst season since 1965. Boston lost its last eight games, failing even in its role of spoiler as it was swept down the stretch by playoff contenders Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the rival New York Yankees.That left the Red Sox in last place -- 26 games out -- for the first time since 1992 and out of the playoffs for the third year in a row."This year's won-loss record reflects a season of agony. It begs for changes," Lucchino said. "We are determined to fix that which is broken and return the Red Sox to the level of success we have experienced over the past decade."What was supposed to be a season of celebration for Fenway's 100th anniversary was instead the worst under the current management, which bought the team in 2002. And though injuries probably doomed the Red Sox anyway -- they used a franchise record 56 players -- Valentine's clumsy handling of his players forced him into frequent apologies that undermined his authority in the clubhouse."There's no single reason why we had this dismal of a season," Lucchino said. "But certainly the epidemic of injuries and the injuries to key players were major factors. ... Do I think there's an element of unfairness, given the shortness of his duration, given the injury problems. ... I think there is."The Red Sox had the AL's best record and a nine-game lead in the wild-card race on Sept. 1, 2011, before missing out on a playoff berth on the final day of the season. Francona, who led the Red Sox to Series titles in 2004 and again in 2007, was let go after admitting that he had lost his touch in the clubhouse.To replace him, the Red Sox picked Valentine, who took the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series and won a championship in Japan but hadn't managed in the majors in 10 years. The move was an intentional and abrupt attempt to change a culture that enabled pitchers to drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse during games on their off-nights.On that, Valentine delivered immediately: He banned beer from the clubhouse, and didn't hesitate to criticize his own players publicly -- something Francona took pains to avoid.But even before the season began, injuries began tearing the roster apart.Crawford missed much of the season, joining pitchers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list before opening day. Potential closers Andrew Bailey and Bobby Jenks had offseason surgery; Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Beckett and Youkilis also spent time on the DL.And many of those who remained resented the new accountability.Kevin Youkilis lashed back after Valentine said he wasn't as "into the game" as before, and Pedroia came to his teammate's defense, saying, "That's not the way we go about our stuff around here.""He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other's backs here," Pedroia said. "Maybe that works in Japan."In August, management gave up on 2012 and unloaded several of the team's most burdensome salaries on the Dodgers. Los Angeles also missed the playoffs.Although Cherington openly conceded the season, Valentine refused to do so. Asked during his weekly radio show if he had "checked out," Valentine jokingly said he should punch the host in the nose. (He showed up for their next interview with boxing gloves.)In mid-September, with Boston's Triple-A team in the playoffs and reinforcements scarce, Valentine called the Red Sox "the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball."Again, he was forced to backtrack.(But, again, he was probably right.)Ultimately, Valentine will be judged on his record.And it was dreadful."I don't know how it could be more challenging than this season," Valentine said after saying goodbye to his players following Wednesday night's season-ending loss to the Yankees."As I told them, they're not defined as people by their record or the season. They're defined by who they are, not what they are. They were part of a really lousy season, but they gave a hell of an effort every day."

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

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AP

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

SANTA CLARA -- Dwight Clark and Joe Montana are scheduled to address the crowd Sunday at Levi’s Stadium at halftime of the 49ers’ game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It should be an emotional day, as 36 members from the team that defeated Dallas in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title are expected to attend.

Montana is scheduled to be surrounded by his former teammates and speak from the field at halftime. Clark is likely to be situated in a suite, where he is expected to make some remarks. Clark, 60, announced in March he was diagnosed with ALS.

Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, appearing on the 49ers Insider Podcast, said he is looking forward to seeing so many of his teammates from the squad that served as a springboard for five Super Bowl titles under the ownership of Hall of Famer Eddie DeBartolo.

“I can’t wait to see (Clark),” Cross said. “I can’t wait to see Eddie. I can’t wait to see Joe. There is a core group of guys I’ve gotten to see a few times a year since we all went our separate ways. There are guys I’ll get a chance to see, in some cases, (for the first time) since almost around the time we parted ways in the early-‘80s.”

The NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, is best-remembered for “The Catch” – Clark’s leaping, finger-tip grab of a Montana pass for a 6-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

The 49ers defeated the Cowboys 28-27 at Candlestick Park. Coach Bill Walsh’s team went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

“For those of us who played on the Niners charity basketball team with both Joe and Dwight, and knowing their hoop skills and the way they could jump, we weren’t terribly surprised at: A, how high he threw it; and, B, how high Dwight got,” said Cross, who was blocking from his right guard position near the sideline and had an unobstructed view of the play.

“If Dwight got his fingers on it, it was going to be a catch. That was the thing about D.C., you won’t find too many instances in which he had a ball on him or near him that he dropped. There wasn’t much doubt.”

Steph Curry the most game-altering player to ever step foot on a court

Steph Curry the most game-altering player to ever step foot on a court

Programming note: Warriors-Rockets coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm on NBC Sports Bay Area, and continues immediately after the final buzzer.

OAKLAND -- As the curtain is raised on a new NBA season, the conventional wisdom is the league consists of four distinct tiers, only one of which has a single member. That would be the Warriors, alone at the top and projected to lock up the No. 1 postseason seed several weeks before the season ends.

The reigning champions boast a collaborative work environment, a diverse and creative co aching staff and, conceivably, the most dangerous roster in NBA history. The Warriors are to the NBA what Tesla is to the electric car market and, moreover, they have the benefit of having Stephen Curry at the wheel.

And it’s quite a benefit when you have the most game-altering player, regardless of position, ever to set foot on a court.

[SHILLER: Kerr: Curry better now than his unanimous MVP season]

The Rockets, who come into Oracle Arena to open the season Tuesday night, make no attempt to hide their aspirations. They want to push the Warriors in hopes of knocking them over. Warriors coach Steve Kerr concedes that his system is based largely on principles created by former Warriors coach Don Nelson and advanced by Mike D’Antoni, now the coach in Houston.

The Rockets, however, do not have a Curry. Neither did the Knicks or the Suns, D’Antoni’s previous NBA teams. The closest he ever came was in Phoenix, with Steve Nash running the point.

“Steph is like Nash on steroids,” Kerr says. “He’s faster and quicker and he’s shooting from 35 feet instead of 25 feet.”

Curry’s presence is not the only reason the Warriors have been able to separate themselves. It’s also a product of being the only team with four legitimate All-Stars, each of whom is uniquely superior. No one combines movement and catch-and-shoot excellence as well as Klay Thompson. No one affects a game in more ways, at both ends, as well as Draymond Green. No one even begin to approximate the gifts Kevin Durant or Curry. Can you imagine a Warriors opponent rummaging through its roster trying to form a scout team?

And while Durant may be the toughest matchup in the NBA -- and the better bet for league MVP -- it’s Curry who flavors the essence of the Warriors.

“Everything we do revolves around Steph,” Kerr says. "If you want to say who affects the game the most offensively, Steph’s the best player in the NBA.”

Kerr has been around the NBA for 30 years, been teammates with Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan and an opponent of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Curry is indeed a different beast, a transformative figure in a toned but hardly imposing 6-foot-3, 190-pound physique.

The Curry Effect has been generated by the devastating power of 1,545 3-pointers in five seasons, and the way they rain despair down upon the faces of opponents. He frightens defenses in such a way it opens up scoring avenues for his teammates.

David West has been playing basketball for 25 years, the last 18 in the NBA and in high-level Division I at Xavier. He has been an opponent and teammate of Curry. He has played with and against greats, from the primes of Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson and LeBron James, but can’t even begin to summon a fair comparison to Curry -- all because of the 3-ball.

“It’s become such a psychological weapon,” West says. “Having been on other teams and knowing how a coach will try to prepare, you can tell. A coach wants to protect the rim and guard the 3-point line. And it’s an absolute nightmare, because you’re giving up layups. You’re basically going against what you’ve been trained to do. You’re giving up layups and paint points, because these (3-pointers) are too deflating. These are too defeating. These are too damaging to the psyche.”

For an example, go no further than the comments of Clippers coach Doc Rivers after his team took a 144-98 lashing last Jan. 28.

"At halftime, I asked the guys what's hurting us, and they said 'the 3'," Rivers said after the game at Oracle. "And I said 'You’ve got to be kidding me. We're even. We were 8-for-13 and they were 8-for-13.

“It's amazing the mental thing when they make a 3. They needed Curry to make a halfcourt shot to tie us (in first-half 3-pointers). They had 46 points in the paint. The paint is what killed us tonight. Their drives, their cuts, their layups, and our guys are still thinking about the 3-point shots. That didn't hurt us. It did later, but in the first half it was all the layups."

Yet it was Curry’s triples -- including a 51-footer to close the half -- that tortured the Clippers. It’s all they could think about.

It’s all the Spurs can think about, too, because San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich demands his team guard the arc. The minute Curry gets free and hits one from deep, Pop is out of his seat calling w timeout, knowing that one often leads to two and then three.

“This is something we’ve never seen,” West says. “There have been great shooters. But nobody has ever inflicted the type of psychological damage that he does.

“They’re knockout shots.”

Curry’s 3-point shooting has spawned a legion of wannabes, pale imitators firing from 25, 30 and 35 feet. As much as Wilt Chamberlain, and then Michael Jordan, did for the dunk, Curry’s influence has been far greater because shooting the deep ball seems so much more realistic thank soaring for a dunk. The belief is that one can practice toward being a great shooter, whereas dunking generally requires superior athleticism.

So, now, you see 3-pointers coming off the fingers of players from all five positions. Even such centers as DeMarcus Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns won’t hesitate to float out beyond the arc and let it fly. Lurking beneath it all is the Curry Effect.

No team in the NBA averaged fewer than Minnesota’s 21 3-pointers per game, while D’Antoni’s Rockets launched a league-high 40.3 per game. Contrast that to 10 years ago, before Curry entered the league. The 76ers took the fewest treys, 10.0 per game, while Nelson’s “We Believe” Warriors and D’Antoni’s Suns tied for most attempts with 24.0.

Now, straight out of a D’Antoni fantasy, here come the Rockets, not only shooting a high volume of triples but spacing the floor -- as Curry does -- by setting up from well beyond the line.

“They’re saying, ‘All right, we ‘re going to space the floor to three feet beyond the 3-point line, because that’s even harder to guard.’ I never thought I’d see that,” Kerr says. “But Steph has played a role in that. So guys are actually practicing deeper shots. So there’s no question he’s making an enormous impact on the game and he’s changing the game.”

There is little doubt that rules changes, particularly on defense, also have had an effect on the direction of the game. Hand-checking is illegal but many teams are willing to employ variations of a zone defense.

Yet Curry continues to wage an assault on the record book. His 402 triples in 2015-16 were more than 116 better than the previous league record, his own at 286, set a year earlier. Curry owns four of the top five single-season bests, with the other belonging to Thompson.

Curry is 10th on the all-time list, with 1,971 3-pointers and it’s conceivable he could climb into the top five before his 30th birthday in March. Of the nine players currently ahead of him, four are retired and the five active players are all at least 36 years old.

So, yes, he’s changing the game. And Popovich, not a huge fan of the 3-pointer, doesn’t want to see any more changes. With Curry crushing triples during the 2015-16 season, the Spurs coach responded to those musing about a possible 4-point line.

Popovich wondered, well, why not a 5-point line before he answered his own question.

“The problem is, Steph would probably kill us.”