From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargove describes in a sworn statement how he was told by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt to deny the existence of a bounty program to NFL investigators.In a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press, Hargrove acknowledges that he acted on Williams' and Vitt's instructions to "play dumb" if asked whether he was aware of bounties being placed on former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre or any other player.The declaration does not go into specifics, however, about just what Hargrove knew or did not know about the bounty program in New Orleans, and for that reason it has become a point of contention between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.From the union's perspective, Hargrove's statement does not say that he lied to anyone, nor does it state that he or any other Saints participated in a bounty program that offered cash bonuses for hits that injured targeted opponents.The NFL, by contrast, has said that Hargrove's words acknowledge the existence of a bounty program and show that Hargrove initially lied to NFL investigators about it.In describing Hargrove's declaration last week, Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney hired by the NFL to review its investigation, said the player, "acknowledges the nature of the program and his participation in it, and, which is really the thrust of the declaration, that he was told to lie about it, and he did when he was asked about it in 2010 by the NFL investigators."Hargrove, currently with Green Bay, was one of four players who received suspensions of various lengths in connection with the bounty probe. Hargrove was suspended eight games, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita for three games.Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg called the NFL's characterization of Hargrove's statement "misleading.""All we know from the declaration is that a couple of coaches were in trouble and hoped for support from him," Ginsberg said. "Anthony's declaration in no way supports that he lied, that a bounty system existed or that players participated in any kind of inappropriate program. It's a shame that the NFL needed to have mischaracterized that declaration in order to justify these punishments. It's just another reason to conclude that the NFL has no evidence to justify what it has done to the players."The NFL has said the Saints' bounty program was run by Williams from 2009 through 2011. Williams has been suspended indefinitely by the league and has apologized for his actions.All four players are appealing. The NFLPA also has filed grievances with the NFL, arguing that Commissioner Roger Goodell lacked the authority to punish players for off-the-field matters that predated last August's new collective bargaining agreement, and that Goodell should not hear the appeals of the players' suspensions in the bounty matter.No other players are mentioned in Hargrove's sworn statement, which also does not contain any description of payments being pledged, made, or received.In his declaration, first published Monday by Yahoo Sports, Hargrove describes how he was called into a late February 2010 meeting with Williams and Vitt. The coaches said they had heard Hargrove might have told Minnesota Vikings player Jimmy Kennedy -- a friend and former teammate in St. Louis -- that there had been a bounty on Favre in the NFL title game near the end of the 2009 season.The statement then describes Williams saying, in obscenity-laced terms, that league officials, "have been trying to get me for years," and "if we all stay on the same page, this will blow over."It also describes Vitt reminding Hargrove that he brought him into the league with St. Louis and later brought him to the Saints -- a second chance Hargrove had sought in the NFL after being suspended for drug abuse.Hargrove's statement says that in March 2010 he met with NFL investigators, who asked him a range of questions about a bounty program in New Orleans, and that he denied knowledge of any of it, in line with the "clear directions" he had received from Williams and Vitt.
0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.
11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.
15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.
19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.
BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.
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But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road.
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
And even that might not be enough.
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
“Here in this league,” he said, “you have to love challenges.”