Celtics

Haggerty: Keep the deal-makers, get rid of everybody else

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Haggerty: Keep the deal-makers, get rid of everybody else

The mood was both hopeful and wary in the dressing room after the local NHL players skated at a Boston rink on Thursday morning.

Once again Shawn Thornton, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Tuukka Rask were there from the Bruins organization, and they were joined by Jay Pandalfo, Keith Yandle, Ryan Whitney and Brandon Yip among other skaters.

But all the NHL group wanted to know following the skate was just how close the NHL and NHLPA had moved after the second marathon negotiating session at the Westin Hotel in New York City. Clearly the two parties have inched closer together with the NHL bumping up the make whole money to 300 million and seeking a 10-year CBA while also relenting to previous player contract rules for free agency (27 years old and seven years of service) and arbitration.

Perhaps unsurprisingly many of the players didnt have a big issue with the 10-year commitment because it guarantees labor peace.

But the two sides are still at odds over the five-year term limits for contracts or seven years if a player signs with their current team and has been in that organization for at least four years and the 5 percent variance limit on year-to-year earnings within the contract. Perhaps even bumping it up to the six-year limit with potential eight year deals for players re-signing with their own would be enough to close the deal.

The players pension plan has also now entered the discussion where it wasnt even a talking point in previous discussions.

With all of that in mind the general sense from the players on Thursday was they better not mess this up. Hockey players are getting antsy with starting dates being thrown around and with the financial gap now under 100 million over the course of a long-term deal.

But they also know theyve previously thought these negotiations had turned the corner, and were sorely disappointed.

So theyre not making the same mistake this time.

Ill believe the season is starting when I see it, said one player.

Pandalfo joked that he needs to know if theres going to be a season or not, so the 37-year-old can decide whether hes going to retire or keep playing.

Lucic was hopeful after hearing some of the fine details, but also concerned after hearing that tempers had flared for both Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs during the late night session. The militant Miller lost his cool during the negotiating session and Jacobs reportedly threatened to leave the table thereby ending the discussion.

The Bruins owner was reportedly talked into remaining at the table by his fellow owners in the negotiation session, and thats nothing but good news. But the rancor thats built up on both sides needs to disappear, and most of the parties involved seem to understand that.

We all have to remember not to bring emotion into it, and to simply treat it like a business negotiation. Thats what the owners are going to do, and were best served doing the same thing, said Lucic. Were definitely more encouraged and theres more optimism. They seem headed in the right direction.

But until a deal is done you have to be a little bit cautious. Its definitely a positive thing that it seems to be moving in the right direction. The anxiousness and the excitement are definitely there. Its tough to stay cautious because youre thinking about the what if questions if we do start the season. But you cant get too far ahead because weve already been let down in that sense.

The latest wrinkle: both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr will be back involved in the process, and the players union has once again requested that federal mediators get involved in the discussion. Perhaps that could be a good thing now that the two sides have inched closer together, but the mediation discussion wont be broached until after both sides hold their Thursday afternoon meeting.

Perhaps they will find some sort of breakthrough common ground, and the NHL will be able to carry through with a plan to finalize a new CBA by the end of this week. The alternative should be frightening enough to anybody that loves the NHL or worships the game of hockey.

If things fall apart now the clock will truly start ticking loudly on cancelling the entire NHL season, more games will certainly be cancelled by the end of the week and the players will potentially risk losing moderate owners like Tampa Bays Jeff Vinik, Winnipegs Mark Chipman and Pittsburghs Ron Burkle.

That cant happen.

So hows this for a suggestion? Keep the hard-line, militant personalities on both sides out of the negotiating room. Keep Bettman and Fehr who have built tremendous ill will with the opposing group during these negotiations away from the talks until both sides have agreed in principle on every major topic. Theyre polarizing figures, and it seems that the mission of each side is to keep the others lead executive from getting any credit when a deal is completed. Keep the moderates together speaking until the two sides have finalized a deal and do it quickly as key voices on both sides start leaving New York City while a CBA crawls to completion.

Burkle reportedly said to those close to him hes not leaving New York City until hes got a CBA in place that saves the NHL season for fellow owners, the players, the fans and anybody else that has a stake in hockey.

Those are the kinds of personalities that are going to get this deal done. They need to fully take over the process before others can ruin it with the same old dysfunctional NHL attitude, or with a fit of selfish pique that will force everyone to walk away.

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

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Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

BOSTON – For most of this NBA season, the narrative surrounding the Celtics has centered around the maturity of their young players.

Well, there's a much bigger tale of growth on this team. But we're not talking about rookie Jayson Tatum or second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

We're talking about Kyrie Irving, whose desire for growth fueled his decision to want out of Cleveland this past offseason.

And that growth has in turn sparked the Celtics to what has been an unprecedented run of success.

"He's doing things that we never saw when he was in Cleveland," one league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. "He always had great talent, but could he lead a really good team? I think we got our answer now."

The Celtics (16-2) boast the best record in the NBA, which is amazing when you consider Gordon Hayward broke his ankle less than five minutes into the season opener. Not to mention they lost their first two games.

Literally all they've done since then is win.

Boston's 16 straight victories is an NBA record after losing the first two games of the season. The winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in franchise history.

And while the pieces to Boston's success vary, the man whose growth has been at the epicenter of the Celtics' emergence as a title contender has been Irving.

You can count Mike Brown, Irving's former coach in Cleveland, among those impressed with the growth in Irving on all levels.

"To see Kyrie taking ownership of not only little things offensively, but even on the other end of the floor, leadership and all that other stuff ... I'm happy for him, I'm excited for him," Brown, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, told NBC Sports Boston. 

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While his numbers have taken a slight dip here in Boston, Irving seems to be better in tune with what he needs to do to positively impact the play of his teammates and the team as a whole.

In Boston's 110-102 overtime win at Dallas on Monday, Irving had 47 points, the most he's scored as a Celtic.

His scoring binge included 10 points in overtime. 

And when talking about his monster scoring night, Irving provides a clue as to how his approach to the game has changed over the years in terms of scoring.

Irving described his breakout scoring night as something that "was called upon," adding: "I don't think I needed to score over 20 or 25 in particular games. So I think if you would have asked me that question probably a few years ago, I would probably tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40."

Earlier this season, Irving talked about developing some bad habits early in his career because his primary goal, like most high draft picks, was to get buckets. That frequently led to the ball sticking in his hands too long, or him having to force up shots and not getting his teammates involved as much as he should have.

While some chalked it up to him being a selfish player, Brown saw it differently.

"A lot of it was his youth, which is more than understandable," said Brown, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the 2013-14 season. "When he first came into the league, he had played 11 games in college. Before that with high school and AAU, for a guy that talented, it was pretty easy for him. He could go out and get 40 and win and not have to focus on anything else."

Brown recalls one of the early challenges with Irving was getting him to get his teammates involved more consistently.

"One of the things I used to always hit him with, he can score and finish in a crowd like no other, especially at his size," Brown recalled. "He draws a lot of attention. I always used to tell him, whether it's the strong-side or the weak-side, guys in the corners are wide open when you dribble-penetrate because you are such a dangerous finisher."

There would be film study to illustrate this point. It would show just how easily Irving would get to various spots on the floor by breaking his defender down or splitting an upcoming double team. But it would also show that when he made his moves in traffic, far too often his head would be down, which is why he wasn't finding teammates open.

Brown pointed this out as an area Irving needed to get better at if he were going to continue ascending up the point-guard stratosphere in the NBA.

"And you know, he got a little better at it," Brown said. 

Today?

"I tell you right now, he's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "Now, not only can he finish in traffic, now he's finding guys in the strong-corner. He's finding guys in the weak corner. And he's finding guys that are in the slots above the corner on the wing. To see him make that pass with such ease and precision right now, at least for me it's a joy. It's a joy for me because it's something I knew he could do. As a young man in high school and AAU, he's probably thinking, score, score, score. So that's not something he developed growing up, at least he didn't show to me. Now to see him do it, it's beautiful."

It certainly has been for the Celtics, who are off to their best start under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has found a way to blend his system, which is heavily predicated on ball movement offensively and the ability to switch frequently on defense, with Irving's immense individual talent. So far at least, has been a good fit for all involved.

"Kyrie is trying to do his role to the best of his ability," Stevens said. "Obviously, his role garners a lot of attention because he scores the ball and he has those moments where he mesmerizes everybody with his ability to score the ball and handle the ball and stuff. He's trying to do all the little things. It's a brand new system. There's going to continue to be an adjustment period for him. But he's done a good job."

Listening to Irving talk following the win over Dallas, it's clear there's a considerable amount of thought on his part given to how he'll attack defenses even though we're talking about split-second, on-the-fly decisions.

"It just happens," Irving said when asked about his best scoring night as a Celtic. "Just the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot is going to come from, when it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal, being aggressive and take advantage of certain things I was seeing out there. But my teammates did a great job of continuing to pressure the basketball."

And he continues to provide both strong play and leadership, which have moved the needle closer to him achieving what he was seeking when he asked the Cavs to trade him during the offseason.

"This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward," he said earlier this season.

Watching him inside the Celtics locker room and on the floor, it's clear that he's having a good time out there.

And his career going forward? 

Irving's impact on winning has positioned him to where a strong case can be made for him being a top-5 league MVP candidate.

Following the Dallas win, Irving was serenaded by fans chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P'" which certainly brought a smile to his face and was somewhat unexpected considering Boston was on the road.

"It's pretty awesome," Irving said of the chants. "But we got a long way to go."

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