Red Sox

Johnson listens to advice KG has to offer

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Johnson listens to advice KG has to offer

BOSTON Full-time emotional catalyst. Part-time 3-point shooter.

Kevin Garnett wears many hats for the Boston Celtics.

But his greatest contributions have little to do with his numbers, or even the Celtics winning games.

It has to do with his leadership, his accountability and willingness to portion off a few swigs from his fountain of basketball knowledge, and sprinkle a few of those drops here and there on the C's younger players who have proven themselves worthy of Garnett's tutelage.

No player among the youngsters seems to embrace the 'Book of Kevin' more than JaJuan Johnson.

From the moment he was traded to the Celtics on draft night, Johnson talked about wanting to learn as much as possible from Garnett.

Having heard how Garnett would tune young players out who weren't willing to listen, Johnson was emphatic during a recent interview with CSNNE.com that he was not going to be that player.

"He's one of the greatest to ever play the game," Johnson told CSNNE.com. "That's just dumb to not want to hear what advice he has to tell you. I'm looking at the big picture, and that's being in the NBA for a long time. Guys like KG, Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen), they've been great in helping me and the other young guys."

But there is something different about the relationship between Garnett and Johnson.

Part of it has to do with them playing the same position. Both have the ability to stretch defenses with their shooting, in addition to making mid-range shots or scoring around the basket. And then there's the fact that both players are really focused on being great defenders.

"Like I said, when Kevin talks, I listen," Johnson said. "He's really been good to me."

And to a certain degree, you can say Johnson has been good for Garnett.

If you spend enough time around KG, it's clear that his passion for the game won't go away when he stops playing. In Johnson, there is the hope and promise that all the things that Garnett values - leadership, accountability, work ethic - will continue to play out in Johnson's career.

Make no mistake about it.

Garnett spends quality time with all of the Celtics' young players. Even when young players like Semih Erden are traded and return to face Boston, Garnett is one of the first players they seek out.

"KG, was very good to me when I was in Boston," Erden told CSNNE.com earlier this month when the Celtics hosted Erden's new team. "He talk with me a lot, help me become better player. He's good guy."

As much as Garnett appreciates the desire of young players like Johnson to learn and listen, there comes a time when a young player's voice has to be heard.

Garnett believes that time is now, for Johnson.

"I do encourage him to speak up a little more because I can't read minds," Garnett said. "And use the guys in here. I always tell him that you have a lot of guys in here with a lot of different experiences. You should get to know them."

Johnson has done that.

But in the end, Garnett remains his greatest influence.

For Garnett, he's simply doing what previous generations of NBA players did for him.

"When I do have the young boys on the plane, when I have them individually, I just like to talk to them about just life, this league and the journey and all that," Garnett said. "So I open up to them a little bit from that standpoint. Just about NBA life; it can be difficult for young guys. I don't think it's enough veterans out here on teams, to speak and guide some of these young guys and let them know how important hard work is. Having a work ethic, love for the game, respect for the game, respect for yourself, respect for your family, those things. I'm sort of that on this team."

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.