Celtics

NHL players hope Tuesday meeting can salvage season

955977.jpg

NHL players hope Tuesday meeting can salvage season

Bruins players remaining in Boston are starting to run low on optimism, understandably, but theyre mustering up whatever theyve got left for todays big NHL powwow in New York City.

A group of six NHL owners including Bostons Jeremy Jacobs, Torontos Larry Tanenbaum, Pittsburghs Ron Burkle, Calgarys Murray Edwards, Winnipegs Mark Chipman and Tampa Bays Jeff Vinik are set to meet with a currently unspecified group of players that reportedly will include Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr will be taking a step back from the face-to-face negotiations, and the hope is that a couple of different things take place. First there is optimism that new voices among the owners negotiating will bring a different vibe to the CBA process, and theres also the simple hope that frank face-to-face discussions between owner and player will produce some traction in the talks.

The 18 NHLPA members attending the negotiation session are: Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, Sidney Crosby, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, Ryan Miller, George Parros, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews and Kevin Westgarth.

Perhaps two people with a tight playerowner relationship like CrosbyBurkle can bridge the gap between the two sides: a sum of 182 million in the make whole provision and a number of player contract rights chief among the issues that leave the players and owners in a stalemate.

Im hopeful," Milan Lucic, who attended a Tuesday morning informal skate with some of his Bruins teammates. "Ive been trying to stay optimistic this whole time that well have hockey this year and today is no different. As players weve stayed strong as a union and I dont think thats going to change whether the executive guys are in the room or not.

Our message has been clear the whole time and hopefully this is light at the end of the tunnel. I think new voices are a positive. Youve got the Pittsburgh owners in there and Im pretty sure Crosby is going to be one of the guys in the negotiating room. Im pretty sure they already have a relationship, so hopefully they can work together to help this cause. There will be some big-name guys in there that know whats going on, and hopefully theyll work something out to salvage the season.

Thornton was equally hopeful that the unconventional playersowners setting for Tuesdays meeting will lead to something significant with a Dec. 5 Board of Governors meeting looming on Wednesday. Its believed if things dont go well on Tuesday that the NHL owners will put a timeline in place to possibly cancel the entire 2012-13 season if no progress is reached soon.

Were all hopeful that is a genuine effort by the league to achieve some progress. It was their idea to put this together, so lets see what they have to say, said Thornton. Its getting late into the game on all of this stuff now, so we dont have a lot of time left to negotiate. Hopefully today leads to some real negotiating and a finished deal.

The meeting is set to start around 2 p.m., so all NHL fans, observers, players and owners alike should know by the end of the day whether or not the prospect of a shortened hockey season just got a little rosier.

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

irving_celtics_112117.jpg

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. 

MORE CELTICS

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."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE