Celtics

The Red Sox do the right thing in re-signing David Ortiz

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The Red Sox do the right thing in re-signing David Ortiz

When you come right down to it, the Red Sox didn't really have much of a choice. We got a glimpse of life without David Ortiz in the second half of last season, and talk about ugly . . .

Once the megtrade with Los Angeles was complete, the Ortiz-less Sox were bereft of middle-of-the-order bats. Unless you wanted to head into 2013 with Cody Ross- and Mauro Gomez-types at the Nos. 4 and 5 spots -- and it's safe to say we got our fill of that last September -- they had to either re-sign Ortiz or find a hitter of his caliber elsewhere. With so many other holes to fill this offseason, it made the most sense to follow the path of least resistance and bring back Big Papi.

Was it the right move? Well, let's go to the checklist:

AGE: Negative. He turns 37 -- at least -- in two weeks, and he's approaching the time of baseball life when skills begin to fade. And sometimes very quickly.

INJURY HISTORY: Negative. Bobby Valentine got killed for bringing it up to Bob Costas, but give the devil his due: We were told this Achilles problem wasn't a long-term thing, and instead it shelved Ortiz for all but one game from July 16 to the end of the year. In typical passiveaggressive Bobby V. fashion, he hinted -- and then piously denied -- that a probably-could-have-returned-to-the-lineup Ortiz shut things down when the season went into the toilet, but that certainly doesn't seem to be the case; Ortiz was still hobbling around in October, and even underwent an ultrasound treatment that put him in another walking boot the Monday after the last game.

The Sox, and Ortiz himself, continue to insist he'll be 100 percent come spring training. There's no reason to doubt it . . . but until we see him running freely and pain-free in Fort Myers, how can you be sure?

PLAYING SKILLS: Positive. After an alarming dip in 2008-09 that, in retrospect, can probably be traced to the wrist injury he suffered in '08, Ortiz has performed in recent years at levels befitting a 14 million player. His OPS-plus of 171 last season -- granted, in only 90 games -- tied his career high, and his batting (.318), on-base (.415) and slugging (.611) percentages were all the highest they'd been since 2007. And if you're worried about the small sample size, his 2011 full-season numbers of .309.398.554 weren't that far off.

Alex Speier of weei.com did some great research today comparing Ortiz to the 70 other players who complied an OPS-plus of 130 or more between the ages of 32 and 36, and found the vast majority of them maintained their value remarkably well as they got older. Ortiz may get hurt -- Speier said "durability is many ways the greater concern than performance" with the study group, which makes sense since older players are more injury-prone -- but if he doesn't, the chances of him falling off to a .260, 15-homer season are almost nil.

LEADERSHIP: Positive. Yes, he's been a pain in the butt about his contract status over the last few years and, yes, he's managed to come across as ultra-sensitive, selfish and petty at times. But David Ortiz a) takes enormous pride in being a member of the Red Sox, b) loves the area and the fans, and c) has shown a willingness to hold teammates' feet to the fire. Now that he's been rewarded with the multiyear contract he so desperately craved -- to him, a symbol of respect from ownership -- he'll probably be more willing to step back to the forefront, publicly anyway, in the clubhouse.

BUSINESS-WISE: Extremely positive. The Red Sox are in very bad odor with their audience right now, and jettisoning a folk hero like Big Papi to save a few bucks -- especially since they're flush with cash in the post-Dodger era -- would have been an NHL-like P.R. move of self-immolation.

And then there's this: There's a perception, deserved or otherwise, that the Red Sox aren't real smooth about parting ways with their stars. No one's done more for this franchise than David Ortiz over the last 10 years, and another messy breakup would have sent a message -- both inside and outside the organization -- that this isn't a player-friendly place. The HenryWernerLucchino troika worked hard to erase that stain during the early part of their stewardship, but losing Ortiz would have indelibly marked them as being worthy followers of the Haywood SullivanDan Duquette, alienate-the-troops tradition. Bringing Ortiz back helps rebuild that part of their broken reputation.

So when you add it all up, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Could it backfire? Sure. But with all we know right now, the Sox did the proper thing.

It was a good move. The right move. And now it frees Ben Cherington to roll up his sleeves and get to the real work of rebuilding the Red Sox.

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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