Bean: The NBA offseason is here. Let's party

Bean: The NBA offseason is here. Let's party

The NBA Finals kind of stunk, but fortunately for the NBA, the Finals don't need to be the best part of its year. Not anymore. 

Last offseason was a damn party. In addition to the usual free agent shuffling, you had the first overall pick being traded before the draft for the first time since 1993 and one of the best players in the league on one of the best teams in the league deciding he no longer wanted to play with the best player in the league. And after a lopsided trade involving the aforementioned player was agreed upon, the team being hosed realized it and held up the trade so they could get . . . a second-round pick.

It seemed like every single thing that happened became a meme. "Tatum better" became the cry of a generation. There were so, so many bad Photoshops. By the time all was said and done, major moves like the Jimmy Butler and Paul George trades seemed like afterthoughts. 

The Celtics, of course, were in the thick of a lot of the big moves. They pried Gordon Hayward from Utah, stole Kyrie Irving from Cleveland (can't help but miss that second-round pick, though) and bamboozled the 76ers. What a blast. 

Just as wild as last offseason is the fact that this summer could provide nearly as much drama. Let's look at the areas to see where this offseason could give the last one a run for its money second round-picks. 

THE DRAFT

Last year's draft will probably go down as more exciting than this one simply because the No. 1 pick isn't often traded it and it almost certainly won't be this year. Unless something unexpected goes down, the Suns will take DeAndre Ayton (above) on June 21. 

What this draft does have on last year's draft is that it's both considered way stronger at the top and less predictable after the No. 1 overall pick than last year's. Everyone knew it was going to be Fultz first, Ball second last year. The first real question come draft night was whether it would be Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson next. 

The Kings picking at No. 2 don't have that obvious selection the way the Lakers did with Lonzo Ball. Luka Doncic could seemingly go anywhere from second overall to sixth. Sacramento will have to determine whether Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba will be their guy. 

As for the Celtics, they don't pick till No. 27. They certainly have the pieces to move up, but it's a stretch to think they would do so for Bamba just because they interviewed him at the combine. 

LeBRON

So this is where this offseason will definitely be . . . louder than the last one. Until LeBron chooses where he's going, that will be the main focus of the offseason. Then, after he chooses, the rest of the offseason will be spent reacting to LeBron's choice. That will consist of the team that gets LeBron getting decent roster filler to follow and way too many people calling LeBron selfish or something. 

LeBron doesn't need to end up in Boston for him to take over the news here. Remember how much people freaked out around here when the Celtics got a meeting with Kevin Durant? If the Celtics get a meeting with LeBron, it would be like that, just with more angry people. 

FREE AGENCY 

This could be tied in with the LeBron thing, as the possibility still exists that he could team with Paul George, who's a free agent, with the Lakers. 

While George is the top unrestricted free agent set to hit the market, we'll also find out who's willing to roll the dice with Boogie Cousins potentially on a max contract and whether Isaiah Thomas has gone from the Brinks truck to an ice cream truck. 

AND FURTHERMORE . . . 

Those are the biggest storylines, but there will be plenty more. How the hell is Philadelphia going to move on from the Bryan Colangelo mess and eventual firing? Is somebody going to pay Marcus Smart? Will Markelle Fultz (above) play Summer League? If he does, will he have a cool party for the kids who are too young to drink the way Jaylen Brown did? 

We don't know the answers to these questions. We'll learn them eventually, with plenty of other noise along the way. Let's party.  

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Patriots begin adjustments with kickoff rule changes

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Patriots begin adjustments with kickoff rule changes

FOXBORO -- For Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the most productive kick-returners in the NFL over the last few years, the rule changes to the kickoff that were approved this offseason won't exactly be life-altering. 

"For me personally, it don't change nothing," he said. "Nine deep, eight deep, four deep, whatever. I approach every kickoff like it's the last. That's something I take good pride in. Any time I get the ball in my hands, I'm trying to make an explosive play."

But for the players in front of Patterson, based on what reporters have seen through two days of Patriots minicamp, there's been all kinds of choreography that's taken place when the team has practiced kickoffs and kick returns. 

And "choreography" may be putting it nicely. "Organized chaos" might be more apt. 

"It's going to take a lot. It's a huge adjustment," Matthew Slater said following Wednesday's minicamp practice. "We did it [Tuesday], you go back and look at the film, there was so much for us to clean up. The spacing is going to be the biggest issue. Spacing and timing, ball-handling because of that space. I think we're going to have to learn the techniques, learn the schemes, and film-study is going to be huge this year once you start to see how teams are going to play the play. But I'm excited to see how it goes."

In the name of player safety, several proposed rule changes for the kickoff presented to NFL owners at this year's Spring League Meeting in Atlanta were eventually approved. Even though the changes could drastically alter the look of kickoffs as fans knew them, the tweaks might've saved the play if they can make it safer. The alternative might've been eliminating the kickoff altogether.

Among the changes implemented? Kick coverage units will no longer be able to get running starts before the ball is kicked. Return units, meanwhile, must have at least eight players in a 15-yard set-up zone closer to midfield prior to the kickoff -- meaning only three players will be eligible to align deep. The idea behind the changes was to have more players traveling down the field together at the same time, potentially reducing the number of high-impact collisions and injuries associated with the play.

But the different alignments and the different timing of the play means there's a lot for teams to figure out this time of year. The tinkering is on, and the Patriots have seemingly committed a great deal of coaching man power to help themselves and their players get adjusted as quickly as possible. 

Not only has special teams coach Joe Judge kept a close eye on the kickoff periods during minicamp, but the same has been true for new assistant special teams coach Cam Achord, former Arkansas head coach and new Patriots assistant Bret Bielema (who's been around the team since the pre-draft period but has not been announced as an official hire), and director of football research Ernie Adams.

Achord has been particularly entertaining to watch during practice sessions as he has sprinted down the field with the kickoff group to get an up-close feel for how lanes are being filled and blocks are being executed. 

"Because it's so different, because you've got so many guys doing new techniques, [the number of coaches committed to the play] is something that we do need," Slater said. "It may seem like overkill, but it's going to be good for us over the long haul . . . 

"The beauty is, they all have different coaching styles. They see the game in their own ways and communicate. And how cool is it to have coach Bielema out here though? This guy was coaching in the SEC last year at one of the best programs in the country, and now he's out here coaching the kicking game and doing whatever he can to help us out."

As a longtime captain and seven-time Pro Bowler, Slater's taken on some quasi-coaching responsibilities as well. He can be seen during practice, in between special teams periods huddling with coaches as they discuss what they've seen or their plan of attack moving forward. 

"I think that's part of my role as a leader on this team," he said. "As a guy who's had a career, a long career, and closer to the end than the beginning, it's my duty to pass on knowledge and try to help out guys as I continue to grow. I enjoy working with those guys as we all try to improve."

Slater's doing more than passing on knowledge, though. If there was a player doing more sprinting during the special teams periods on Wednesday, he was hard to spot. Now into his early 30s, Slater's job description continues to require him to be one of the fastest players -- if not the fastest -- on the roster. Though it's only the spring, and though pads have yet to be introduced, he still looks every bit the part.

"I've been very blessed, man," he said. "The good Lord has helped me age somewhat gracefully. I have my nicks here and there, but thats really Him showing me favor and watching over me on that football field. I've had a lot of great people, [head trainer] Jim Whalen and his staff spend a lot of time with me. [Head strength and conditioning coach] Moses Cabrera has trained me really hard. And I try to do my part working hard, but the Good Lord has taken care of me. I'm thankful at 32 years old, in year 11, to be able to move around a little bit."

One of the positions Slater could man on kick-return, as one of two "ends" in the set-up zone, could require him to move around more than a little bit. While responsibilities of different players and different positions are still being ironed out, teams are going to have to figure out how to get players from that up position in the set-up zone back to chip in as lead blockers. That could mean utilizing exceptionally fast players like Slater to get from near midfield, back to a blocking position in front of the returner, and then up the field in the matter of a few seconds. 

On Wednesday, some players looked like they were running the equivalent of basketball "suicides" with helmets on. 

How exactly that sorts itself out will take some time. Figuring out all aspects of the kickoff under the new rules as already eaten up time for the Patriots, both on the field and behind the scenes. There's no doubt it will look different, but it's not totally foreign. And that it hasn't been wiped out altogether is a source of great solace for someone like Slater. 

Earlier this offseason, he feared that could be the case, telling reporters that eliminating the kickoff would be "changing the fabric of the game." 

On Wedneseday Slater explained he was "thrilled" that one of the plays that has allowed him to put together the career he has remains. Even if it has a new look. 

"Very thankful that they took efforts to save the play, and hopefully make the play safer at the same time," Slater said. "As a core guy, a guy who the only reason I play in this league is because of the kicking game, I'm thankful they found a way to keep that play and maintain the integrity of the game."

Belichick on Brady's return to mini-camp: 'Good to have all the players here'

Belichick on Brady's return to mini-camp: 'Good to have all the players here'

FOXBORO -- If Bill Belichick wanted to make Tom Brady's return to Patriots practice any more dramatic, he could've. He could've said something about how Brady and Rob Gronkowski were behind because they'd missed all of their team's offseason workouts before Tuesday. He could've made a veiled comment about how it's nice to have everyone involved for a change. 

He didn't. He handled his press conference before the first mandatory minicamp practice of the spring as he handles most. 

Asked if it was good to have his quarterback back in the fold, he replied, "It's good to have all the players here. It's always good to work with all the players."

MORE PATRIOTS

What about getting Brady and Gronkowski up to speed? They'd missed every workout through the first seven weeks of spring work. Would they need any special attention?

"We have players that are in various stages of participation," Belichick said. "Everybody does what they can, the best that they can and get ready to go. Whatever they can do. We have a lot of guys that are in a lot of situations."

What about for the players Brady and Gronkowski will be playing with? Will there be an adjustment period for them? Those two, aside from being Hall of Fame caliber players, have an ability to impact everything the Patriots offense does. Reintegrating them would necessarily mean some changes for everyone else, one would think, even if it's just when it comes to the distribution of reps. 

"We're all -- myself, all the coaches, all the players -- we're all out here doing the same thing," Belichick said. "We're trying to get ready for the season. We take every day every opportunity we can to put ourselves in the best position to have a good training camp, have a good season. We're all doing the same thing."

Then, when asked specifically about his relationship with Brady, Belichick was succinct. 

"I've always had a good relationship with Tom," he said.

MORE BRADY

Will that be enough to kill the story that has dominated this offseason for the Patriots? The one about appreciation, attendance, priorities and culture? Probably not. But it didn't fan the flames either, meaning that upon Brady and Gronkowski's return to the field, maybe we'll be able to spend a little time focusing what they did together out there as opposed to how they've been feeling while they've been away. 

It'll be a welcome respite. 

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